As a parent of a child who is in special education, you are often misunderstood. You have called the teacher, written notes and described in great detail your questions and concerns for your child’s education. But nobody seems to listen. Use these key steps to learn how to communicate effectively with the IEP team and create necessary change for your child.
- use facts
- write informally
- write formally
- communicate directly with the entire team
- allow time for a response
- mistake feelings for facts
- text and call
- overuse formal letters
- assume team members are collaborating
- be impatient
Do use facts
As a parent, it can be hard to look at the cold facts when it comes to your child’s education. However, when you use facts to communicate your child’s needs, the team becomes more responsive. There is a true difference between facts, feelings and opinions. You must define the facts surrounding the situation you are trying to address.
Do write informally
Documenting facts, conversations and events in your child’s education is extremely important. Informal written confirmation, such as emails and notes in the daily communication notebook, can eliminate “he said, she said” situations. Remember, put the date on every communication. Defining timelines is extremely important.
Do write formally
When a situation in your child’s IEP is not being resolved with informal approaches, it is time to write a formal Parental Concerns letter. A good Parental Concerns letter will have a formal heading, facts to support a call of action and a notation to place a copy of this letter in the child’s school file.
Do communicate directly with the entire team
An IEP team often consists of several different team members, all who have different roles and responsibilities. Their caseloads vary and their schedules often conflict. If you want to assure the entire team gets your message, you need to communicate in writing to each individual team member.
Do allow time for a response
Your child is your first priority and you want answers now. There are several reasons a team member may not answer you back within the same school day. You want your child’s team to think through your requests thoroughly and address you in a professional manner. Sometimes, this takes time and your situation needs more than a scribble in a notebook from the teacher.
Do not mistake feelings for facts
Parents often feel their children are not making progress, are not happy or are in the wrong placement. You cannot make requests based on these feelings. You must put all feelings aside and gather facts based on behaviors, work completed and written documentation.
Do not text and call
When working with the IEP team, you can become close with team members. A quick call or text may seem like the best way to communicate minor issues, requests and updates. But beware of these modes of communication. There is no long-term documentation of the conversations you are having with the team members. Also, when the professional relationship line starts to blur, often your feelings and the team member feelings can get in the way of true progress for your child.
Do not overuse formal letters
Formal Parental Concerns letters need to be used in situations that require significant change. Evaluations, progress concerns, behavior issues and IEP meeting requests all require formal letters, which often receive a prompt response. If you overuse the formal letter, you will lose the impact and the team will begin see your formal letters as less important over time.
Do not assume team members are collaborating
It is common for support team members, such as speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists, to be left out of the conversation when teams collaborate. Also, some of these team members are only in your child’s school part-time. Do not assume that your child’s team member has received your questions or concerns, which were sent in writing. Always send members their own copy and assure they have received the copy before your next communication.
Do not be impatient
Your IEP team is required to respond to your formal requests in writing in a reasonable time. Many states have deemed 10 days a reasonable amount of time for the IEP to collaborate and respond in writing with next steps. You are not looking for quick fixes. Rather, you are looking for long-term solutions for your child. Don’t be impatient while the team collaborates.
As a parent, communicating effectively with the IEP team is a skill you must master to assure your child is receiving an appropriate education. You are your child’s IEP team leader. Documenting concerns, raising important questions in writing and using facts instead of feelings to negotiate, will bring you the respect of the IEP team.