What is the purpose of your upcoming meeting? What has been going well? What needs to change? These are three questions you should ask yourself before each IEP meeting for your child. It is essential to know what things you want to accomplish and to be able to steer the meeting in the direction you need it to go and avoid being sidetracked by other topics or concerns. I have found the best way to accomplish this is to write things down ahead of time, make sure my points are as clear as possible, and to share my writing with the IEP team. Writing things down helps in the following ways.
It gives you a chance to think about what you want to accomplish at each meeting.
It gives you the opportunity to develop arguments for why you believe what you want should be put into place.
You will not forget to discuss a major topic, or an important point of argument for or against something in the meeting.
Meetings can be stressful enough; having notes in front of you to refer to will help you remain calmer and more present in the meeting.
Writing things down during a meeting will ensure you do not forget about them, and you can table them with the knowledge that you will not forget to discuss them later.
You are able to review these writings from meeting to meeting. You will either recognize progress, or you will need to continue to place certain topics on your list in order to have them fully addressed.
You should request your concerns be noted, in writing, in the IEP itself, or the notes for the meeting. You can even share your written notes with the team for inclusion. Remember, you are a member of the team. What you think and feel matter, and the team should be able to refer to your feedback at a later date just as they can refer to assessment results and other reports in your child’s file.
Writing is a powerful tool between appointments. By using written communication between meetings, you are creating a paper trail. If you communicate in writing, others will most likely provide things to you in writing—especially if you communicate via email. By saving all of the messages, you have a record of things that are communicated to you, how things are addressed, and, perhaps, how things are ignored. You can be very specific in future emails: “On Tuesday, September 20, I wrote to you regarding… It is now Monday, October 3, and I have yet to hear from you regarding this matter.”
Because the written word is so powerful, you should ask (whenever possible) for things to be given to you in writing. This way, if something is not put into place you have proof that it was discussed, and you can refer to that proof later when you ask why something has not been done.
Use writing as a positive as well. If something is going well, write a quick note or send an email or text message to say thank you. Use email or handwritten notes just to check in. This is how you can begin building relationships with those who work with your child. This encourages others to send similar messages to you either to check in, share progress, or thank you for something.
Certainly there is no substitution for meeting in person. However, it is extremely helpful to take notes in such meetings, and write a follow-up email or note after these meetings occur. You can review what was discussed, list follow-up items, and ask for explanations of anything that was unclear. You can also ask questions about anything that has come to mind since the meeting, ask for a date for a future gathering, etc.
One word of caution, Just as you are able to share emails quickly and easily with others, the IEP team is able to do the same with anything you write. Make sure all written communications are polite. It is possible to write a very stern message which demands action, and still do it in a respectful manner. If you are upset about something, write your email, then wait a while before you hit send. Ask someone you trust to look at your message to make sure there is nothing you will regret sending later. The person who checks your message, especially if he or she is a spouse or advocate, might have other thoughts about things you should add, new ways to phrase your message, additional arguments you should make, and more.
Finally, get organized! If you are going to take the time to do all of this wonderful writing, make sure you save it in a place you can easily find and refer to it later. Binders, file folders, notebooks, email folders, etc. are your friends!
The fourth entry in our series about Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) contains valuable tips on documentation and why writing things down is so important.