My IEP Team Doesn't Hear Me. Effective communication strategies every parent needs to know.
One thing parents don’t always realize is that your input isn’t only useful but mandatory in the IEP process. The federal IDEA regulations require parent input. So what happens when you feel your voice isn’t being heard? Let’s map out a plan that keeps you actively participating and feeling like what you have to say is important and useful.
Everything in writing
The most important thing to remember in communicating to the team is that everything must be in writing. You’ve heard the saying “if it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen”, that’s exactly right! We need to have documentation of all conversations which not only keeps people accountable but is a record of what was requested, tried, refused, etc.
When sending IEP related emails it’s best practice to send to more than one member on the team. When communicating directly to one person you should always CC another team member that is relevant to the discussion, that might be the building principal, a therapist, or a case manager. This decreases the likelihood the email will be overlooked or forgotten and increases accountability in the event you need a response or action. Some emails, with urgent or important inquiries or requests, should be sent to a larger audience. Use your best judgment to decide who is relevant to the conversation and go up the chain of command as needed.
Sometimes it’s necessary to have a conversation in person or by phone. It’s best to grab a pen and paper to jot down notes during the conversation and then follow up with an email. An example would be, “...just wanted to follow up our conversation this morning to make sure we are on the same page, it is my understanding (insert what was decided, what actions need to be taken, etc.), please send a written response with any clarifications or corrections…”. Keeping track of these conversations is easy with the Communication Log in my IEP Organizer Binder Kit that will keep you completely organized with sections for contact info, communication, IEP, Evals, Progress Reports… ALL the things!
Keep emotions out of the conversation
IEP conversations can bring about a lot of emotions, especially if our kids are struggling. We are parents, and our instincts to protect or defend our kids are strong by nature. But, when we’re in the middle of a crisis and everything feels EXTRA the conversation can stop being productive. Use these four strategies to keep communication on track, stay focused on the child and the subject, give complete information, state facts not feelings, and don't throw too much at them at once.
Staying focused allows the other party to see what your priorities are and what you expect from them. Similarly, you should be a good listener when they respond so you can check for understanding and make any clarifications necessary. Allow them time to respond, then repeat back for understanding and show you appreciate the same from them.
Make sure you are giving complete information. Sometimes we forget to add details that give context to our story. Don’t assume the other person already has the information or will come to the same conclusion without the information. Details, like who/what/where/when/how give a bigger picture. When giving the details remember to stick to facts and keep it concise, overloading your listener with extra embellishments only makes it harder to focus and might delay or prevent answers or solutions.
Occasionally, despite the best intentions a conversation gets out of control and becomes contentious. When that happens there are steps you can take to regain control and continue. When things become heated I suggest to slow the pace and lower the volume of your voice. Ask pointed questions that require simple yes or no answers. If necessary, reiterate the topic and ask for refocusing. Make your boundaries clear by stating what you are willing to talk about and how you are willing to be spoken to. If all else fails, excuse yourself from the conversation and ask to reconvene when everyone has had a chance to calm down.
There are several tools you should be using to ensure your voice is heard and respected, including being provided a translator if necessary.
Have a copy of your parental rights in your primary language, if you don’t have one ask the school or you can get a digital copy from your state’s department of special education website. Make sure to read it and let the team know you have done so.
Submit your parent input statement. Usually the school provides a generic questionnaire prior to the initial or annual IEP team meeting. The more clear your input statement is, the better. The IEP Organizer Binder comes with a BONUS Parent Input Template that I use with all of my clients which is easy to use with examples of how to complete it. It’s the same template I use for my own child and many districts have thanked me for developing this useful tool.
I’ve already mentioned the communication log but at the very least keep a notepad where you can take notes with details like dates and outcomes.
Know your team, their roles and how to contact them.
As always, if you still feel you need help navigating the process or having collaborative conversations with your child’s school and team I’d be happy to help! Schedule your FREE consultation here.
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