Organizing for IEP's at the Beginning of the Year

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If you've read my blog before, you know I'm all about working smarter, not harder. That's why I've stream lined the process I use in organizing and planning for IEP's. 

I'd like to think at this point I'm a pro at IEP's. I've written countless and in the past 2 years have sat through more than 150 IEP's each year! Yes. You read that right. That is 300 in the last two years, if you have Summer brain like me and don't want to do the math. I did it for you! =) 

How do I keep them all straight?! Well, I'd have to say that organization- early and often! 

Of course every district is different, so what works for me, may or may not work for you. But I do have a few tips to help smooth the organization of your IEP's. 

At the beginning of the year, I ask parents to tell me their preferences for IEP meetings.

Would they like morning or afternoon, Monday, Friday, or any other day in between? I use that to help set up meetings well in advance. This helps everyone to assure they can attend. I know at some districts the dates and times are assigned. At other districts, the teachers are left planning the days and times and handling their own case management, and that can make things a bit dicey. Having everyone scrabble at the last minute trying to finish their part or get parents / admin to attend to make sure the IEP is done within the window can be nerve wracking! 

Once I know preferences, I work with admin to get that date in their book right away. Many admin fill up their calendars many months in advance, so this ensures a time line and makes sure that you will not be missing any time lines for the IEP legal process. 

Once I get the date firmed up, I send a calendar invite request via our school email to get the IEP on everyone's calendar. Once I know that specialists and admin can attend, I send out a form that notifies parents. Below is the form I use. I've attached it, so you can use it too, if you'd like!

Sometimes I have a parent who requests a different time or date, and I reschedule. Knowing that they have this date down way ahead of time, parents who need to, request off of work, or schedule appropriately. 

About 2 months before the scheduled IEP, I send home a parent input form. The form asks for parent input on a multitude of areas. This gives me a clue as to what kinds of things the parents want to see on the new IEP. 
When I send home the Input Form, I also send home a Formal IEP invitation. Still some parents will request at this point to have the meeting changed, while the majority do not. I think over those 300 IEPs, we changed 10 meeting dates from the request of parents. So it is very unlikely that a parent will need a change. BUT on the off hand chance they do, you have 2 months to move it to a date that will work for everyone again. 

I always put a "Please Return By" date on the parent input form. I typically give the parent 2 weeks to return the form completed. Once I receive the parent input, I start to draft the IEP. Occasionally you won't receive an input form from a parent. In that case, I still start to draft the IEP on the date that the parent was to send the input form by. This gives you plenty of time to complete the IEP ahead of time. For a copy of the Parent Input form click below. 

I aim to have the IEP draft ready two weeks before the IEP meeting. At this point, I send home a draft copy of the goals to parents to help them go over the goals ahead of time. Parents will sometimes read and return with their thoughts, or ask you to take off a goal, or make changes to it. Doing all of this ahead of the meeting helps to really speed the meeting up, and helps to make sure that the parent feels they were given ample opportunities to give their input. 

DO remember, that you cannot pre-determine any part of the IEP before the team meets. Don't tell a parent their child is going to be in the resource room full time from now on. That won't fly. You should be meeting as a team to discuss those parts. For the goals, be up front, and tell the parents, this is what I would like to see Johnny work on this year. What are your thoughts? From your input form, I think we are on the same page.

This goes a LONG way with parents. Many really appreciate the time you spend trying to get their input.

Once you get parent input, tweak it, then just wait for your IEP date to come up, in your "cool as a cucumber" attitude. What you won't do, is be at the school until 9:30pm still typing an IEP, only to drive home, remember something you should have added, log back in, and see the whole entire IEP had disappeared, and start freaking out before your 7:30am IEP meeting. #TrueLife #ProcrastinatorsUnite  #YesThatHappened!

No one wants this to be you....

So, while, upfront it's a bit of work, it is SO WORTH IT in the long run!

Does anyone else have an IEP mad dash rush story? I can't be alone, right?

Working Effectively & Collaborating with Paraprofessionals!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A great parapro can save you time, help increase student learning, and basically be your right hand. On the other hand a bad parapro can make your life harder in many ways. A good parapro is worth their weight in gold. I’ve had the privileged to work with some amazing Para's and also was unlucky to work with a few who were less than stellar.
So what is the secret to having a great working relationship with your parapro’s? Well, I don’t know the exact recipe, but I’ve figured out a few things that can help you and head your parapro/teacher working relationship in the right direction.

1. Knowing Personalities are Pertinent
It’s important to know your paraprofessionals personality, as well as your own.
To accomplish this, I had ALL my parapro’s and teachers take a personality test this past
school year. They thought I was crazy I am sure, but the insight they are able to give them
into what makes each person tick, allowed me to help motivate them, and give them
constructive criticism in a way that won’t step on toes or hurt their feelings. You can find the
personality test I used HERE. I like the break down of how a person is to work with. I’ll use
own personality as an example for you. The test told me I was an ESFJ. According to the
work habits section of the profile, my personality type is sensitive to criticism. And to be
honest with you, that’s accurate. I do take criticism to heart. No matter how nicely it is done.
So if my boss wanted to give me constructive criticism, I respond best to being to the desired
behavior, and then I will typically change my behaviors to align with what is desired. This is
much nicer to me than to say, hey, you are really lacking here, and I think you need to do
this. I focus on what I am lacking in, and it takes me much longer to change things.
To me, understanding your co-workers habits and preferences go a long way to make a great
#FunFact: 8 of the 10 teachers I had take this had the same personality type. Of the
paraprofessionals I had take the quiz, they all fell within 3 different personality types. 
I thought that was telling!

2. When in Doubt Spell It Out!
Make sure that everyone’s roles and responsibilities are explicitly spelled out.
Communication is key. Make sure you sit down with your parapro’s at the beginning of the
year and spell out their responsibilities to them. On the flip side, let them know what your
responsibilities are as well. This helps you to hold each other accountable.

3. Give them support.
Parapro’s need feedback. You like the work they are doing with so and so, let them know. If
you don’t. who will. Ask them if they have any questions, EVEN if you are sure they couldn’t
possibly have questions, they might. Give them encouragement, and try to see their
attributes and use those attributes to your benefit.

4. Help Them Learn
I’ve worked with parapro’s who have bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, high school
diploma’s and even one with a master’s degree. Parapro’s all have different levels of
education. Some may have a stronger background than others in working with special needs.
Don’t forget to give them some on-the-job training. Additionally, if there is an online class
you think a parapro could benefit from, let them know about it. I’ve had some parapro’s use
the Vanderbilt IRIS Modules, OCALI Autism Modules, and even the AFFIRM Modules. My
para’s are thrilled to learn more information. Now, not all are willing to go the extra steps, so
it may help to ask them to work on it during their prep period, etc. especially if there is one
area that you feel like they lack in.

5. Collaborative Schedules
Your typical school day can be hectic. Getting to actually talk your parapro is sometimes
near impossible. To help, use a collaborative Google Document. Google Docs let you real
time communicate using the same document. If something changes, or you know that a
surprise fire drill is coming up, you can give the para a head’s up too!  Like wise, a parapro
can let you know data from an inclusion class, or write a reminder to talk to you about
something specific.
What are your best tips for working and collaborating with Paraprofessionals? I'd love to
hear from you in the comments below! 

Happy Teaching! 

Design by Studio Mommy (© Copyright 2015)