How to Prepare for a Middle School IEP Meeting
It’s that time of year again. Time to get out the old IEP, print out or download recent medical and school records, and schedule yet another IEP review. But it’s a little different now. Instead of one teacher, we have a whopping seven different teachers and seven unique classes to cover in addition to any special services being rendered. So how can we make this meeting a success and not be in it for two hours? Read on to find out!
Middle school is what I believe to be one of the most transformative experiences our kids will go through in their lives. They are leaving the safe haven of the elementary school setting where they maybe had two or three teachers in their final year and going into an environment with more diversity, more kids, and more classes. For many, they will have more than one teacher for the first time, and this is also a time in which many kids start and/or finish puberty. Middle school is home to many changes that happen in a kid’s life. So it only makes sense, then, that the process for preparing for an IEP meeting/review will look slightly different as well. Having been through two recently myself, I wanted to share how I prep for a successful IEP meeting so that meeting isn’t stupid long. Let’s begin.
- Observe your child. I know I know. You’re a good parent! You always are watching your child. You know your child better than anyone else. But in middle school, that sweet little kiddo who used to love spending time with you will suddenly rather spend time in their room, or with their friends. And so observing them might prove a little more challenging than it used to be. When my oldest entered middle school, I found that he preferred spending time in his room by himself over hanging out with us like he used to. And so I found a way to spend time with him of his own accord. We continued movie nights but allowed him to choose the movie every once in a while. We engaged with him while he played with his transformers. We welcomed him into the kitchen to help with dinner and breakfast as he loves his culinary arts class. We spent time this summer going to the pool and getting to the water park. And not to be creepy, but we watched him doing regular things like his chores or homework. We asked that he sometimes do his homework in the kitchen so that we could see if he was having trouble concentrating or to make sure he was understanding the material okay. The biggest thing here as parents is to be creative; make sure your child feels like they are choosing to be around you, not forced. This will make the interaction more genuine which will then allow you be better to know what new needs there might now be.
- Know your child’s teachers. This is a hard one, pretty much because there’s not just one of them anymore. Now, in addition to specialists and special/elective teachers, there are multiple core subject teachers. And as the parent, it is your job to know who they all are. Now, this is not to say that you need to get to know them, talk with them every day, or have a text chain going. That would be impossible… even for them as they see so many kids every day. But finding a way to at least introduce yourself and having a good way of contacting them if need be is always a good idea. My child’s school has something called Canvas, which allows my son to complete and turn in work, check his grades, and communicate with teachers. Some schools also employ a Canvas parents app or website so that parents can also check on their child’s scholastic performance and reach out to teachers too. if there is a back-to-school night or some kind of event before the first day of school, one of the best things you can do is attend it! Find some time to talk with the teacher. Introduce yourself and your child and let them know that they have an IEP and what the goals are. If you have a chance to get into the classroom, observe the environment. Make sure it’s conducive to a supportive learning environment. And don’t be afraid to give your information. Back when I had a job with business cards, I often gave those to teachers as a way they could reach me with any questions they had. Even in the rough waters of middle school, it’s still always a good idea to remain a partner with the bijillion teachers your child will have this year. When you have some sort of relationship or at least know your child’s teachers, it makes it a little easier to find out exactly what is going on during your child’s class time so that the teacher’s report during the IEP meeting doesn’t come off as a surprise!
- Review Review Review! This is probably the most important piece. It’s hard to prepare for and have a successful meeting if you have no clue what is in the IEP, to begin with. And even if you’ve read it a million times before, it’s still a good idea to review it again. Your child is in middle school now. There are so many changes that they will be going through and that will undoubtedly affect their condition, their social skills, their academic performance, and the goals that have been set forth in their current IEP. Maybe they had a huge growth during the summer and suddenly the speech goal was reached and surpassed. Knowing that perhaps a new one is needed is beneficial before the speech therapist tells you about it. Knowing what’s in there now will allow you to ensure that whatever is still needed is kept in the new IEP, and will allow you to better advocate for what more might still be needed. photo credit: giphy.com/abcnetwork
- Know what the services will look like in this environment. Middle school is busier. There are more classes and more kids than there are in elementary school. If your child has services that require push-in or pull-out, it’s important to know what that will look like here and when it will take place. Having an idea of the schedule is important here since the goal is not to miss core classes or classes that the IEP supports. And maybe what might have worked as a push-in support in elementary school might be better as a pull-out service in middle school.
- Write down your questions in advance. I’m a talkative woman. Always have been and always will be. And I ask a lot of questions which sometimes puts us overtime in different meetings that I’ve been a part of. So I’ve had to learn how to pre-plan my questions and limit them so I can be respectful of time. Reviewing the IEP is essential here as that will help you find better questions that are not answered in the previous draft. It will also alert you to something that you might’ve forgotten about. Furthermore, coordinate with whoever plans to be in attendance with you, whether it’s a partner or a therapist that supports your child outside of school. And determine what questions are absolutely necessary to ask during the meeting, which questions can be asked before, and which ones can wait until afterward.
- Invite a support party to attend the meeting. Odds are if your child has an IEP, they probably also have a therapist or another means of support outside of school to help with specific goals aligned with their condition. It’s always a good idea to ask for at least one other person outside of your family to attend the meeting. They will be a good advocate for you and maybe be able to ask the questions you might have not thought of or ask questions based on what they have seen with your child. It’s sad to say, but there are schools out there for whatever reason, whether they lack the money or resources, or that the staff just doesn’t care or isn’t trained, that don’t do what they are supposed to do when it comes to implementing what’s in a child’s IEP. And there are parents out there who are clueless and don’t know how to advocate for their children. Having a third party present at the meeting will ensure that the school is doing what they are supposed and will hold them accountable if they have not. Be sure to coordinate with this person beforehand so that you both have a game plan to be efficient, ask the right questions, and be able to keep the meeting under two hours. photo credit: giphy.com/abcnetwork
- Teach your child to be their own advocate. As your child grows older, they will accumulate more responsibility. Their education is one of them, and you must teach them how to advocate for what they need. The fact is, you won’t always know what’s going on in school. When your child is aware of their needs and is confident in attaining the support for that need, they can better ask for whatever that support might entail. This might even go alongside a particular goal they have on the IEP. My son, for example, has had speech goals since he was three. They have since transformed to reflect the changing social environment that now is middle school. Teaching him to advocate for himself is not only meeting his speech need but is also helping to improve his social skills. Self-advocacy is perhaps the most important tool ensuring that the IEP is maintained and adhered to correctly.
IEP Meetings are long but don’t have to be that long. And even though you want to be mindful of time, it’s important that every single thing in the IEP is addressed and discussed. Don’t be afraid to point out something that doesn’t seem right to you, or to share anything that could be helpful. And ask all the questions you need to. This is your child and their education. It’s imperative that they have the tools and support they need to be successful.
Good Luck and Happy Meeting!