Imagine this scenario: You open your school email or check your mailbox and find a notice for an IEP meeting. You know some of the students in your general education classroom have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). You also know you’re responsible for implementing and other supports in the classroom. But you may not be sure about your role as a general education teacher in the IEP meeting.
What’s required of you?
You’re not alone in having questions about IEP meetings. If you’re not a special education teacher, you may not have a lot of training around the IEP process.
Here are some of the basics: An IEP lays out the special education instruction and unique supports and services a student with disabilities will receive to make progress in school. The written document that outlines the program is a legal document.
Creating an IEP is a collaborative process between a student’s family and the school aimed at meeting the unique needs of the student. The program can be changed if it’s not providing the support the student needs to make progress.
When it comes time for an IEP meeting, here are four things you need to know about your role:
1. General education plays a big part in special education.
The (IDEA) is the federal law that governs special education. It’s vast, so you’re not expected to know all the ins and outs of it. But there are a couple of key concepts to understand.
Free appropriate public education: IDEA guarantees every student a free appropriate public education (or ). For most students, FAPE is provided through the general education curriculum. That may look different for students with disabilities. Some may need special education and related services (like speech therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling) to make reasonable progress. The IEP outlines that specific student’s program.
Least restrictive environment: IDEA says that students who receive special education should be educated in the least restrictive environment (or LRE) “to the maximum extent that is appropriate.” Put more simply, they should spend as much time as possible in general education classes.
Research shows that students who learn and think differently spend the majority of the school day in general education classrooms. With that in mind, speak up for the resources, training, and support you need to make LRE work for you and your students.
Special classes, separate schools, or removal from general education classes shouldn’t be the IEP team’s first consideration. The team should only consider these placements when a student’s disability is so severe that FAPE can’t be provided in the general education classroom — even with supports and services.
2. You are a required member of the IEP team.
Each person on the team plays a different role. IDEA requires that at least one general education teacher be part of the team. As a general education teacher, you know the curriculum for your grade level (and subject). You also know the academic and behavioral expectations of your class.
At an IEP meeting, you bring that perspective to the table. It means you can answer parents’ and guardians’ questions about what their child will be learning in your class. It also means you have important information. You can help the team decide what type of support, services, and instruction students may need to help them meet grade-level standards.
Depending on where you are in the school year, you may have already had the chance to build a positive, trusting relationship with the student’s family. That allows you to serve the important role of bridging communication between families and other staff they may not know yet.
3. You will provide information on progress.
At the IEP meeting, every teacher and related service provider will give an update on progress. If a student already has an IEP, be sure to review the current IEP goals to be able to talk about progress. Gather relevant work samples and other data for the meeting, too. You might bring the following documents to the meeting:
- Recent work samples, assessments, and current grades
- Information on which accommodations the student chooses to use in your class (even if they’re not in the current IEP) and how often they’re used
- Progress monitoring data from response to intervention (RTI) or other instructional interventions data
- Notes and data on any behavioral issues and the interventions you’ve used to help
Be ready to speak about the student’s growth and strengths as well as challenges. Speaking personally about students’ personalities, interests, and hobbies shows you’ve taken the time to get to know them. It lets families know you know the value of getting to know their child.
Teacher-to-teacher tip: Before an IEP meeting, I sometimes interview my students to ask what accommodations have worked best for them. If the student isn’t attending the IEP meeting, I bring that information to share with the team. If a student does attend the meeting, I support them in self-advocating for the accommodations that have worked for them in class. —Lauren Jewett, Understood Teacher Fellow
4. You can ask questions, raise concerns, and suggest solutions.
You’ll hear a lot of jargon and acronyms in discussions about special education. If you’re not sure what another team member is talking about, it’s OK to ask for clarification. You probably won’t be the only person at the table who needs an explanation. Asking for simple clarifications can often be a way to advocate for the student and family.
Know, too, that it’s important to discuss any challenges you’re having in working with the student. It can be scary to talk about difficulties. But in the end, it benefits the student. Tell the team what you’ve tried already and ask them to help brainstorm other solutions. Let families know you want their ideas and feedback, too. They know the student in a way the rest of the team doesn’t and may have unique answers.
It’s important to understand which specific goals and objectives you will be responsible for supporting. If you’re not sure how to implement an accommodation, behavior plan, or anything else in the IEP, be sure to let the team know. Tell them you’ll need time to consult with the special education teacher or specialist. Speak up about what training or other support you will need. That way it can be written into the IEP.
By law, IEP teams must meet at least once a year to review the student’s goals and progress. But any member of the team — including you — can ask for a meeting at any time if things aren’t going as expected. Don’t hesitate to talk to the special education teacher about having a meeting if you think it’s necessary.
Want to learn more?
- Take a closer look at the anatomy of an IEP.
- Learn how to read an IEP and five important things to look for.
- Explore the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Brittney Newcomer, MS, NCSP is the associate director of thought leadership at Understood. She has served in public schools for more than a decade as a teacher, evaluator, and curriculum manager.