Why Do You Sit At The IEP Table?

brain based iep challenging behavior iep special education special needs parent Jul 13, 2022

Why Do You Sit at the IEP Table?

This questions has come up frequently in the last few days and it left me thinking about my own journey to the IEP table.   Regardless of which seat you fill, there's a reason why you are there.  For most team members, it is a choice following a professional decision to pursue education and employment in a public school district.   For parents, it's usually not a choice they make but rather a choice made our of need to support their child.

For me, my choice to sit at the IEP table is as much about how I got to the table as it is about why I continue to sit there.


Choosing to Sit at the IEP Table:

My journey began when I was 18 when I met the most adorable little boy who had autism.   I'd never heard that word, knew absolutely nothing about autism and knew very little about disabilities in general.   I was fascinated and after a summer of serving as this kiddo's 1:1, I dove head first into learning as much as I could about behavior, autism and how to get a job in this field.

Time, education and life experiences led me to working for a private company where I had several opportunities to support my clients in their public school classroom.   The term IEP had crossed my path but not much more at this point.   It didn't take me long to notice that many of the classrooms I was working in did not want me there.  School staff engaged very little, claiming not to need my help.  I was tolerated because somebody told them they had to.   It was very frustrating given we were all on the same mission to best support the child.  These experiences sent me back to school to get my general education credential with a commitment to welcome all children and any supports they needed into my classroom no matter what.

It was as a general education teacher that I first sat at the IEP table after just roughly 4 hours of college coursework and no professional training on my role as a general education teacher on the IEP team.    I often felt like a warm body there because somebody who "knew more than me" told me I had to be at the meeting rather than the the critical team player the general education teacher is for a child.   

As life would have it the area I lived in was dealing with budget cuts and there were very few jobs for a newer teacher in general education.   I had always intended to get my special education credential and so off I went to school again; officially making the decision to take a regular seat at the IEP table.


Continuing to Sit at the IEP Table:

I've sat at the IEP table now for over 10 years as a special education teacher/case manager.   I've served on over 200 IEP teams and implemented the IEP those teams have developed.  I've made mistakes, noticed trends in education and in parent concerns, and learned a great deal about special education, IEPs and most importantly meeting students unique needs.  

It was long this journey that I became a parent of a child with behavioral needs.   My fascination with understanding how to support challenging behavior moved very swiftly to a critical life mission in full Mama Bear fashion to meet my child's increasingly challenging behavioral needs.   Frustrated by the medical community's options and knowing in my gut that public education was not the right fit yet, I found myself diving into the world of addressing challenging behaviors from a brain-based perspective.

As I learned more, I rapidly realized how off base the public education system was in addressing similar needs in the school setting.   I began to notice that such students, many whom had behavior plans, were misunderstood and often seen only as their behaviors or the accompanying reports that documented the consequences that schools seemed to love to dish out in response to them.   I saw a failure of the IEP to be implemented in a manner that truly supported the student and a lack of understanding of the process.  I saw kids being blamed for the behaviors that were a result of their disabilities.  And I saw my child's eventual entry into that system and the path that would likely be followed if nothing changed.

It broke my heart. 

It made me mad.   

It gave me purpose.

I sit at the IEP table today by choice as both an Master IEP Coach® and a special education teacher.  I hope to make a difference for families like mine who are struggling with invisible disabilities that lead to social, emotional and behavioral challenges within the school day.    I want to educate families on the IEP process and how to develop a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that truly supports their child's needs so that they can be the best advocate for their child.   Most importantly I want children who have challenging behavior to be able to fulfill their fullest potential and to be understood for who they are and not for how they behave.


What about you?  Why do you sit at the IEP table?


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