The kids have been back in school for a few weeks now. They’re settling in. You’re settling in. Everything is humming like a well-oiled machine.
But if one of your kiddos is on an IEP, making sure the school year is going well includes adding some extra “to dos” to your already overloaded list (sorry mamas).
My daughter is now in 3rd grade and has always been on an IEP. I didn’t use to do much at the start of a new school year. Unfortunately, my lack of foresight resulted in us struggling through a few tough years.
Why? Because I hadn’t communicated to Kendall’s IEP team my expectations for how we hoped the school year would.
I left the ball totally in their court. And when there came a time that I was unsatisfied with way things were progressing or I wanted to try something different, the school team pushed back. They resisted. Things were already in place and working fine, and they would stay that way.
Needless to say, their reaction didn’t sit well with me. I balked. I pushed. I complained. I ranted to my husband (God bless him for listening). I cried. My stress level went through the roof.
Then I realized…this is my fault. The IEP team can’t help meet our expectations if we don’t tell them what those expectations are! (And even if you have the absolute best, solidly written IEP, that document is not enough, IMO.)
So here are the 5 things I do at the beginning of every school year to make sure the school team understands my expectations.
1. Once you know who your child’s teacher(s) will be, introduce yourself over email and attach a copy of your child’s ‘About Me’ summary. Include the principal and therapists as well if they’re either 1) new or 2) you’ve made significant changes to the document. (You should be updating this document at least annually.)
2. A few days before the scheduled open house, contact the teacher and principal and request to come early to the open house. I like to go at least 30 minutes before the doors open up for everyone else. This will give you some quiet, distraction-free time to meet with the new Gen. Ed teacher, share a little bit about your child, ask if he/she has any questions from the ‘About Me’ document, and most importantly, share with the teacher that you see him/her as a valuable member of your child’s IEP and that you EXPECT them to be involved in your child’s education. I’ve encountered a few teachers over the years who will defer responsibility of Kendall’s education to the Intervention Specialists. I’m not ok with this. My daughter is the general education classroom close to 90% of the day so I make it clear that I hold the Gen. Ed teacher just as accountable for Kendall’s development and growth as I do the Intervention Specialist.
3. As a follow-up to the open house, contact everyone on the team to make sure they understand your child’s IEP and their role in your kiddo’s education. We have some rather unique requirements in Kendall’s IEP so this step is important for us. I want to confirm that everyone knows how many minutes they are working with Kendall, where they are to work with her (pushing in or pulling out), and the communication requirements required by her IEP if there are any changes to these minutes and/or placements.
4. A week to two weeks into the school year, request a copy of your kiddo’s schedule from the Intervention Specialist. This has been invaluable to me. Kendall’s schedule is broken down into 15-minute increments. It lets me know where she is, when, and with whom. Also documented on her schedule are times for scheduled push in or pull out services. Kendall sometimes struggles with inappropriate behavior at school. I use her schedule as a way to track when the inappropriate behavior occurred. Over time, if I see a trend, I will point this out to the team and ask if a different accommodation or modification should be tried.
5. Six weeks into the school year, meet with the team to review your child’s progress thus far. This meeting is CRUCIAL! If you don’t talk to the team early and often, problems won’t be identified or discussed, leaving you to play catch-up later if/when that concern escalates into a more serious problem. During this meeting, I make it a priority to ask each team member what is going well. I like to know that they’ve made the time to really get to know Kendall. I also like to hear about the strategies they are using in class or therapy that they find effective. We then move on to chat about the things that are not going well. What do they need help with? What are they concerned about? What do we need to keep our eye on until the next meeting?
If you make the effort to do these 5 things, IT WILL PAY OFF.
It definitely has for us. The last few years of school have gone smoother. There’s been better communication and planning. My stress has gone down dramatically. (I’m actually getting to the point where I look forward to an IEP meeting…gasp!)
But best of all, we’re all on the same page. The team knows exactly what our vision is for Kendall’s time in school, as well as, beyond; and, we are all working together to help make it a reality.
What things do you do at the beginning of the school year to help the year go smoothly? Comment below!