IEP Collaboration Techniques

 The IEP process can be a stressful event for any family. IEP collaboration strategies can help your meeting go smoothly while fostering a positive relationship with your school district.

In addition to this web site, I've created an easy to read Parent IEP Guide and 504 Parent Handbook for those of you who would find it beneficial to have this information in a workbook format. It is available in either a download or a hard copy. You can view the table of contents to see if you'd find it valuable.

CONFLICT vs. COLLABORATION:

Conflict usually occurs when the process is not well understood; the perception is that the school district is against you; or there is a lack of structure or time.   IDEA mandates that the parent be an active member of the IEP team and that the creation of an IEP result from the efforts of both the parents and the school district. If you choose not to participate, you are not only giving up your voice, but your child’s as well.

If you have experienced conflict in the past, jot down some reasons why you feel the conflict occurred. Chances are you experienced hurt feelings, betrayal, anger, or injustice. If you are feeling this way now, it is best to put your feelings on the table! It is difficult for an IEP team to reach agreement and to move from conflict to collaboration unless your feelings are heard.

FOR MOST OF US, SHARING PERSONAL FEELINGS ISN'T EASY, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT INVOLVES OUR CHILD.

COMPONENTS of IEP COLLABORATION:  IEP Collaboration is promoted by the following events.

  • Remembering that you have a common purpose (your child)
  • Letting everyone have a voice
  • Communicating openly with respect
  • Assuming good intentions
  • Valuing the team and members
  • Trusting the process
  • Practicing effective listening skills

During the meeting, let each person have the opportunity to tell his or her story. Try to use "I statements" when sharing your point of view and listen to one another.

Before the meeting, practice these IEP collaboration tips at home. It may sound silly, but practicing helps us relax and feel more confident. For example, ask your spouse or a friend to role play a person from the school district while you practice making “I statements” and expressing yourself clearly and effectively. You will be surprised how a little practice will help you relax and feel more comfortable at the actual meeting.  

IEP COLLABORATION TECHNIQUES:

Focus on the problem, not the people.
Be open to new ideas.
Ask clarifying questions if you need more information.
Find common ground
Sometimes it’s okay to decide that an issue cannot be solved
Pick solutions that both sides agree upon.
Verbally agree to the next steps.

PARENT TIPS for a SUCCESSFUL IEP:

  • Be prepared at the IEP meeting.
  • Ask for more time if needed
  • Ask questions! Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for more clarification. You should be able to comfortably explain what happened at the IEP to someone who wasn’t there.
  • Try to keep your emotions at home. If you feel yourself getting emotional, ask for a quick break. Remember, anger is an emotion!
  • Know the names of the team members. Refer to them by their name to show you are paying attention and to make the meeting more personal.
  • Refer to your child by name during the meeting.
  • Make sure you understand who, what, where, when and why.
  • Keep notes and refer to them if necessary.
  • Be polite. Say thank you when appropriate. Manners can go a long way.

If the meeting does not go well or you are not in agreement with the recommendations made by the IEP team, before you call an attorney or jump to the due process phase, try having another IEP meeting.

Sometimes different ears and eyes are necessary to work through conflict. Ask that the principal or a special education administrator be present and have the meeting take place at the district office instead of at the school site.

The district usually wants to resolve the issue as much as you do. It is completely appropriate to ask for another IEP meeting with those higher up on the totem pole.

Remember that the educational system is based on a hierarchy usually consisting of the following positions:

  • SUPERINTENDENT
  • ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENTS (Secondary and Elementary)
  • DIRECTORS (Heads of departments, including Special Education)
  • PROGRAM SPECIALISTS (assigned to specific schools or regions)
  • PRINCIPALS
  • ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS
  • SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS, COUNSELORS and SPECIALISTS

Don’t be afraid to ask for another meeting and request that a specific person be present. Their job is to ensure that your child is receiving appropriate services.

If you do not agree with the evaluation conducted by your school district, contact the Director of Special Education and request an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE). The district is required to pay for this at no cost to you.

If you've exhausted all of your efforts at IEP collaboration, try mediation. This is a highly effective technique that is less adversarial than a due process hearing.

Of course, if all efforts fail, you have the right to file for due process.
If the district has violated a legal duty or fails to follow the requirements outlined in IDEA, you should file a formal complaint. You have one year to file a complaint after the violation has occurred.

REMEMBER...90% of conflicts are resolved with IEP collaboration strategies or mediation. These are highly effective in negotiating for special education services.