Teachers on the Team

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circleupby Lisa Küpper
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) 

So you made the team—the IEP team, that is, of a student with a disability. That’s a very good thing, because as a general or special educator you bring critical experience and educational know-how to the discussions that go on at IEP team meetings. This blog takes a closer look at what your role on the team involves and why it’s so important that you’re there.

First, a Few Basics

Every student with a disability who receives special education and related services under IDEA must have an individualized education program—an IEP. A team of knowledgeable people develop the IEP together. The team typically includes the student’s parents, at least one regular educator, at least one special educator, a representative of the school system, and key others (including, when appropriate, the student). Which of these members are you?

The IEP Team’s Mission

The IEP team first identifies the student’s special needs associated with his or her disability, then identifies the services and supports the school will provide to address those special needs. That’s a serious responsibility. It’s not an exaggeration to say that what the IEP team decides on behalf of the student has a direct and immediate (and often long-term) impact on the education the student receives.

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Why Educators Need to be at the IEP Table

As an educator working with this particular student, you have first-hand knowledge and daily experience with the student in the school setting. There’s much you can share with the other members of the IEP team, including what you’ve observed about the student’s strengths and weaknesses, interests, challenges, and learning style.

You also can speak wisely regarding your own area of expertise.

  • General educator? What you know about the general education curriculum is invaluable to others on the IEP team. You can describe the types of information and skills students in your class are expected to learn. How does the student’s disability affect his or her learning of those skills? What accommodations or supports might help? What strategies have helped to cultivate success for the student in your classroom? Suggest loudly and proudly that these things be listed in the IEP and provided to the student.
  • Special educator? Share what you know about disability in general and this student’s disability in particular. Also share what you know about how to individualize instruction for this student, so that he or she can grasp the content, demonstrate learning, and progress academically. Strongly suggest the needed supports.

There are also special factors you can help the IEP team consider with respect to this student of yours. Does the student have behavior issues that need to be addressed? What about a limited proficiency in English? Does the student need the textbook to be provided digitally or in another format, such as Braille? What about assistive technology—could it help the student perform at school?

As the student’s teacher, you can speak up on any of these factors, if they’re affecting the student—speak up and advocate for needed supports.

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What About Your Needs?

As the educator responsible for addressing this student’s special needs, there may be things that would help you help the student—training on his or her disability, for example, or special equipment or teaching materials, or perhaps an aide in the classroom.

You’ll be pleased to know that part of the IEP process includes identifying “program modifications and supports for school personnel” that will be provided to enable the student to be involved in the general education curriculum, progress toward annual goals, and participate with other students, including those without disabilities. So speak up and talk about what you need with the rest of the IEP team. Ensuring that you are well equipped to support the student is another important responsibility of the IEP team.

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Your Involvement Makes a Difference

What you bring to the IEP team can enrich the discussion immeasurably, because you are grounded in the real world of instruction and learning. You support student learning every day. So it’s no surprise that what you can contribute at the IEP meeting can go a long way to helping the IEP team craft an educational program for the student that’s insightful, realistic, and appropriate.

To Learn More about the IEP Process

An entire section of NICHCY’s website is devoted to the IEP, starting at: http://nichcy.org/schoolage/iep

Dive in, and you’ll find both short reads and detailed descriptions of the IEP document (what it contains), the IEP team (who’s on it), and the IEP process itself (the in’s and out’s of the IEP meeting). More information about the educator’s role on the IEP team is also available, at:

Special Educators on the IEP Team

Regular Educators on the IEP Team

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NOTICE: NICHCY is going away, but its resources are not. Find hundreds of legacy NICHCY publications, as well as our training curriculum on IDEA 2004, in the Center for Parent Information and Resources' Library at http://www.parentcenterhub.org/resources. This website will remain available until September 30, 2014. After that date, web visitors will be automatically redirected to http://www.parentcenterhub.org.