Ah, Parent-Teacher conferences and the IEP! Like other areas of our life, Parent-Teacher conferences can look different for a child with an IEP. Parent-Teacher conferences can be stressful. Most schools only allow 15-20 minutes, so you’re rushed. Chances are you and your spouse had to split up for the evening, maybe leave work early, a rushed dinner….and then add on to that that your expectations of the meeting were different from what happened and all around it’s no wonder we dread them! Here are some tips that parents can use to reduce stress and have a successful parent-teacher conference with an IEP.
I think that one of the biggest sources of disappointment is mixed expectations. In my mind–the two main expectations should be: The parent needs to recognize that this is NOT an IEP meeting or even a mini-IEP meeting. If you need an IEP meeting, call for one. And, the teacher needs to recognize that even if this child has an “active” IEP team that has met recently, that does not negate the importance or necessity of a positive Parent-Teacher conference. And by positive–I don’t necessarily mean that all the information presented has to be positive, but that it should be productive and useful, not brushed off because Mom is in frequent contact with the team.
And, by all means, if you and your school do something that is totally different from this, and it works for you and everyone is in agreement with it…go for it! But I find that many parents treat conferences with the same anxiety and disdain that they do IEP meetings. And that stinks! I’m aiming to change both. My point is, if your school does treat these as mini-IEP-meetings and that is everyone’s expectation…you don’t need to write me and tell me.
So what should you expect at a Parent-Teacher conference if your child has an IEP?
A good place to start is to think about what it looks like for your kids without IEPs. Don’t have one of those? Then ask around. Ask the PTA, ask your friends and neighbors. Ask….the teacher! A quick email of “This is new to me, can you tell me what I should expect at parent-teacher conferences?” Last year, for my non-disabled child, the teacher put a whole bunch of assessments and data in front of me….and then I wasn’t allowed to keep it. Thankfully, he had done well on most of it so I wasn’t overly concerned. However, I was surprised to walk out of the conference without even one sheet of paper telling me anything.
For me, my main focus or goal of the meeting would be progress monitoring. Ask for grades, behavior reports and maybe “In the past 90 days, do you feel that they performance is getting better, worse, or staying the same?”
Tips for Parent-Teacher conferences with an IEP
- Establish expectations. Ask the teacher ahead of time what you should expect, and should you bring anything? If you need it, tell the teacher that you would like a copy of whatever she is going to show you at the conference.
- If you are expecting to see something at the conference, let the teacher know. “We have been working really hard on practicing handwriting at home, can you please show me some of her recent work examples?” or “Sammy is reporting that she gets these reading comprehension booklets to work on and they are too hard for her and she’s frustrated. Can you show me one of these booklets at the conference?”
- Make sure you are registered for whatever online venues they have. PowerSchool and all that fun stuff….make sure you are signed up ahead of time. I consider myself to be quite web-literate and even I have trouble with this stuff sometimes. But, do it, and look over your child’s stuff before you go.
- Have a list of questions, but this is not a time to “empty the dam” so to speak and unload a ton of stuff on the teacher.
- If the teacher gives you a bunch of serious concerns, it’s ok to say “Do you think I should request an IEP meeting?” or “Do you want to meet with me some day this month when we have more time? This is concerning to me.”
- It goes without saying, but arrive a few minutes early and keep your eye on the clock so as not to run over in time. Ask for another meeting if there is not enough time. Or a phone call.
- Personally, I do not think you should bring an advocate to the conference, but I have attended some with parents (because parent did not understand data that was presented to them). However, if you need to, bring a friend or your sister or something if you have trouble processing information.
- Speak with your child ahead of time. Ask them if they have any questions or concerns that they’d like you to bring up. Ask them if there are any surprises “Is there something that Mrs. S may tell me that I don’t know and may not be good news?”
- Bring a pen and paper to take notes.
- Don’t bring kids.
- Read and heed the information presented to you–follow up as appropriate.
- Stay child focused and solution-oriented.
- Share the information with your child, as appropriate. Reword it, chunk it….but self-advocacy and self-determination is the ultimate goal and they cannot be successful in that if they do not know how they are performing.
I’m sure there are a few other things I have forgotten, so I will add them as I think of them. What are some of your tips for a successful parent-teacher conference for your child with an IEP?