Welcome to the IEP OMG Show, where we talk about one of the last frontiers of civil rights, the disability movement. Today’s show is going to get some empathy going for what your kids go through because you’re going to school today. Maybe getting schooled? Big difference in perspective there, so I’ll let you decide at the end of the show, yeah?
Being at an IEP or 504 meeting feels a little bit like attending a new language class that’s just above your level. You know most of the words and can generally get the gist from context, but what was that about recoupment? What did they mean by percentile and T-score? And, man oh man, could they please spell out those acronyms? Even in my first years of teaching, I felt like I was busy translating in my head, so much so that I often felt like I was playing catch up. I learned to jot down things that didn’t make sense so I could clarify later, far too afraid to be vulnerable and ask the team for more information. I imagine you’ve been there, too, right?
Let’s play with this idea. Here’s a statement to chew on: Your child is showing progress in reading; in fact, his Montoopulous scores are 4.67 and he is now working on haplaning. Cool, right? I mean those Montoopulous scores are impressive! While this is probably an exaggeration, I imagine you’ve heard things like this before. The general idea is that your child’s reading is improving, yet you’re stalled right there. If you knew what the scores meant, in context, then you could celebrate and look for ways to extend your child’s strengths there. More importantly, if you knew what haplaning meant, then you could possibly help him haplane at home. With all good intentions, sometimes school teams power through meetings loaded with jargon. Team members assume understanding based on your not asking questions, but this is shaking logic; not asking questions does not always reflect understanding. Sometimes it just means you haven’t even gotten to the point of knowing what questions you have. You may need to think over and reread the reports before you’ve understood well enough to ask informed questions.
Our kids go through this all the time. They’re busy managing their attention or trying to keep up with notes—so much so that the window of “Do you have any questions” closes before they even feel the breeze. My other podcast, The Executive Function Podcast has a bunch of ideas to support this need in our kids, so check it out when you can. But, today I want to teach you, parents and teachers, how to prepare for IEPs and 504s—and we’re stealing from our kids’ active studying strategies!
One way to prepare for school meetings is to prime your brain with the vocabulary. As you felt in the example before, having just two phrases not make sense threw off the entire message. When you have holes in your understanding, you won’t be empowered to make the most of your meetings, possibly missing opportunities to clarify or advocate for your kid.
My dearest, you may have to study. But, that doesn’t mean it will feel awful. We can use active studying techniques, just like our kids do, to create lasting learning in a painless way. First, let’s talk about what we wont’ do. Do. Not. Reread. It will end up being an exercise in moving your eyes across the page, but, chances are, after a few minutes, your attention (and thus your comprehension) will go elsewhere. You have to make studying active to make it last. So, let’s backwards plan what this could look like (again, borrowing from executive function strategies here)
o Plan to start about 2-3 weeks before your meeting, if you can.
o Decide what you need to know (I have a helpful list at IEPOMG.com, in the resources and linked in the show notes). You can also get ideas of terms by looking through documents you already have and making a list of anything not yet clear to you. Don’t be surprised if it’s a decent list of 20 or even 40 terms. Think of how much easier the next meeting will be when you understand them!
o Use an active studying technique, like making your own flashcards, or having someone else quiz you. The idea is you’re taking advantage of your brain’s tendency to pay attention best when there’s the right amount of challenge. Our brains are most alert when we’re a little bit wrong but the understanding is within reach. Flashcards and the like set you up for this!
o You can use digital flashcards, like a Slides presentation (in my resources on IEPOMG.com) or a Quizlet (an online flashcards program. An example IEP prep quizlet set is linked in the show notes).
o Schedule studying, just 10-15 minutes each day and add some notifications to remind yourself.
A second way to prepare is to practice monitoring your understanding during the meetings. Bring a notebook and pen to every meeting and prepare a method that works for you to track your questions. I tend to take notes and then add a giant question mark in the margins to denote something I don’t yet understand. That way, I can keep track of my questions without interrupting or forgetting them. You may want to have a separate questions page, a section of your page set aside for questions, or something else. There’s no wrong way to keep track of your understanding. Just please think of your system before you enter the meeting. You can even test run it at work or watch a video and take notes, just to try out your method.
A final way to get empowered for a meeting is to practice being awkward and vulnerable. Often we’re afraid to speak up because we feel like we are the only ones who don’t get it, and being alone feels awkward. Parents also share with me that they feel dumb for not knowing what is treated like “basic knowledge” in school meetings. Your feelings are valid, but they don’t have to take the wheel and steer you into avoiding asking questions. Instead, you can try a few strategies to be better prepared for those uncomfortable question moments:
· Ask questions in other settings, for practice.
· Write down some questions or question starters in advance. For example, you can plan to ask: what can I do at home to help my kid? What are the team’s next steps? Etc
· Practice naming your feeling. You can share, “I feel kind of silly (or awkward) but can you explain what you meant by…” You will be pleasantly surprised at how well this is received. It alerts the school team that they could do a better job at explaining things, and since you’re owning your feeling, it allows you to personally let go of some of the resistance to the feeling. Getting it out there that you feel uncomfortable often helps the whole team sigh and relax a bit.
IEP and 504 meetings feel like the intersection of education and law because they are just that! This merging of two jargon-filled industries makes for a meeting peppered with acronyms and education-specific terms. Preparing for these meetings means you’re empowered at a new level; you understand the basics and can level up to asking more pointed and specific questions about your kid’s success.
As a reminder, to get ready for 504s and IEPs, you can: learn the vocabulary, practice asking questions, and practice naming your feelings. These 3 steps will make a huge difference in your experience in school meetings!
If you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the show! Connect your friends with these resources so that they too can better help their kids and affect positive change for all students with disabilities and their teachers. Thank you so much!
Slides for IEP 504 jargon flashcards
Resources at IEPOMG.com