Alright, teachers, it's only a matter of time before you have a parent or a teacher or a paraprofessional that disagrees with you to some extent on an IEP decision. Maybe they want a service that the student doesn't qualify for, maybe they want a change to the IEP that the team disagrees with, or maybe they want the student in another placement. Whatever it is, having hard conversations is part of our job as members of the IEP team. If your anxiety is in overdrive due to an upcoming difficult conversation, here are some tips to get through it.
Give yourself wait time or cool-down time.
When emotions are heated, the last thing you want to do is go into a meeting and say something you might regret later. Whenever possible, take a minute (or a day) to cool down and return to the conversation when all team members are calmed down.
I've been known to type a reply to a heated email and say all the things I want to say in the moment when I am angry or frustrated, and then save it to my drafts and come back and delete it the next day. It helps me "get it all out" without saying something I will regret.
Look at what is best for the student.
The ultimate guiding question for hard discussions and decisions is, "Is this what is best for the student?" Everyone will have varying opinions on what is best for the student, but it's important to remember that we are all here to do what we believe is best. If we can keep our meetings and our decisions student-focused, then we are doing what is best for the student.
Use data to guide your decisions, not feelings.
Keep going back to the data. This is your research that is going to guide your decisions. Set aside the emotions and use data to show the team where the student is at, what's successful, what's not working, etc.
Look at each person's role and make an attempt to understand where they are coming from.
I believe that seeing the other person's perspective is crucial to understanding and coming up with a solution. Understand what feelings are guiding their argument. Is it fear? Is it grief? Is it convenience? By understanding the emotion behind the argument, you can come up with a solution that eases that emotion.
In addition, take into account their role on the team. Your teachers may be coming from a point of frustration and overwhelm because you're asking them to take on one more thing on top of the never-ending list. Your related service providers may not understand what the classroom situation is like and may be asking for something that they feel is reasonable. Your student's parents may be doing what they believe is best for their child without the educational background to back it up. The role each member plays will help you understand where they are coming from.
Establish your talking points.
Take that email you wrote after tip one and write out all your talking points. Keep them positive and student-focused. You don't want to script out your discussion because you never know what another team member may say, but you should have talking points to guide your discussion and ensure you don't leave anything out. I also find it helpful to role play with a co-worker, partner, or friend.
Establish meeting norms.
For those really tough, highly emotional meetings, it is helpful to start the meeting with norms. These are behaviors that the whole team agrees on. For example, use respectful language, use "I statements", and wait your turn to speak.
Remember that you do not have to put up with a team member (parent or co-worker) being mean or disrespectful. If things get out of hand, stop the meeting and reconvene later when everyone has cooled down.
Be compassionate and listen.
I have this one last, but I believe it is the most important of all. Listen to team members' concerns. There is a lot of validity to them. If you can truly listen and not take things personally, you can identify and improve your own behaviors. Meetings, especially IEP meetings, can be highly emotional and full of grief. Be compassionate and caring. Keep it student-focused and positive whenever you can.
Best of luck to you in your next difficult meeting. You've got this!