14 Steps to Thriving at an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meeting

It is October.  That time of year where days get shorter, nights get longer, and we are all a bit more aware of what goes bump in the night.

October was also the time of year my family would go through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.  It was always a stressful, and sometimes scary part of our month.  As we focus on things that are scary this month in the lives of of our kiddos, we are going to tackle how to be successful at this.

IEPs can either be a Godsend or the worse hour(s) of your life that year.   We have been through both.  High Roads School in Maryland is excellent!  California and Florida, we had some significant struggles.  We have had successes and failures. 

Background: IEP’s are designed to make the learning experience beneficial to all students.  After all, we are different children with different needs.  A team of administrators, teachers, specialists, and parents work collaboratively to help the child succeed academically. When it works, it is a phenomenal process.

Problem:  IEP meetings seldom work collaboratively and, for a parent unaware of the bureaucracy of the district can be very overwhelming and frustrating.

How do we survive these necessary yearly meetings, while ensuring our children thrive? Here is what I have learned having done IEPs in three different states across America.

Track Progress in all aspects of life

1.       Track Progress:  If you have been following me, you know I believe in data collection and how it can be beneficial to us in all areas of our lives.  In regards to behavior, this has been essential to us understanding our son’s behavior and what effects it.  We track his progress socially, behaviorally, and academically.  Journaling, goal setting, progress reports, report cards, all help a parent understand the multiple levels of a child a better.  This is essential to know how to help your child in the school system.

2.       Review progress reports:  It is really easy to lose track of progress reports in the chaos of what comes home (or emailed from school).  But progress reports are a great way to see what your child likes, doesn’t like, struggles with, or excels at.  We need to know where we have been to know where we are going. This is a vital tool for preparing for you IEP. This is also a great way to stay in touch with teachers throughout the year.

3.       Research IEP Goals: Typically, a month to three weeks prior to a scheduled IEP, I research IEP goals.  This is easily done using a Google search of “sample IEP reading goals” or “sample IEP math goals.”  Do this for each subject.  I cut/paste the ones I think my kid will enjoy and have success with.

4.        Be realistic: Select realistic goals.  You cannot set realistic goals without the above steps completed.  More importantly, you need to choose goals that can be accomplished in the timeframe provided, while leaving room to grow.  Have faith in the child to meet expectations and goals.  Children are resilient and can do way more than we think they are capable of.

5.       Prep teachers/communicate early: Teachers are a strong voice in the meeting because they spend a lot of time with the child.  Don’t wait for an IEP to communicate your concerns, joys, and goals.  They will be more likely to advocate for the child if they believe the parents are working on the same team and not against them.  The education team will likely meet a week or two prior to your scheduled meeting.  Give the teacher your views and goals.  This will help incorporate your ideas prior to the meeting scheduled (and save you time in the long run).  I usually explain this in person and then do a follow-up email to the teacher.

6.       Include social goals: This is really easy to forget when you are surrounded by teachers and administrators who want to focus on academics only.  But school is more than just academics.  Social goals are essential to classroom management, lunch, recess, PE, games, turn-taking, and so much more. Include social goals in the IEP and see how much your child grows both academically and as an individual.

7.       Get rough draft: Most districts will send a rough draft of their meeting home in order to streamline the meeting with the parents.  Go through this with a fine-tooth comb.  I used a highlighter system to show what I agreed with and what I did not.  I also tabbed the pages I wanted a further discussion on.  Most IEPs are lengthy, so this made it quick to refer to things for discussion and help ensure the meeting focused on the more important issues.  I also make changes.

8.       Return revised draft with your changes/edits: Return the changes you made in writing to both the teacher and school prior to the scheduled meeting.  This will ensure the school has time to make the needed changes, or prepare for why they disagree.   

9.       Bring any medical information that supports your views: If you have a doctor’s evaluation, therapy notes, and recommendations, etc. bring them with you.  Make sure those evaluations address academic recommendations.  Some districts do not look at medical information when determining goals because they are not academic.  However, almost all those specialists, are qualified to address academic goals and likely know how to help your child the most.

10.   Bring and be an advocate: You know your child the best.  You are their best advocate.  Don’t be afraid to be their advocate.  The school is not always right.  Just because they are professionals, does not make them a professional regarding your child. If you disagree with a plan or part of the plan, you have the legal right as the parent to address that.  If the school does not agree with your plan (which happens a lot), it is ok to take it up to the district level.  If you do not feel you can be an advocate, invite an advocate with you who is willing to step out and address your concerns.  

11.   Take notes: During the meeting, it is essential to take your own notes.  Multiple times things discussed to be included in the IEP were conveniently left out and official meeting minutes did not reflect the discussion.  Keep your own written record of minutes.  This will be essential as the school year goes on.  

12.   Know your rights: Contrary to what most parents think, the school is not the final authority on an IEP.  Parents have significant rights. You can request a meeting whenever you wish.  You can join a meeting via phone/zoom.  You can invite anyone you wish to the meeting.  You have the right to agree or decline the school evaluating your child for services. In some areas, you have the right to a private education paid for by the district. You have the right to request an evaluation for services (due this prior to requesting the service and save yourself a headache). You have the right to ensure the goals and assessments are measurable. You have these rights and more.  Know them and be empowered.

13.   Do everything in writing: All requests for IEP’s and evaluations need to be done in writing.  Any time you have questions, do it in writing.  Any time you disagree with how things are being done, do so in writing.  Email is excellent for date and time stamps.  We also time-stamped and date all mailed and a student brought home correspondence.  This has saved us in multiple instances.   Legally and inter-personally this will help in preventing issues, miscommunication, and problems as the school year continue.

14.   Keep copies of everything: This is essential.  We once had a school who was supposed to do speech therapy with our son pull the page out of his folder in order to state they did not have to provide services.  We luckily had a copy of the signed IEP on hand and were able to inform them of both their breach in contract and the following needed changes in order to avoid further issues.  Every email and mail correspondence needs to be maintained. 

IEP’s do not have to be scary.  They do take time, but ultimately, they can lead to some amazing growth in your child and in your community.

For more ideas on how to help with IEPs, take a look at my Facebook page.

7 Steps to Preventing Divorce Before It Starts

Marriage is a messy process.  Hollywood would have us believe marriage is happily ever after all the time.

“We grew apart.” “We just wanted different things.” “We had irreconcilable differences.” 

All of these things are often the reason for divorce. When they are simply saying the same thing – “We just didn’t invest in our marriage anymore; divorce was easier.”

Marriage is a choice.  Daily.  You must choose to love your spouse daily.  Choose to put their needs above your own daily.  Choose to see the good in them daily.  Choose to work as a team daily.

There is a reason weddings have vows and licenses are needed for marriage.  It is a heavy undertaking. 

Once the “honeymoon” has worn off (and it will), and life really sets in (death in the family, sickness, special needs, pandemics), that is exactly when the marriage starts.

It is easy to “love” when people agree with you and life is going your way.  It is a lot harder to love when you have been months out of work, or your spouse travels for work a lot, or your kids’ doctor’s appointments are never-ending and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

So how do you save your marriage before it fails?

1.       Avoid parenting your partner: I think this is harder for wives sometimes.  Often the comment about kids includes their spouse.  When we parent our partner, we are saying we don’t trust them as peers.  We actually disrespect them as adult humans.  We create a separation between us.  Instead, partner parent and see how that deepens your marriage.

2.       Embrace differences: Remember when you were dating and you just loved how different your partner was?  Being equally yoked is more than just a faith expression.  A yoke was used to pair animals together to work together toward a common goal.  It keeps animals moving in the same direction.  But, it only works well if you pair the right animals together.  A physically strong animal with a mentally strong animal is a great combination.  Marriage is no different.  You have been yoked together.  Where I am weak, my husband is strong and vice versa.  We pair well because we are different.  Embrace this especially in the hard times (like when one wants to grieve a diagnosis and the other pushes forward or one is fighting post-partum and the other fights PTSD).  

3.       Be proactive: Don’t let resentment build. I have so many people talk to me about how their partner doesn’t help parent, or clean, or spends too much time in front of the video game and not with their child.  But, these same people do not express that to their partner – the person who needs to hear it the most. Ask for help sooner.  If the laundry is becoming an issue, ask for help.  If mopping is your downfall, ask for help.  If you have to reschedule or re-order your schedule, ask for help.  The point of marriage is to have a  help-partner for life.  When we stop being helpmates and instead, become roommates, we invite separation and seeds of divorce to be planted.  

4.       Argue and Debate:  Hollywood has ingrained in western society that arguing is wrong and harmful to a romantic relationship.  Hollywood is stupid. Healthy arguing leads to creative solutions and stronger bonds.  I don’t recommend daily arguing, or insulting, or physically arguing, but a healthy argument and debate can lead to a deeper understanding of your partner, stronger family bonds, and some incredible solutions. Two different people are becoming one unit.  Change takes works, time, and is painful.  The orange tree doesn’t start with fruit.  It must stretch and go through growing pains, fight off insects and strong powerful winds, and more before it has a single fruit.  A good harvest is still years off at this point.  Marriage is no different.  Work. Argue. Learn. Grow.

5.       Get creative when it comes to romance: My husband and I have been on a handful of dinner and movie dates in the past six years.  We have a weekly date night.  It is easy to get comfortable and complacent in your date life.  Don’t.  Be creative.  Think about the other person. Take turns planning it.  Enjoy being silly or dressing up or just playing a game.  Dates do not have to be dinner and a movie.  Sitting in front of a movie where you can’t talk with your partner surrounded by a bunch of strangers is the farthest thing from a great date in my mind.  I much prefer creating something together or playing a game.  Check out these ideas for some creative date nights that won’t break the budget.  

6.       Appreciate each other’s efforts:  Share responsibility.  Before we married, we discussed the division of duties.  I dislike yard work.  He dislikes laundry and mopping.  We simply divided the chores.  His domain is outside and mines inside.  He is an excellent cook and I am a great teacher.  He does dinner and I do homework.  It is about balance, an equal yoke.  No one should feel they have all the responsibility all the time.  Remember, they are doing work and investing.  Thank them.  A “thank you, you are appreciated and valued,” goes a long way.  Recognize the effort.  Give a thank you card, or surprise present for no reason, or simply send an “I appreciate it when…” text to your partner and see how your marriage strengthens.  The Love Dare is full of great ideas and resources for this to become a regular practice in your marriage.

7.       Sleep: Sleep is hard to come by the older you get.  The lack of sleep leads to irritability, memory issues, anxiety, lower immune system functions, and so many other effects. When I have not been sleeping well, it shows in how I treat my spouse more than anyone else.  Study after study, show the importance of sleep for our health.  This translates to the health of our marriage as well.  Don’t argue when tired.  Table it.  Don’t express frustration when tired.  Table it. Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived in the first place.  Talk about the quality and amount of sleep you are getting with your partner regularly.  This will help them better understand you and may lead to some insight into the reason – ultimately leading to solutions that help you, your marriage, and your family completely.

For more ideas on how to strengthen your marriage, take a look at my Facebook page.