In my previous post, I stressed the importance of teamwork and emphasized how an individual’s needs cannot truly be met without a successful team. A commenter posted the following question: what happens when the team doesn’t agree? I don’t know about you, but if I had a single, definitive answer to this question, my life would be a whole lot easier. In this post and my next one, I will address what I consider the two most common obstacles to achieving team consensus and action:
- The parents do not agree with the recommended services.
- The general educator does not agree with the specialist’s recommendations regarding accommodations and modifications.
If you just found yourself nodding along and saying, “Don’t I know it,” well congratulations, you’re not alone. So, how do we handle these scenarios? This post will address scenario number one: achieving mutual parent-teacher consensus on recommended services.
Let’s start with the infamous cliché, don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. Remember, parents are coming to these meetings from a highly emotional standpoint to discuss the needs of their child. They are also bombarded with information on “what to do at an IEP meeting.” This information could be coming from other well-meaning parents, friends who are teachers, the media, advocacy groups, or a good, old-fashioned Google search – I just got over 23,000,000 hits off the phrase “what to do at an IEP meeting,” and dare I say not all the hits are from reputable sites. Some of the sources of information can be well-meaning and intended to help parents new to, or struggling with, the IEP process. Some.
I’ve mentioned before that I spent several years at IEP meetings on the parent’s side of the table prior to becoming a special educator. I once requested three extra IEPs in a single school year in my attempts to gain an additional half-hour of speech services for my son, all at the advice of various well-meaning individuals. I also drained an IEP meeting insisting that my son, who was entering first grade should not be required to take timed math tests. Why did I want this? Because my son was a very deliberate thinker and he took his time. When I was talking about my son’s upcoming IEP with my friend – who taught first grade – she suggested that I ask to excuse him from timed tests. She’d never taught my son nor ever worked with him in an academic setting, but hey, she’s my friend and she’s a teacher, so she must know what she’s talking about! To this day, she has no idea what agony her recommendation caused in that IEP meeting…
Truth be told, I think most IEP disagreements between parents and the school come from parents who received well-intentioned advice from well-meaning people. That being said, there are also individuals and groups out there who, for whatever the reason, have their own agendas. I’m not here to write about them. I mention it because parents have no way of distinguishing between well-meaning individuals and groups, and those with private agendas. They have only their child, and the driving concern that they must ensure their child receives everything he or she needs to succeed in life.
So, now what? What do you do when you’re in one of these IEP meetings? Here’s another cliché: the best defense is a good offense. Try to avoid ever reaching that disagreeable IEP moment. More than anything, you have to do whatever it takes to help the parent see that you are not two separate entities, but a team working together to help a child. This means being their number one source of information before they have to seek the information out on their own. I have taken parents to conferences that I felt were beneficial to helping them understand their child’s needs and I have also attended conferences that were referred to me by parents. I am also always willing to help parents find books, websites, and support groups which are helpful, not inciteful. If you don’t stand with the parents and help them sort through the barrage of information out there, then it is your own downfall when they fall prey to the multitude of wrong information that is out there.
So, what do you do if you’ve done all this and you still have an IEP where the parents don’t agree? Like I said at the beginning, if I had a single, definitive answer to this question, my life would be a whole lot easier.
What are some of the things you have done to a reach mutual parent-school agreement on an issue?