IEP Prep: Using the Mama Bear Strategy
The Mama Bear Strategy: How to hide your claws and get what you want!
I am an equal opportunity offender. I can’t help myself. I can be calm and collected in many intense business settings. However, when it comes to my son, hell hath not seen the furry, of my Mama Bear rage!
The ﬁrst time I attended my son’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) I thought I was calm and collected. You could even say that I was “cool as a cucumber”. I was prepared and had all of the test results from private providers and experts in the ﬁeld of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
I presented the ﬁndings with the professional polish I did in my every day work life. I paused and turned to the Student Support Specialist. He responded, without emotion, “What do you want us to do with this”? As I began to feel the veins pop out of my neck, I managed to say, “Excuse me”? He replied, “We don’t have to do all of this, we only need to do what we can, which will have to be enough”. “ENOUGH”? It was the ﬁrst time in my life, EVER, that I contemplated reaching across the table and grabbing a person’s neck!
My entire life my mid-western parents had drilled into my head that just doing “enough” was not “good enough”! I wanted to shout, “Why in the world would I settle for, ‘enough,’ for our son”? Surely this school district person would not be happy just being paid “enough”!
In fairness to the Student Support Specialist, and my local school district, that is how I perceived the situation. I do recall it with great clarity. Perhaps he needed more coaching? However, that day I realized two things: I needed to ﬁnd a better way to prepare for my IEP’s and I needed a more strategic manner to advocate for our son.
That was seven years ago. I am not an expert, an educator, or an interventionist. I am just a Mama Bear. Everything I have learned has been initiated on my own.
What I have learned is that you have to build relationships to gain partners in the cause to advance your child’s success. It sounds pretty simple. However, even though I feel we have been successful, I have managed to offend and alienate on a regular basis.
What I do know as time shrinks for educators to plan and collaborate – so does the period allowed to bring teams together for an IEP. Without placing blame, many IEP’s have evolved into what I refer to as the “Revolving Door”. By that I mean that a few key people lead the IEP as teachers and support personal enter on a rotating basis. The reality is that there are a limited number of minutes in the school day and even fever people to cover for educators so they can participate.
What I have learned is that you can schedule an efﬁcient IEP meeting during a 45 minute block.
However, you, the parent, need to do the leg-work and lead the meeting by engaging the support of the school team. It sounds like a tall order. However, I promise you that it has big pay offs, and you gain the input and beneﬁt of problem solving of those who work with your child (in the room at the same time). The other outcome is that if you set a time limit, the participants will hold each other to the timed agenda, created by you and the team, in advance of the meeting.
Now for a reality check. You can’t achieve this if you don’t spend time investing in the following preparatory tips. Again, I struggle to manage my emotions, but because I am in contact with my son’s team, they “get me”. It also helps that I bake for them on a regular basis. Never underestimate the absolution of a great cookie!
Here are my Mama Bear tips for IEP preparation:
1. Have the Meetings – Before “the” Meeting
If you do nothing else on this list – take the time to do this! Having meetings in advance of the IEP brings you a clear update of how your child is performing. It is also an opportunity to share your concerns and vision for your child’s academic future. The meetings could be by phone or in person. Avoid email as it can be ﬂat and void of emotion. It also takes away any surprises that can derail an IEP meeting.
Related: Whether it’s Your First IEP or You’re a Pro: 10 things to Cover at the Meeting
2. Publish an agenda Lay it all out on the table!
I always write up an agenda of what I want to cover in the IEP. It can be hand-written or typed. Basically, it recaps the accomplishments of our child: academically and non-school related. It also breaks down the goals on the IEP. I list my concerns and my ideas on how we can help move my child towards mastery. The non-academic achievements have helped the team identify motivators and strategies.
3. Review the Data – Make it Work for You!
I have a slippery love affair with data. Sometimes I want to cover it with kisses and other times I want to banish it from my memory. Take the time to review bench mark or progressive test scores. Look for advancement and think about how you, the parent, can be a partner in advancing those gains. Last month, I think I was the only parent celebrating that my son was at the top of the red (danger) zone! It had been a hard climb, but, we are getting closer to the “green” zone. Bottom line – be, or become, an optimist!
Related: The Data Dilemma – It’s a Love-HateThing
4. Identify the Protagonists – Kill them with Kindness (Chocolate or liquor is also an option)
I often say that there is always a naysayer. These are often categorized as “data people” or “Assistant Principals.” Nonetheless, you have to gain them on your team. Figure out how to “reach them”.
5. Be realistic BUT have a vision: Map a plan of success:
You, the parent, know your child better than anyone. If you don’t have a clear vision of what you want for your child – then how (in the heck) do you expect anyone else to? Have the courage to follow your heart and set the bar high. You may not get there, but I guarantee, you will come pretty darn close. The process will make believers out of those listed in point #4.
6. Know the rules of the game AND when to call in the “troops”.
Despite your efforts, there are times when singing “Kumbaya” (a spiritual song) does not rally the team. It’s helpful to have an “outside advocate”. This could be another school or district person you trust. It could also mean you need to have a separate meeting with decision makers to review the policy or procedure. For example, a very caring team wanted our son to take an alternate assessment. They did not realize that what they were proposing, out of love, could derail him from achieving a standard high school diploma.
Related: The Politics of Special Education: The Information You Need Right Now
7. Avoid email and Facebook – commit to face-toface discussions
It’s only natural to post some cryptic message about your feelings. However, your followers know you too well. So if you are feeling upset – just pick up the phone or try to stop by the school at an appropriate time.
More IEP Help
- How can parents prepare for an IEP Meeting? (Part 1)
- Pre- IEP Worksheet
- IEP Meeting Overwhelm? How to Avoid It!
- Rock Your Next IEP: Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting
- Big Picture of Parent Participation in an IEP Meeting
- Beyond the IEP Team: 6 Tips for Parent Participation at School
- Should My Child Attend the IEP Meeting?
- Calm Your Nerves – Know What To Expect At An IEP Meeting
- The Importance of S.M.A.R.T IEP Goals
This post originally appeared on our January/February 2014 Magazine