Many parents feel overwhelmed simply showing up to an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting. Looking across a table at a sea of education professionals can be daunting. Teachers and school professionals often feel similarly when attorneys or advocates attend IEP meetings. But intimidation and disempowerment do not have to be the result.
By understanding the individual and unique roles of each member of the IEP team, we can better understand and appreciate their perspective and contribution. Keeping in mind the various roles of everyone in the meeting will help in understanding where everyone is coming from and the reasons behind their positions.
The common denominator is that each person is at the meeting to ensure the student has an educational program that is designed to meet her needs.
Special Education Teacher
The role of the special education teacher is to share how the student is progressing in the special education class, setting, or program, or to describe what the special education setting would look like (for a student who is not currently receiving these services). She is responsible for providing updates on the goals she is working on with the student. If she has completed any testing or assessments of the student, she will present the results of those to the IEP team. Additionally, if she is the student’s primary teacher, her insights are extremely valuable for understanding how the student is functioning in that environment.
General Education Teacher
The role of the general education teacher is to share how the student is faring in his general education classes, and to describe what the general education environment looks like. If the student is in the general education setting for any part of his day, it is required to have the perspective of a teacher who is familiar with the student and is teaching non-disabled peers.
The administrator’s role is to ensure the meeting addresses the legal mandates and that school professionals are following school and district policies. She often helps lead the IEP meetings and helps keep the team focused on the issues that need to be addressed.
The school psychologist’s role at the IEP meeting is to share the results of any and all testing or assessments he has completed. These assessments can provide valuable insights into the student’s cognitive, academic, and socio-emotional functioning at school. He utilizes this information to provide recommendations that will help tailor the IEP goals, accommodations, modifications, and services to meet the unique needs of the student.
Parents have a vital role in IEP meetings. They know their child in ways no one else has experienced. They see the child at home and in the community and can bring valuable insights regarding effective interventions and accommodations, as well as perspective in how the student’s needs are similar or different in the education setting (compared to other settings). This information can provide the team with helpful observations and insights on how the student responds in different scenarios and environments. Comparing and contrasting this information with that presented by the school team allows all members of the IEP team to gain a more thorough understanding of what is effective and what is not for this student. Parents are also tasked with being their child’s primary advocate. When something doesn’t “feel” right, it’s not only their legal right, but their role within this meeting, to share their concerns with the IEP team.
The role of the advocate is to facilitate the student’s receipt of an appropriate individualized education program that effectively meets her needs. This also includes supporting families with understanding their rights, helping them to navigate the special education system, translating educational terms and jargon, and providing the family with recommendations based on the student’s educational situation and history.
While some attorneys function as advocates, most are called in when IEP discussions have come to a stalemate, or when there have been grievous errors causing the student to not receive the educational program he is entitled to. Attorneys can provide legal guidance and advice pertaining to the specific circumstances of the student.
There are many other specialists who frequent IEP meetings: Language and Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Adaptive Physical Education Specialists, Social Workers, District Representatives, etc. Each one has a unique focus and perspective regarding the student. Each of these professionals is tasked with bringing their specialized expertise and observations (and sometimes assessments) to the team in an effort to support the student’s learning and educational progress.
The student is an integral part of the IEP team. His insights about the learning experience (what it “feels” like, how much he feels he’s learning, what areas he would like to concentrate on, etc.) provide essential feedback to the team about the effectiveness of the current program and what changes may be needed.
The common denominator is that each person is at the meeting to ensure the student has an educational program that is designed to meet her needs. If each member of the IEP team is able to go in to a meeting remembering this fact and keeps in mind each other’s particular role, IEP meetings become more focused and increasingly collaborative.
Kelly Rain Collin, Ed.M. is an Educational Consultant and Advocate who specializes in uniting the fields of education and mental health to foster students’ self-esteem and academic success. She is the Founder and Director of Healthy Minds Consulting and provides trainings and consultation to schools, parents, attorneys, advocates, and service providers on IEP goal creation, the unique needs of students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), how to create IEPs that bolster students’ self-confidence, and other related content.