Collaborative IEP Meetings

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires each child in a public school who receives special education and related services to have an individualized education program. The IEP is an instructional plan that’s based on a child’s individual needs and specifies the supports and services the school will provide to meet them.

Parents are an important part of the IEP team, which also includes school staff and any specialists. The team shares one goal – a child’s success. One frequently voiced concern is that the IEP process is complex and confusing, especially to parents. Discussions can often include terminology, acronyms and jargon unfamiliar to the parents, who may be uncomfortable acknowledging their lack of understanding.

Decisions in IEP meetings are not made by one person in authority or majority rule. Instead, IEP teams advocate for students by collaboration by consensus. This means that the team works together toward a common objective and makes decisions by consensus, or agreement by all involved.

To work collaboratively, IEP teams should:

  • remember the common purpose
  • give everyone a voice
  • have open and respectful communication
  • listen well
  • explore underlying interests avoid demonizing others
  • trust the collaborative process

Remember, when you’re part of an IEP team, you have a legal obligation – a clearly stated yet critical mission of safeguarding a child’s legal entitlement to:

  • a free appropriate public education (or, FAPE)
  • in the least restrictive environment (or, LRE)
  • according to the child’s individual needs

Best practices for smooth-running meetings:

Pre-Conferencing – The chairperson or special education coordinator should touch base with each of the team members in advance to be sure all know when and where the meeting will be held, how long the meeting is likely to last, and what will be asked or expected of them at the meeting. It’s also important to avoid the procedural pitfall of predetermination: making decisions on the student’s education instead of waiting for the IEP meeting.

Written Agenda – A written agenda should be provided to all participants and supported by an invitation to make additions, if necessary, and to agree whether it seems to be a reasonable plan for the meeting. Allowing the team to create, modify and affirm their agenda promotes ownership, or “buy-in,” which is an essential element of collaboration, trust and team spirit.

Keeping it Simple – School professionals should speak in user-friendly terminology and avoid acronyms and jargon that parents may not understand, or at least make a point of explaining them when they’re used.

Effective Time Management – Be sure that members remain on task and are time conscious, and the chairperson redirects when necessary. Time is a precious commodity, and few people feel good about meetings where they believe their time isn’t being well spent.

Another recommendation is for a school professional to meet, or at least talk, with parents in advance when difficult, confusing or emotionally charged issues might arise. During this pre-conference discussion, parents can be given the evaluation reports and other pertinent information and/or emotional support they may need to fully participate at the IEP meeting itself.

And finally, trust the collaborative process. By having faith in the team, expecting success, and letting go of the need to know exactly how issues will play out, the collaborative process is given the space it needs to be successful.

The Exceptional Child course library includes an IEP category that offers courses on compliance, team collaboration, laws surrounding IEPs, and more.

These courses are designed to help parents and guardians understand the special education process and include personal testimonials from parents of children with exceptionalities.

  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Special Education Referral Process
  • Collaborative IEP Meetings
  • Gifted Students
  • Transition Services

*These courses are priced separately from the Exceptional Child course library. To add these courses to your existing subscription or to purchase, contact

Tags: IEP