An IEP (Individualized Education Program) is a written plan for students with identified disabilities which sets the conditions for the specific accommodations, materials, and instructional approaches needed in order for the students to learn effectively. A federal law called IDEA (the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act) mandates that all students with identified disabilities have an IEP. The IEP is a team-driven process that prioritizes services and supports for the student in order to best meet his or her educational needs. Students with disabilities and their families are an important source of information and experience in helping to ensure that the plans and their implementation work specifically and effectively for each individual.
Teachers who work students with disabilities use these plans to guide them in accommodating and modifying the design of lessons and instruction in the classroom. IDEA requires that IEPs include a number of elements. IEPs vary in format and design from district to district, because of local interpretations of the legal mandates that govern them. In any case, teachers need skills in implementing IEPs effectively in their classrooms. Often, special educators collaborate with general educators to translate the plan into action in teachers’ classroom.
Sometimes classroom teachers are part of the team that designs a student’s IEP. In other situations teachers receive a student assigned to their class who has an IEP. In both cases, it’s important to remember that the classroom teacher is a member of team responsible for implementing the plan. Through collaboration, a fine-tuned, carefully-timed, approach to incorporating specific teaching and assessment strategies can be achieved in daily classroom practice. The following information is intended to assist you in thinking about how you will contribute to and/or lead IEP planning for your students.
Thinking Inclusively: Planning Your Classroom with IEPs in Mind
Students with IEPs, like their peers without IEPs, exist in every educational setting. While a number of differences among students exist, including learning differences, think of the students in your class as members of a diverse community. For some situations, certain students will need specific accommodations. These accommodations will be made for a number of reasons, in addition to IEPs.
When planning classroom activities and conducting evaluations, teachers keep IEP goals and outcomes in mind. Teachers must also keep the IEP in mind as they determine how they will collect and evaluate student progress toward educational goals. Evaluation helps teachers to assess whether their teaching approaches are effective and to change or tune their practices accordingly. A well-researched and fully collaborative IEP will help students with disabilities to develop their capacities and to experience academic accomplishment–while benefiting the class by modeling and cultivating a more inclusive and differentiated educational experience for all students.
The IEP Changes as Learning Demands and Contexts Change
Accommodations can be as simple as a seat change or as complex as embedding the use of an assistive communication device in a student led team project. The IEP document or statement should never replace the feedback you solicit and/or receive from the student served by the IEP, from the student’s parent or caregiver, or from fellow educators and/or professionals working with the student.
Students along with their families, caregivers, case managers, school psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special educators and other key advocates in the student’s life – all play important roles in contributing to a successful IEP. Regular meetings and communication among all the players will help you to remain updated on the student’s progress, changes in the student’s status, as well as learn about new adaptations or modifications that may need to be implemented in the classroom.
Include Families in Planning and Implementation
Families and students are key to successful IEP planning and implementation. Figuring out how to host a meeting with all participants present can be daunting. There are an array of reasons why some family members can attend IEP meetings and others cannot. Some of your students may be in the custody of the state and in transition between one foster house and another. Some students with IEPs may come from home environments where taking time off from work to attend a school meeting, or connect with a teacher is very difficult for either or both parents. For families that are paid hourly, missing work usually means cutting a paycheck. Its your responsibility as the student’s teacher to do what you can with your school support systems, to make sure family members are included in IEP planning and implementation. Family engagement and participation are critical to ensuring students have the supports they need to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.
Partnerships with families require caring and thoughtful communication across the school year. Learn and engage with families so that you understand the family culture and their hopes and dreams for their individual student and family overall. For example, in some regions of the United States, more than 50 percent of the community speaks English as a second language or third language. They may rely on their children’s ability to speak English, or lack literacy skills. Don’t let language be a barrier to your communication. Prepare for these situations by having translators at your meetings, and consider using video to show families how their students are performing. Before scheduling a meeting, distribute the materials and reports you want to discuss. This may also be in the form of a video or audio tape of the student, the family, or other information that the family thinks may be helpful to the education team.
Reach out regarding changes in behavior or academic performance that you observe. Strategies implemented at school can often be practiced at home, offering the student more consistency. Home visits can help teachers and families understand more about each other’s practices and techniques. Work with families and/or caregivers to create learning environments that are predictable and flexible so that students can flourish at home, school, and in their communities.
The IEP is only as powerful as the strength of the partnership within the team engaged in implementation. Understanding what the IEP is, how you are part of its formation and implementation, and how you can work with families to ensure success are essential to successful outcomes for students with disabilities.