A Parent’s Guide to IEP Meetings

There is no way to deny it, IEP meetings are stressful and hard for any parent. I know professionals who go into meetings as advocates for other families regularly but still struggle with attending an IEP meeting for their own child. 

These meetings are hard for parents (and students if they participate in the meeting) because by going to the IEP meeting you must come face to face with your child’s diagnosis again.  It can bring up many of the same emotions you felt the first time you heard your child’s diagnosis. 

In the first few IEP meetings, you attend for your child, you may still be just coming to terms with the diagnosis and learning what it really means.  Sitting in a room across the table from a group of professionals about ‘what’s wrong’ with your child and how they want to ‘fix it’ is intimidating. 

Yes, IEPs are now focusing on becoming strengths-based and having the students develop a growth mindset, but the bottom line is they are needed because the child is somehow different.

There are several things you can do in order to prepare for your child’s IEP meeting to help make it a success.

  • Leading up to the meeting, keep a note pad or a file that you can jot down things you would like to bring up during the IEP meeting.
  • Prepare an IEP Binder for your child and keep it up to date. An IEP binder is a great way to keep all the paperwork related to your child’s educational needs organized and in one place. What you decide to put into your child’s binder is up to you and will depend on your child’s diagnosis.  There is no point in having a section that is not relevant to your child’s situation. However, bear in mind that the documentation you save may be used in future legal proceedings, should you ever decide to go forward with a human rights case.
      • About Me Page: This is a significant page that should always be kept at the front of the binder.  It is meant to serve as a reminder about who your child is as an individual, and it can provide insight to those who work with them about their life outside of school.  This is a great place to have your child answer questions regarding their take on their education.  Adults sometimes find it surprising how insightful a child can be about how to make improvements to help them learn. Some of the questions you can ask your child are:
        •  What do you like best about school?
        •  What are your favourite activities to do at home and at school?
        •  What are the three wishes you have for school?
        • What will you be when you are older?
        •  How can we help you the most at school?
        • Which way do you learn the best?
        •  If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?
      •  Persons Involved and Their Contact Information: I think this is a must in all IEP binders because it provides a place where you can turn when you need it. Your child’s Personal Education Number (PEN) should also be recorded at the beginning of this section.  It should have a list of every member of the multidisciplinary team at the school level who works with your child such as the principal, vice-principal, teachers, support staff and any specialists who work with your child on a regular basis.  You should list who they are, what they do, the different ways you can contact them, their availability times, and their preferred method for contact to occur. Also, record any documentation that you have personally given to each individual.
      • Communications: In the communications section, it is a good idea to keep an index of the different conversations you have had with educational professionals. Record date the date, time and length of conversations. Plus, be sure to follow up all informal discussions with a brief email to ensure the educator has documentation of the conversation you had with them.  Be sure to include the points you discussed and the future action either of you agreed to take.  Print off a copy of all communication and highlight the recipients’ names. File in date order.
      • Evaluations: In this section, you should keep a dated copy of all requests and referrals to the school for evaluations, a copy of the consent to evaluate the student and any evaluations that have been done for your child.  If you have had any private evaluations done, it is up to your discretion if you would like to include them here. You should also record which educators to whom you have personally delivered your child’s psychoeducational assessments.
      • IEP: In this section, you should have a copy of your child’s current IEP and any previous IEPs they have had.  It can be helpful to have a copy of the most recent Special Education Services: A Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines included in this section.
      • Report Cards / Progress Notes: In this section, you should include all of your child’s report cards and progress notes from the teacher.
      • Behaviour: In this section include any reports or communication regarding your child’s behaviour.
      • Medical: If your child has any medical concerns, this section should include information about any conditions and treatments that are appropriate.  You may also wish to keep a copy of your Family Practitioner’s diagnosis and CRA Tax Benefit form in this section.
      • Supportive Information: In this section, include any resources that you think you may reference in your IEP meeting so you can provide them if requested. This is also where you can keep your ‘Cole’s notes’ of your child’s conditions to use as a quick reference.
  • Review your child’s reason for needing an IEP, recent report cards and communications you have had with the school. You probably remember the general reason and the typical day to day challenges they face but review their evaluations to remind yourself of the whole picture of their diagnosis.  Create a cheat sheet of the important facts you want to remember and address during the IEP meeting, so you don’t forget to bring any of them up.
  • Prepare a short message for the people who will be attending your child’s IEP meeting. This message should include any goals, objectives or strategies you wish to discuss with them during the meeting. Be sure to reference the notes you have been taking in the weeks leading up to the IEP meeting.
  • Remember, you don’t have to go alone to this meeting. You can take a trusted family member or friend, a professional with knowledge about your child and or a local advocate with knowledge about your child’s needs and the resources that can be available for your child.
  • Prepare an IEP meeting go bag. In this bag be sure to include your child’s IEP binder, Kleenex, candies or chewing gum (use this during the meeting to help calm yourself), water bottle, a notebook, pens and if you want, a framed picture of your child.

  • Start the meeting by thanking everyone for coming to the meeting and working together to make the school the best experience they can for your child.
  • During the meeting, make sure you state the concerns you have for your child and any suggestions you might have for addressing these concerns.
  • Take the time to really listen to how the educators respond to your comments and are open to discussion about your suggestions.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions if you need clarification on what they are saying. Keep asking questions until you understand.
  • Create a timeline and checklist for future follow-up.
  • Try to end the meeting on a good note by thanking everyone for their contributions to the meeting.
  • Be sure to take detailed notes during the meeting. Even better, if you have brought someone with you, ask them to take notes during the meeting for you. This way you can focus on being present and absorbing the information during the meeting while still having notes from the meeting to refer to after the discussion.

  • It is good practice to send a summary of your notes from the meeting to the members of the IEP meeting to make sure you are on the same page.
  • If your child has attended the IEP meeting, you may wish to have a private time together to ask for his/her thoughts on the meeting and how to go forward in a positive manner.
  • If both parents attended the meeting, take a moment to discuss the meeting privately without your child.
  • If only you attend the meeting, discuss or prepare a summary for your child’s other parent. Recognize that IEP meetings can bring back bad memories for a parent if he/she had learning difficulties in school as a child.


IEP meetings give you, as the parent, a chance to take an active role in the decisions made for your child and their education.

Remember, everyone in the IEP has the same goal, to provide the best educational outcome for your child. While everyone in the meeting has a common goal, you may not have the same ideas on how to reach that goal.

You do not have to agree with every suggestion brought up in the IEP meeting. You can say no to a suggestion you don’t agree with.  If you are turning down one of their suggestions, try to be kind with the words you choose and do your best to provide another solution to the same issue.

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of IEP meetings (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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