5 Ways to Set a Positive Tone at Your Child’s IEP Annual Review

Guest blogger Gillian Marchenko shares 5 great ways to create a positive tone at your child's special education IEP annual review.

During my 25 years as a classroom teacher, I attended many, many annual reviews for my students with identified special needs. So I was delighted when guest blogger Gillian Marchenko send the following guest post just in time for annual review season. Parent who will soon attend an annual review may want to get a pencil and paper so you can take notes!

5 Ways to Set a Positive Tone at Your Child’s IEP Annual Review

It’s that time of year again when trees bud, hands dig in the dirt of our front yards, and bottoms numb on wooden seats in IEP meetings for our children with special needs.

What Is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a document laying out the educational plan for school-aged children who show a 30% delay or more developmentally. The Illinois State Board of Education says that IEPS are like road maps, pointing out where a child is in her schooling, and where she should go.

I parent two children with Down syndrome, ages five and six. My behind has gone numb many, many times at these type of meetings. The best advice I give regarding IEPS is this: SET A POSITIVE TONE.

How You Ask?

Here are five cheat sheet ideas to cultivate a great work environment for all parties involved in helping your child reach his potential at school.

  1. Prepare: If this isn’t your first IEP, find the previous document for review. Brainstorm goals you’d like to see on the IEP. If this is your first meeting, make a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and print it out. Also, know your rights as a parent. Start at the Special Education Advisor website, a social network full of information and advice.
  2. Collaborate: This is a tough one for us because we are our kid’s best advocates. But advocacy doesn’t automatically translate into an “us against them” attitude. Of course, there are exceptions, but educators want your child to grow, succeed, develop. Be kind, listen, speak up, and be yourself. IEP meetings are great opportunities to make friends with your child’s teachers and therapists. Be on the same team.
  3. Share: There may be a person in the IEP who hasn’t met, let alone spent considerable time with your child. Bring a picture of your kid doing something fun with the family, or jot down a funny thing she said the other day at dinner. Help those in the meeting remember that they are discussing a person, your child, a wonderful individual, who is not a statistic or a file.
  4. Write It Down: If you request a change in the IEP, write it down and give it to your child’s case manager. Document your request as well, so that you have it to follow up, if need be.
  5. Bring Food: I bring something for the group to enjoy; doughnuts, or fruit, or brownies. Pass out the treats during the meeting. This simple gesture lightens the mood and is appreciated by the staff. And don’t stress over providing something homemade. Swing by a grocery store and pick what looks good.


What Can You Add to the List?

Thank you, Gillian, for your 5 tips. As someone who used to attend those meetings (especially the after school ones) very, very hungry, I heartily endorse #5. How about you? Which of Gillian’s tips to you appreciate? And what would you add to the list? Leave a comment.

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6 Responses to “5 Ways to Set a Positive Tone at Your Child’s IEP Annual Review”

  1. Esther Miller says:

    I was an occupational therapist working in special education and have sat through my share of IEPs as well. Collaborate means to work together. In my opinion, it is the most important point above.

    Those of us who work with children with special needs sure don’t do it for the money or the glamor! We do it because we enjoy working with children. Many of us have had family members or close friends who needed the services of whatever profession we are members of…that’s how we first learned about our professions. We have not all walked in your shoes but many of us have been down similar paths.

    We bring to the table a wealth of information about many children similar to yours. We can help you to understand where your child stands compared to similar children. You bring to the table the specific needs of your child, your family, your personal situation. Only when we share those two perspectives can we really best serve the needs of your child.

    Another suggestion to parents is to keep copies of the IEPs and any assessments that have been done. Even if the language is intimidating (it shouldn’t be…KEEP ASKING UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND!)…that language is very specific and will help tremendously if you have to move or change schools or programs. Being able to produce immediately copies of what was going on at the old school will help the new school know just what services are needed. That can save a lot of time and produce better results for your child.

  2. Jolene says:

    Hi Esther,

    Thank you for adding the perspective of a professional who’s attended many IEP meetings. As a former teacher who attended lots of annual reviews, I agree with you completely. Collaboration between parents and educators is crucial for crafting a plan to help children reach their full potential.

    Come back next week, when another guest blogger will post about how parents can prepare for IEP annual reviews. It’s really good stuff, too!


  3. Hi Gillian,

    Thanks for the kind words about my webiste, Special Education Advisor. I appreciate it.


  4. Jolene says:

    Our Different Dream team is happy to spread the news about top notch professionals and resources, Dennise. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Maya says:

    As the social worker in a school for autistic children, I can tell you that those tips are exellent. I would like to give them over to the parents and to emphasize the working together aspect. Our school is so happy to work on the parents goals for the child, if we know what they are! I have yet to see anyone bring in food but am sure it would certainly relax everyone and the staff would feel appreciated. Thanks for the great ideas!

  6. Jolene says:


    Thanks for your feedback. Keep encouraging parents where you are to collaborate…and maybe they’ll think of bringing food, too.


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