The pandemic that hit in March 2020 will be a time that goes down in the history books of all that our country experienced with COVID-19. Although social distancing, wearing masks, quarantining, and following stay-at-home orders are directives from our government, we have been forced into the times of what education will look like from a local level. Districts all across the states hurried to create instructional continuity plans that met the needs of all of our students. Because our instructional day no longer took place face to face, deadlines and FAPE were all things that still remain in place for students and families. We quickly leaped into the virtual world as learning continues and students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are still to be followed and meetings still must occur. With all the changes in place and stepping out of the “norm”, how do we as educators tackle the task of conducting IEP goal meetings virtually? This, like everything else at this time, is a new challenge, but one that we can hurdle through for the sake of our students.
Use a Familiar IEP Platform
Every district has some type of IEP software or platform that they use throughout their school year to track IEPs. This often is the same software that is projected on a wall during the IEP meetings for all team members to follow along. During challenging times such as what we are all experiencing right now, using something the team is familiar with will cause less stress and offer a comfort level to educators and parents alike when navigating through a virtual IEP meeting.
Throughout the entire process of virtual instruction, all must be sure that meeting times are flexible. Using a program that allows team members to see one another’s schedules will enhance the attendance for meetings that are scheduled. This will also eliminate anyone being double booked for a meeting or overlapping into their instructional time with their students.
Importance of Meeting Agendas
Holding a virtual meeting, just like any other meeting, takes planning and preparation. To ensure that all areas of concerns or celebrations are discussed, having an agenda to follow will help keep the meeting moving. The assigned case manager will continue to take the lead on facilitating and coordinating virtual meetings as well as the supports and services that are to be included in the special education paperwork. Having an agenda prepared will keep the meeting flowing as well ensure all key points are discussed.
Confidentiality in Correspondence
Confidentiality is something that all educators must practice at all times. Using email platforms like Gmail and Outlook offer a confidentiality feature to prevent unauthorized forwarding and sharing. This protects confidential documentation and information. While several virtual platforms and programs have confidentiality features, it is important to keep in mind that at any time unauthorized recordings of virtual meetings as well as screen shots of emails sent could happen without your consent. As educators it is our responsibility to do our very best to keep documentation and conversations confidential.
Encourage Family Feedback
Parents are extremely valuable members of the IEP team. They also know their child better than anyone. Encouraging and welcoming parent feedback opens up the lines of communication. The more parents are sharing with educators, the greater chance there is of helping our students be successful. If parents are having a difficult time using a strategy at home that is recommended, hearing their input may allow for educators to assist the parents through this process. It can also be a valuable asset for teachers when transitioning IEP goals to online learning in the future. If parents have strategies that they have found are useful at home, this would be beneficial for the teacher to know so that is could be carried over into the classroom when the student physically returns or for the teacher to use during a virtual learning session. The more involved parents are, the greater chance there will be for our students to be successful. Collaboration is a team effort and everyone’s voices should be heard to reach the desired goals that are set for the student.
More than anything, during virtual learning our students miss out on face-to-face contact. Allowing time for individualized sessions to take place with students, as well as encouraging students to participate when you are virtually meeting with a large group, are all very important. Levels of engagement may look different for all of our learners. For some, participating in a conversation or answering an open-ended question could be their comfort level during a virtual learning session. For others, actively listening to their teacher or their peers may be their level of student participation that they are able to manage. Just as the delivery of our instruction and participation in the face-to-face classroom looks differently, this is the same for our virtual learning as well.
Once the IEP meeting concludes and a solid plan is in place, it is always important to follow up with minutes from the meeting. The notes should be sent to all that attended as well as kept in the student’s file. This documents what was discussed as well as clarifies how the team is moving forward.
As we navigate through our virtual world of education, having solid plans in place, clear communication, and sticking as close to what we know as “normal” will ensure our students success.