For a period of three months beginning in March and ending in May, I was heavily engaged in writing IEPs for students at our school. It may be small potatoes for some of you, but this year I wrote at least 20 IEPs, participated in several ETR meetings, and conducted at least 20 IEP meetings. I realize many of you may have written more, but I confess that as a first-year teacher, it was a daunting task.
I did not think I was up to the task or the challenge writing so many IEPs and when I was first given my assignments I was a bit overwhelmed. Writing IEPs for the students I have worked with all year would be a piece of cake: I knew them, I had mounds of data, and I knew them. The challenge was that most of the IEPs I was assigned to write were for children I had never met and never taught. It is a monumental task. And, to be sure, ‘writing’ and IEP during student teaching (or learning about writing an IEP in graduate school) is nothing like sitting down before a blank computer screen.
First, I learned to really, really, really rely on the classroom teacher. With the exception of about 6 or 7 students, most of the IEPs I wrote were for students who were in inclusion classes or the regular education classroom. The insights offered by the regular education teachers was invaluable. It was also a great time for me, as a first-year teacher, to get to know the regular education teachers on a first name basis. Don’t underestimate the value of the regular education teacher’s insight when it comes to writing IEPs for inclusion students. They can also give very good insight into whether the goals and objectives we write for inclusion students are appropriate and attainable.
Second, I have grown to love my standards flipbooks. We are engaged in writing Individual Education Plans for our students. I worked very hard to make certain that every IEP I wrote was different from the last—not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of the student to whom it belonged. So, standards. The Common Core Standards, which many people seem to dislike, are invaluable. They help me write standards-based, evidence-based, clear and concise goals and objects that are tailored to each individual student.
Third, it is tremendously important that the intervention specialist make time in their otherwise busy schedule to go to the classroom and make their own observations of the student for whom they are writing the IEP. It is also important to interview the student. Our objective as intervention specialists is to advocate for our students. This means the IEP ought to reflect their personality and concerns too. It is difficult, but with the exception of maybe two students, I interviewed or observed or did both for every student I wrote an IEP for this year.
Fourth, I operate with the assumption that the parent is the expert on their child. Every IEP meeting I conducted was conducted on this premise. Thus I never made de facto statements about students. I asked questions. I asked the parents for their input, their opinion, their ideas—on more than just the future planning part of the IEP form. I was pleased when some of the parents appreciated when I had challenged their child, as I was when they offered their insight on how to tweak an objective to make it more suitable for their child. IEP writing is no task that should involve teacher ego. I can honestly say that I listened to everything that the parent or the regular education teacher suggested and willingly and gladly made adjustments to what I had written.
So, IEP writing. I have to say that I actually enjoy writing IEPs. It is a challenge each time that I was assigned a student whose academic career is going to be affected by what I write down on paper. It forces me to think deeply and forces me to be involved in the life of a child. It is a tremendous responsibility we are given as intervention specialists. I refuse to go to the ‘pool’ and use other people’s IEP objectives. I refuse to settle for the same boring language goal after goal after goal. I refuse to allow my IEP writing to be a mere exercise in plagiarism.
IEP writing is the most critical activity we perform as teachers. The meetings should be conducted professionally and quietly. (I also dislike forcing IEP meetings into a pre-set time frame. They should be reasonably timeframe free so the parent understands everything that is going on in the meeting and the IEP.) I work for the students and their parents when I write an IEP. We must listen to them always.
In closing, here are a couple of final thoughts. First, do not be afraid to challenge the student in the IEP. Second, have copious amounts of data available when writing the IEP. Third, make every IEP unique and individualized. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than seeing two IEPs, for two students who couldn’t be more different, sharing the exact same goals and objectives. That’s not teaching; that’s lazy.
What do you think? What are some of the tricks or tools or guidelines you keep in mind when you are writing IEPs?