For those of us who work with students in special education, we have the opportunity to participate in IEP meetings at least once per year.  Sometimes IEP meetings are very positive and productive experiences. Other times they are not.  When they are really bad, they don’t end in agreement and everyone has to come back to the table on a different day.

What makes IEP meetings successful versus unsuccessful?

What got me thinking about this is that recently I sat in a terrible meeting one day and a great meeting the next. The situations were actually fairly similar at the beginning but they went in completely different directions. It made me think about what the differences were.

Here are 4 things that separates good IEP meetings from bad ones:


In the successful IEP meeting, communication happened in advance of the meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page.  Additionally, the members of the team engaged in active listening when other team members (including the student’s parents) were talking.

In the unsuccessful IEP meeting, at least one person came in with conflict about another person’s contributions that had not been discussed in advance. This led to surprise and frustration on the parts of many people on the team.

Takeaway:  Touch base with the team members in advance to ensure that there are no big issues that need to be resolved prior to coming to the table. Also, listen, listen, listen while others on the team are talking.

IEP meetings


In the successful IEP meeting, everyone spoke to everyone else respectfully.

In the unsuccessful IEP meeting, a professional spoke to another professional using sarcasm.  She also expressed that she really wasn’t required to be at the meeting in the first place.

Takeaway:  Give every person on the team the respect they deserve.

The Team Approach for IEP Meetings

In the successful meeting, two main goals for the student were selected and the entire team talked about how they could support the student with respect to those goals.

In the unsuccessful IEP meeting, the people involved in the child’s education had different goals and were not working as a team.

Takeaway: IEP meetings are designed to plan for your student.  Everyone at the table should be able to agree on what goals are needed for that student to be successful.

Cultural/Human Sensitivity

In the successful IEP meeting, the mother shared that her ex-husband had kidnapped her child and taken him to another state.  The child lived with his father and several other people for one year before the mother was able to bring him back home successfully. The team focused on what his educational experiences were while he was there, and addressed what supports he would need in the new setting. No one was critical or said anything negative.

In the unsuccessful IEP meeting, the mother had moved from another country approximately one year earlier. Her husband was involved in criminal activity and was killed by a police officer. One person on the team responded with, “Oh, you’re kidding,” when that information was shared.  The information was included in the reports about the child that were provided to the team prior to the meeting.  It should not have been a surprise to anyone.  The comment was received as insensitive by the mother, and she sat back in her chair and interacted less for the rest of the meeting.

Takeaway: Don’t be judgmental.  As educators, our role is to support students in their educational journey.  It doesn’t help if we are insensitive to their situation.

I addressed many of these issues in an article I wrote for ASHA Perspectives. I also dive deeper into this topic in our courses inside SLP Impact.  Come on in and check it out.

If you work with diverse students, check out:

Spanish Translations for ARD / IEP Meetings

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