Whether it’s your first IEP meeting or your 50th, there are a few things you can do to make this important and influential meeting just a little easier to work through.
Write down what’s important
This is a particularly important strategy for reducing tension in the conference room at your next IEP meeting – if you make a list of each of the subjects or areas you’d like to discuss, you’ll feel less frazzled. You won’t have to worry about forgetting something important in the heat of the moment. I recommend writing the list a few days ahead of time and reviewing it before you enter the meeting.
Give yourself time
Give yourself time when scheduling the meeting – ensure that you share with the other IEP team members how long you think you will need for this meeting. If you’re the school psychologist and you plan on discussing the full set of evaluations, in addition to working with the team on a behavior plan – it will do everyone good to know the need for extra time before the meeting. If you feel that the meeting will take more than one session, discuss this with the IEP team as well. There’s no need to feel rushed – IEP meetings may last several hours, so remember that you can always stretch the meeting out over the course of several days. If you can, give yourself time before the meeting to prepare yourself, to travel to the school or conference room, and to make sure you are focused as much as possible on the goals of this meeting.
Walking into the IEP room with the fury of a thousand suns behind you (whether you’re the principal, teacher, student, or parent) will probably do no one very much good – not even yourself. There are two simple meditations that I recommend, both involve slow and steady, deep breathing.
The first meditation: Sit down in a quiet place (even if this means you have to steal away to the faculty restroom) and visualize yourself at your favorite place. Imagine the sounds you hear there, the textures you feel, the scents, and the sights of this place. I imagine myself at the beach, and time my inhales with the waves hitting the shore, and my exhales with the water pulling away from the sand.
The second meditation: Breathing in – clench muscles in each part of your body. Start with your toes and feet – clench and hold for just a few seconds, then breathe out and release all of the tension in your muscles. Move slowly up your body until you have tensed and released, inhaled and exhaled, your legs, torso, back, arms, shoulders, neck and face. Once you’ve reached each area of your body, breathe in deeply one last time, try to clench every muscle in your body, and after holding for as long as you’d like, exhale, imagining putting any pain, discomfort or anxiety that you felt into your out-breath.
In this way, you can calm your body and your mind in just a few short moments. If you’re teaching the period before your IEP meeting, you might even have your students join you in meditation. Having a minute of calm before the bell rings and they hurry to their next class, and you hurry to your meeting, will bring you all a bit more composure and tranquility.
Bring a fidget ring or toy
Are you a doodler? Do you find that you concentrate better when you have something to do with your hands? We’ve recommended fidget rings/toys before for students, but they can be equally effective for adults! Having something to hold in your hands, like a small stone or coin, or wearing a fidget ring, which you can spin during the meeting, can help you to concentrate better, focus on the meeting and remind you to stay in the present. It can be easy to check out at an IEP meeting, having a physical object to ground you in the moment can make it easier to stay checked in.
These are some of the techniques we recommend using before your next IEP meeting. These steps will help you to remain more relaxed, more focused on the goals at hand, and more tuned in to what you need to accomplish at the meeting. What do you do to prepare for IEP meetings? What techniques would you recommend to IEP team members? Let us know in the comments below and we might add them to the list!