How to empower students by participating in IEP and 504 team meetings
By Laurel Peltier, Collaborative for Educational Services
Emerging America has benefitted at key moments from Laurel's deep experience as a teacher and leader in support of students with disabilities. We are pleased to add her insights on ways that History and Civics teachers can support IEP and 504 teams to the Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse of resources.
Imagine you’ve just been asked to come to a team meeting for one of your students. What’s your first thought?
For many of us who are content-area teachers, these meetings feel like a disruption…something that takes us away from the important work we do every day with students. Today, just for a few moments, let’s consider the opportunities that happen when an IEP or 504 team gathers around the table. Let’s think about the power you have in representing students and strengthening teaching and learning when you take your seat at the table.
- Empower your students by representing them well: When you know that a student has an upcoming meeting, you have the opportunity to strengthen student self-determination by having a brief, focused conversation. In a moment before or after class, let the student know you’re getting ready to go to their team meeting. Ask the student: “What should I say your greatest strength is in my class? What can I show people at the meeting so they’ll see what you can do?” Also, ask, “What’s one thing that you’d like to get better at? What can teachers do to help you get there?” Finally, you can ask the student if they plan to attend and encourage them to talk with their parents / guardians or liaison about participating.
- Empower your students by bringing specific information: The team needs you to represent the whole student, including strengths and areas for improvement. Bring specific examples of work, stories about specific interactions between the student and others, and specific information about what has worked / not worked to support success in your classroom. You are the one who sees the student applying skills in the classroom. Others on the team may not have this experience. Ultimately, the team needs the information about teaching and learning where it matters most. Bringing specific information from the classroom is critical to planning for lasting, meaningful improvements in student learning.
- Strengthen teaching and learning by making learning visible: Content-area teachers know what is expected of learners at specific grade levels, in specific subjects. Other people who make educational decisions are not as familiar with these expectations. Keep the team grounded in grade-level academic, social, emotional and behavioral expectations for all learners. Bring sample assignments and exams. Show redacted samples that fit with grade-level expectations, as well as those that exceed expectations and those that haven’t yet reached the mark. Help the team see where the student is and where the student will go next in order to build essential skills in your content area. In doing this, you prepare the team to set goals and measure progress in a way that is aligned with the student’s current performance.
As the content-area teacher, you are the expert not only in your subject area, but in how the student with a disability lives out learning in the place that matters for all students–the general education classroom. So, the next time you’re invited to a 504 or IEP team meeting, take a minute to celebrate your power and the opportunity you have to make a difference. Content-area teachers are uniquely positioned to support equitable access to education for all learners. That’s what you’re doing when you take your seat at the table!
Laurel Peltier, Ph.D., is a Curriculum and Instructional Specialist in Special Education at the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES). Laurel is the co-author, with CES colleague Dr. Albert E. Johnson-Mussad, Ph.D., of Responsive Collaboration for IEP and 504 Teams. (Corwin, 2022).