4 steps for an effective IEP during remote learning

There are certain considerations to keep in mind for remote or hybrid learning. Here are four steps to guide you
Rachael Storey is a consultant for Riverside Insights and a former special education teacher in Michigan.
Rachael Storey is a consultant for Riverside Insights and a former special education teacher in Michigan.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are the key tool for special education professionals and can be life-changing for students. However, an IEP must be designed specifically for the needs of each student, which requires collaboration between special education teachers, associated services, general education teachers, and caregivers. This collaboration is even harder to achieve in today’s new pandemic-driven remote learning environments, where these relationships often have not been built in person and data/test results are being updated less frequently.

While the basics of writing IEPs will stay the same, there are certain considerations to keep in mind for remote or hybrid learning. Here are four steps to guide you:

Step One: Gather assessment data

Gathering data on the student from current special education evaluations, assessment tools, and IEP team members is crucial in creating a fair representation of the student’s present levels. Using remote learning tools and safe administration practices with PPE, continue to collect and use data.

Step Two: Communicate with the caregiver and the student

To have an effective meeting, especially if virtual, communicate with students and caregivers before the meeting. Caregivers can be overwhelmed by the structure and information delivered at IEP meetings and technical difficulties may increase the challenge.

Ensure caregivers know the key terms in their child’s IEP and have a tip sheet like this before meetings. Consider sending a list of IEP terms and definitions.

Especially now, consider caregiver input on home behavior and remote learning realities. What aspects of remote learning have been working for their child at home? What hasn’t worked? Student involvement is also important – the more involved the student is in the creation of the IEP, the more they will be able to advocate for their own needs. This information helps us create appropriate accommodations.

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Step Three: Revise IEPs for remote learning

While there is currently no single right answer regarding how to change IEPs for remote or hybrid learning, follow your school and district’s lead. This could change in the near future and a best practice may arise for educators to follow. However, identified student needs will remain and you may be expected to proceed as usual and/or adapt to a virtual learning environment.

When writing goals, the content of what you want the student to accomplish will likely stay the same, but you may need to adjust the criteria, method, and schedule for remote or hybrid learning. Think about what is feasible given that the teacher will not be with the student at all times. What can the family handle? Caregiver input is invaluable, as you will need caregivers to be invested in the goals you create together.

If the student receives an accommodation or support at school, it is important to consider how to translate this to at-home learning. For example, if a student requires checks for understanding after learning new material, the teacher could quickly message, email, or phone the student. Many accommodations can easily be built-in to remote teaching, such as including word banks or equations/formulas with online work.

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You may see different behaviors from students during remote learning than you see at school. Students may have difficulty with schedule changes, miss their school staff and friends, feel bored or unmotivated, or struggle with mental health. While some may need revisions to behavior plans, others may need the section regarding positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) changed to reflect at-home strategies.

Step Four: Consider how to host remote IEP meetings

IDEA law states that it is acceptable to hold virtual IEP meetings. Below are best practices I have compiled over the last few years:

  • Security and student privacy concerns have to take top priority. Please follow your district guidelines on selecting a host website for your meetings and sharing student documents. Also, note that states have different laws regarding recording meetings. As always, follow your school or district’s plan.
  • Start the meeting in a positive way by talking about the student’s strengths and asking the student to share something about school they are proud of.
  • Pause throughout the meeting and ask if anyone has questions. Sometimes it is easy to talk quickly when not in person.
  • If you are leading the meeting, specifically ask for team members’ points of view and give them time to respond. It can be intimidating for some to speak up during conference calls.
  • Share your screen with the team if possible, so everyone can see what you are talking about. It can be difficult for caregivers to find where sections are located in the IEP – even during in-person meetings.

As you have already done the impressive work of moving your classroom online, hopefully these tips will make remote IEPs seem less daunting. Remember, the IEP process is similar, with only small changes for remote learning. By putting in the up-front work to our IEPs, we can help put students on the right track towards their goals and dreams, even while not in our physical classrooms.

Rachael Storey is a teacher-turned-writer with a passion for special education. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her graduate degree in urban special education from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Rachael currently holds a professional teaching license in Michigan K-12 special education with endorsements in both learning disabilities and cognitive disabilities and has enjoyed teaching all levels of students over the past ten years.

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