How Schools Can Give Students a Voice in IEP Meetings

Published January 7, 2021

A student is the focal point of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Still, some meetings talk around the student rather than make the student a pivotal person involved in their planning and goal-setting. A successful IEP meeting is one that pulls the student in, gives them a voice, and allows them to take part in educational decision-making. The following tips can help your school create a welcoming environment for students during their IEP meetings.

Help the student create a profile

You can get an excellent insight into how students feel about themselves, their strengths, and the challenges they face with a personalized education profile. The profile can be a digital spreadsheet or document or a printed chart the student fills out before the IEP meeting. Include questions that focus on both personal and academic traits, like:

  • What are the student’s hobbies?
  • What is something new they are interested in learning?
  • What are their personality traits?
  • What is their favorite subject in school?
  • What subject do they feel is most challenging?
  • What do they want to be when they grow up?

Have the student give the IEP team a copy of their profile before the meeting for each person to look over. Their information can bring up some talking points to break the ice and give the team a foundation for effective goal-building.

Break down the IEP

IEPs can be confusing for adults, let alone the students they’re designed to help. The first step in getting students involved in the IEP process is to ensure that they clearly understand each section in the IEP. Before the IEP meeting, take time to go over the student’s current IEP and language within, giving them time to ask questions for clarification.

Ask questions

During the IEP meeting, guide the student toward having an active role by asking questions that can lead to goal development. For example, you might ask accessibility-focused questions, like "What would help you complete [specific task] better?" or "What does your ideal workspace look like in school?" Questions can be especially helpful in encouraging students who might feel shy at times to feel more comfortable in their meetings.

Have the student lead

A student-led meeting can be one of the most productive IEP meetings because it puts the student in the driver’s seat. Giving control to young adults can empower them and boost their confidence. To start, consider having an outline or script prepared for the student to reference throughout the meeting. Eventually, the student may feel more comfortable hosting the meeting without one.

Make it fit the student’s interests

A traditional discussion-based IEP meeting may not be the best setting for some students. For example, visual learners might be more interested and tuned into a meeting when there are videos or presentations included to supplement the information you talk about. If the student leads the meeting, consider allowing them to use materials that assist them, like a sketchbook, note cards, or printed handouts.

Allow the student to plan goals

No one knows the student and their needs better than themselves, so they should be an integral part of the goal-planning process. Have the student brainstorm goals based on the progress they want to make. You can point them toward an IEP goal bank to guide them.

Help the student learn to track their progress

Get the student involved in tracking their progress. You might have them complete a progress report based on their current IEP goals to bring with them to their next meeting. Also, check in with the student a few times during the school year to ask them about their progress and if they feel that they need additional help or IEP adjustments.

Have a meeting wrap-up

Set aside time at the end of the IEP meeting for an informal wrap-up. Ask the student what they enjoyed about the meeting, what might work better for next time, and if they have any suggestions for future meetings. Take notes of the student’s responses to help you plan the next meeting.

Students have the right to an equal partnership in their IEP goal planning and meetings. It’s also in their best interest to understand how an IEP meeting works to benefit them and their education. Take steps to ensure that your students can use their voice to advocate for themselves, interests, and goals in each IEP meeting. Doing so is equally beneficial for the IEP team in determining what actions to take and services to provide to give each student a fair and equal education.