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5 Tips for Successful 504 or IEP Meetings
Use these do's and don'ts and these potentially daunting meetings won't be so difficult.
As a new teacher, you might not know what to expect when attending your first 504 or Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meetings. As a public school science teacher, I've attended my fair share of meetings, from parent-teacher meetings to more community-involved 504 or IEP meetings. I've been fortunate to work with compassionate staff members who run these meetings extremely smoothly, but I know these situations can be tricky. To help you set the right tone, strengthen your communication skills, and impress everyone in attendance, here are my tips on how to handle these meetings.
Remember the Student Is the Focus
The point of a 504 or IEP meeting is to create plans and accommodations that will help a student succeed. So what new strategies or technologies could be used to address these new issues? As the teacher, you should be prepared to offer some advice—something other than having the child sit near the front of the room. For example, if the student interrupts the class too many times by shouting out questions, what's a creative solution that will reduce disruptions while acknowledging the child's desire to learn? You could turn to the student and suggest the following compromise: "I will allow you three 'shout-out' questions during the class period, so choose your questions carefully. I'll give you a piece of paper so you can write down any other questions you want to ask me, but you can't shout them out. Does that sound doable?"
Further Reading: Set the Right Expectations for Successful Parent-Teacher Relationships
Acknowledge the Parent or Guardian
It's quite important to remember that these meetings can be daunting for the parent or guardian of your student. In their desire to be advocates, they're also looking for ways to make the conversation comfortable for themselves (and possibly the student if they're in attendance). The parents are aware they'll be sitting around a table filled with teachers, counselors, administrators, and possibly a psychologist—all experts in their fields. Try acknowledging the parent's expertise when it comes to their child. This will ease their worries, and you'll gain the respect and trust of the parent and those in the room.
Be Fully Present
Most of the time, these meetings are scheduled before or after school. As a teacher, you may feel anxious to get back to your classroom or tired after a long day and ready to head home. However, you must be present in the meeting. Whatever issues you may be dealing with, try taking a long, slow breath before entering the meeting and having a genuine smile on your face to show that you're engaged from the beginning. Those sacred yoga breaths are the best—I use them often.
Get Support from Counselors
The counselors at my school do a fabulous job of setting the tone for the family before the majority of the attendees are present. You should absolutely connect with the counselors at your school. Don't feel embarrassed about asking for help or advice; they're there to guide both the students and you as well. Counselors can tell you more about these meetings (like explain who typically runs them), give you a student's background if it's too early in the year for you to know your class well, or provide input on the solutions you hope to suggest in the meeting.
Follow These Common Dos and Don'ts
- DO make eye contact with the student and parent, and smile, as you enter the room.
- DO start the meeting by identifying a positive strength the student possesses. You should also conclude the meeting on a positive note.
- DO address the student directly, if they are present.
- DO use inclusive language that puts the student first. Say "the student with ADHD or autism," not "the autistic student." The finesse in the language will be noticed and appreciated.
- DO change a negative statement into a positive one. Instead of saying, "Her science notebook is never up to date. Titles and dates are always missing from the pages and table of contents," try, "It would be helpful if she kept her science notebook current with the proper titles and dates."
- DO show that you know your student. When sharing concerns, make them specific to your classroom and the interactions you've had with the child.
- DON'T simply repeat what other teachers may have said to the parent.
- DON'T mention other students by name during your discussion.
- DON'T overwhelm attendees with too many examples of a common issue. Be concise. Instead of listing all the times a student was interrupting the class or causing a disturbance in the past week, simply say, "Sometimes, his energy creates negative disruption in the class."
- DO ask your student if they have any questions of you before you leave the room.
- DO conclude the meeting with a smile. Shake the parent's hand and say, "Thank you for trusting me with your child's education," and add a sincere positive comment about their child.
Further Reading: 4 Communication Tools to Energize the Parent-Teacher Relationship
Being able to set a positive tone for 504 and IEP meetings is a powerful skill for teachers to have, so keep these tips in your back pocket. You'll feel your confidence grow as you become more comfortable in these meetings, and your students will benefit from your thorough advice and ideas.