Saturday, February 1, 2020

An IEP Meeting...from the Other Side

This past week, I went to an (initial) IEP meeting for one of the kiddos I work with. I know the teachers at this school pretty well, but my role here was to support the parent & family. I was on the other side - literally, when the meeting started, I physically moved from sitting next to the teachers (where I was) to the other side of the table (next to the parents).

We had a great meeting and walked away with some concrete goals and a lot of support. But, as is often the case, doing things with my friends from a different culture gives me a new perspective on our educational system - even something I've done dozens of times, like attend IEP meetings! Here are some of my thoughts:

  • IEPs are ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, I am so glad we have laws and protections for some of our more vulnerable students, and I am grateful that they have access to the help they need! At the same time, the number of forms, the lengthy process that must be followed exactly, and the number of sections on each struck me that they were probably all added because something had gone wrong or ended up in court. It was hard to try to explain to my friend, whose life as a refugee did not allow her to spend time in a consistent education system and comes from a culture where teachers are honored and valued, why she had to sign the consent for evaluation, the consent to release information, the consent to bill to Medicaid, the eligibility determination paperwork, the IEP, and more. And why the same information was listed on the evaluation report and the IEP. And why there were so many sections. Just trying to explain that made me think...this is a little ridiculous. It's all there for a reason, but when it comes down to it, the stacks of paperwork can't distract us from the heart of the matter - helping the kiddo we all care about!
  • Disabilities are viewed differently in different places in the world. The kiddo we were there for was identified with a (fairly mild) speech-language disability. In talking to his mom, she spoke of another person who had a similar issue, but he grew up in the camps and nobody really thought twice about it. It was just the way that person was. We are all excited to be able to help this kiddo, and I think it will help improve his quality of life, but that perspective made me remember that we are all human. In the education world, this label is a ticket to services and supports, but on other places, differences are viewed as just that - differences. Not things that make a person better or worse or more or less likely to succeed. (I also know that, in other parts of the world, disabilities are a reason to cast someone out or drown a child in the river - it's not always pretty!) It was a good reminder to not let the specific labels take away from the basic humanity that defines us all.
  • Parents matter. In this case, we were looking at an emerging bilingual student whose first language is not English. In fact his first language is not something that we could formally test in (it is a tribal language). Because of this, it became imperative to check in with the parents about their observations of their child. Through interviews, we were able to determine that the speech issues were present in both languages, not just English. (Formal tests were also given - it wasn't just based on interviews - but they played a key piece in understanding the intersection of a disability and an English Language Learner). While this situation was unique, it showed just how important parents are as a part of the IEP team.
  • A good team makes a world of difference. I have been nothing but impressed by this particular group of teachers and how thorough, thoughtful, and caring they are. As a result, this kid has been growing by leaps and bounds! In the end, what makes the biggest difference, from the school system, is a kid's teachers. Their relationships with the student, expertise in knowing when and how to challenge the student, and the way they see the whole child have made a HUGE difference for this child!
It's easy for me to think this way when I am on the other side of the table, sitting next to parents who speak a different language than me, but how will I bring this perspective in the next time I attend an IEP meeting as an educational professional? I guess we will have to wait and find out - but I definitely have learned some lessons this week!

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