IEP Meetings Aren't Just for the Special Education Department

All parties involved benefit when general education teachers attend and contribute to IEP meetings.

By Bethany Bodenhamer


Learners who have special needs, whether physical, mental, or academic, may have what is called an Individualized Education Program. This program, or plan, is a legal document that entitles the student to specific accommodations, and at times modifications, to certain elements of his education. Every year a meeting takes place with multiple parties invited to discuss his performance, progress, and goals, as well as the relevance and appropriateness of the current accommodations specified. 

Accommodations vs. Modifications

As a teacher of an individual with special needs, you may have to make accommodations and/or modifications to ensure you are abiding by all IEPs. These are often discussed and agreed upon at the annual IEP meeting, so feedback from the general education teacher is vital to make certain such changes are relevant and appropriate to the identified disability. It is also important that teachers understand the difference between the two and how such adjustments can greatly assist their pupils. 

  • Accommodations are changes made within the existing classroom environment and systems that will assist the learner in achieving the same task as his peers, despite his disability. Here are some examples:
    • Extended time on tests
    • Separate setting for exams
    • Teacher or peer-provided notes during or after lectures
    • Preferential seating (front of class, next to tutor, near teacher)
  • Modifications are physical changes that are made to the instruction, curriculum, or expectations of the pupil. Examples include:
    • Shortening of assignments
    • Different versions (shorter, simpler, multiple choice vs. essay, etc.) of exams
    • Use of calculator on exam (when otherwise disallowed)
    • Different grading system (pass/no pass, complete/incomplete) 

By attending an IEP meeting, you the teacher, have the opportunity to provide input on what accommodations and/or modifications should be included. You know best what your student struggles and excels with in your subject area and this is your chance to help craft a plan to help him toward success. 

Frequency of IEP Meetings

  • Qualifying: This evaluation meeting is held to determine if a disability has been identified and whether special education services are needed. 
  • Annual: All those receiving special education services are to receive a yearly meeting where all parties involved are present to review the pupil.
  • Triennial: Every three years, the school psychologist completes an assessment to determine if the original disability classification still holds true. 
  • Addendum: At any point in the school year, an IEP meeting can be called. If a learner is struggling in a class, or acting out, a special meeting may be called to assess the current and most pressing needs. 

As a general education teacher, you are invited and encouraged to attend all of the above meetings when it is regarding one of your class members. Your input is valuable.

Why You Should Attend

  • It’s the law! It is legally mandated that at least one general education teacher be present for the meeting in its entirety. The most successful meetings are going to be the ones where the most amount of people are present to contribute feedback. 
  • It is an uninterrupted time to communicate. Communication with families is all too rare with the full plate of educators and the busy lives of parents. Being able to get a family member on the phone, or in person for a meeting, can prove to be difficult. Capitalize on the opportunity and time provided by this legally mandated meeting where the parents are sure to be present. Furthermore, this is an excellent time to communicate with all of those involved in your learner’s education. Swap ideas with other teachers, discuss what works well with his case manager, and hear from the parents what is going on at home that might be impacting his performance. 
  • You learn something. Especially at the secondary level, teaching can be quite isolating, and it can be difficult to know the individuals that make up your class. You might have an in-depth knowledge of pupils as young mathematicians or historians, but do you know much more about them outside the walls of your classroom? Do you know about their family life? What they do when not in school? The kind of support they do or do not have at home? This is all valuable information that will give you greater context on how to help your scholars thrive. A lot of this can be learned at an IEP meeting.    
  • It makes a difference! Believe it or not, your attendance means a lot to both your student and his family. Think about if you had a performance review for your job, and how you would feel about the people you work with who took the time out of their day to attend and provide feedback, both positive and constructive, for you. The same can be said for the reverse, think how of how you would feel if only a few who were invited appeared to share input. The family wants to hear from you, the case managers and special education teacher want to hear from you, and most of all, while he might not admit it to your face, your student wants to hear from you too. 

Tips for a Successful Meeting 

  • Arrange supervision for your class ahead of time. Your administration is required to provide you will a substitute for the duration of the meeting. Do not leave this to the last minute. 
  • Have your class working on an independent assignment so you can easily slip out. Do not have them working on anything too complicated so that you will need to be present to assist. 
  • Go prepared with a print-out of most your pupil’s current grade, a copy of completed work to show the group, and some talking points.  
  • Provide context to all present; do not assume they know the structure and expectations of your course. For example, if you require reading logs every Friday, explain this to the group. Or if you take major points off for tardiness and your pupil has a punctuality issue, address this struggle along with your expectations. 
  • Always have positive feedback! Even if this is one of your most difficult individuals, share what he is good at! You will be amazed at how rarely some students hear positive affirmation. On the flip side, if this is a stellar learner with what seems like no faults, strive to find an area that can be improved or challenged. 
  • Give yourself a goal of attending one IEP meeting per quarter. You will be amazed at how much it means to your student and his family that you took the time to be present. 

Lesson Planet Resources:

Special Education Students in the Mainstream Classroom

Just as there are requirements on general education teachers to embrace their learners with special needs, the same can be said of their peers. We must teach and encourage our classes to embrace everyone, regardless of ability level. This article is a great reminder and it also has practical tips on how to address different disabilities up-front within the classroom. 

Learning Disabilities 101  

This article will help clarify what exactly a learning disability is and how it differs from other types of disabilities your children may be faced with. Further, it identifies the four types of processing issues where pupils may struggle: input, integration, storage, and output. Last, the author provides action items on ways to help those who have such specific learning disabilities in the areas of math, reading, writing, and non-verbal. 

Differentiating for High Ability Students 

It should not be assumed that just because your learner has a learning disability that they are low performing. In fact, he may be incredibly high performing in your subject area and his IEP may call for differentiation in the form of more advanced assignments and more challenging problems. This article encourages general education teachers to differentiate curriculum and tasks to best meet the needs of all students.