IEP meetings can be intimidating for parents… IEP meetings are intimidating. I’ll be honest, I have attended meetings where the parent has cried, and I have attended meetings where I have cried with the parent. IEP meetings are tough.
If there’s anything we can do to help, we should be doing just that as the child’s teacher and a fellow advocate who is working with parents with the best interest of the child in mind.
Helping parents feel more comfortable during meetings is not only a great way to build rapport and show you care, but it will also ensure that the conference runs smoothly.
When parents are more comfortable with what is going on, it also assures them that the student, their child, is be provided with the services that the student needs to be successful. And that’s what the team wants – the child to be successful.
Figuring out how to make parents feel more comfortable at IEP meetings can be tricky, so I asked veteran teachers in the VIP Facebook Group for their best advice. Here are some of their tips and tricks for creating a caring atmosphere during a what may possibly be a parent’s nightmare.
How to Help Parents Feel More Comfortable at IEP Meetings
Knowing what to say and how to say it can be the key to helping parents feel more comfortable during an IEP meeting. Here are some strategies to make that happen:
Ask for the Parent’s Input Before the Meeting
We spend a huge chunk of a time with each of our students each day. But parents spend the most time with their children; they know them best.
One of the quickest, easiest, and best ways to build positive rapport with parents is to ask for their help. Ask for their input. It makes them feel like a member of the team… which they are.
Send a Draft Ahead of Time.
If possible, send home a draft of the IEP ahead of time so that parents can look it over. This gives them time to read through it and jot down any specific questions or concerns they may have.
Some districts do require this, so it’s best to ask if you’re new to the school or district. If there is no requirement, it is still a great practice to get started on your own merit. Don’t blindside the parent.
Start the Meeting with a Positive Message.
Have a Written Agenda.
Personally, I like to know what’s coming next. It helps calm my nerves and makes me feel more confident overall. This is true for parents as well.
By providing the team with an agenda, not only will it help calm any anxious nerves about the IEP meeting, but it will help keep the team on topic and in line with the progression of the IEP meeting.
It’s a double win here.
Pause during the IEP meeting to check and make sure that parents understand what you are discussing. Often the IEP process and wording is second nature to teachers, but the acronyms and language are not typically part of parents’ everyday vocabulary.
Stop frequently, check for comprehension, and answer any questions that they might have.
Honesty is key. If you don’t have the answer for something, say that and let them know that you will find it out for them. Being caught in a lie destroys trust and will pave the way for much rockier IEP meetings down the road.
Don’t Sugar Coat, but State the Positive.
Parents already know that their child is struggling, so reminding them of the positive things that he or she can do is essential. Don’t sugar coat it and make it not seem like an important piece, but find a way to emphasize something positive in the struggle.
The student’s effort, attitude, or even pencil grip (if nothing else) can all be used to demonstrate positive pieces of the puzzle. There is always SOMETHING that the child has a strength in… always.
Talk About Personal Experiences.
If you have been in their shoes as a parent with a child who has an IEP, let them know that.
Empathize with their nervousness and explain how you have been where they are now with your own child. There is comfort for them in knowing that you understand what they are going through.
Provide the Parents with an IEP Binder.
As the most important advocate for a child, they too know how overwhelming all of the paperwork and special education jargon can be. A Parent IEP Binder for is a simple, effective organizational tool to keep all of their child’s important IEP information in one, organized place.
Parents will no longer need to feel stressed about a meeting, because they’ll have all they need in one systematic place. The parents can fully concentrate on the meeting, making the meeting more meaningful to both the parent, the child, and the IEP Team.
Make Sure They Can Contact You After the Meeting.
An IEP meeting can be overwhelming, and questions often arise after parents have left the room. Give them your contact info (if they don’t have it yet) and make a point of letting them know the best way to contact you if they have any questions.
Keep the lines of communication open as that builds trust.
You can always go one step further and email the parent 24-48 hours after the IEP meeting to check in and see if there are any questions or concerns now after sleeping on it for a night or two.
Perhaps the best way to make parents feel more comfortable at IEP meetings is to build a positive relationship with them ahead of time. Take the time to reach out and get to know them throughout the school year so that when the IEP meeting rolls around, they already know and trust you.
This not only makes them feel more comfortable and confident, but it also helps you know the best ways to approach them. You are much more likely to get buy-in and support from families who already feel as though you have their child’s best interest at heart.
The IEP Meeting Toolkit is your comprehensive kit, all you need to prepare for an IEP meeting (aside from writing the IEP). Take a closer look in the video below.