Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lawyers and meetings.....a few lessons learned

I'm counting down 8 days til break!  I still have a few IEP and miscellaneous meetings to go--it seems the more challenging meetings are usually at the end of the school year.  Transitions bring on stress--parents worry about the next grade, the next school, slow progress,  sometimes a new setting.  Hence---we meet.  These are usually not the meetings where everyone tells me what a wonderful therapist I've been.  Sometimes, there are loud words, tears, door slamming, and......lawyers.   This year is typical.

Without going into any details, I feel sometimes parents are justified and sometimes not.  Lawyers aren't always a bad thing, and one year, I grew to really love our school system's lawyer!  Good lawyers are objective, which I like.  When I have a special education legal question, I have a lawyer friend across town (not the school's lawyer) that I email. I want to do things right, and it's helpful to have people around that know IDEA and disability rights.  I also check out websites such as WrightsLaw and various parent blogs.  Anyone in special education should know the resources out there. 

Over the years, I've learned a few tips to help me get through some brutal meetings.  Usually in the cast of IEP characters, I am not the central figure.  The issues don't revolve around speech therapy typically and are most likely broader such as disputes over setting and demands for one-on-one assistants.  I attend these meetings, but am not on the hot seat.  It's still stressful, and often, I do need to talk to the issues when it's my turn. Sometimes, the seating is uncomfortable, the room is too hot/cold, and once the meeting lasted all day.   I never learned about this aspect of my job when I was in grad school!   How about you?

Tips for getting through these difficult meetings---

1. Stay out of the hot seat!   How, you may ask?  Do your paperwork.  Take detailed attendance, record
therapy data, monitor progress or lack of progress, do what the IEP says you were going to do. Write measurable goals with your team; don't write too many goals.  Write progress reports quarterly and share with the parents. This of course needs to be done throughout the year--not the week of the meeting.  If this doesn't work, read on.

2. Be professional.  Maintain confidentiality, don't get worked up, maintain objectivity, adhere to the ASHA code of ethics, bring your data to the meetings and stick to facts, not feelings.  Breathing deeply and finding your inner happy place works too.  If you have done number 1, you've done your best anyway!

3. Don't grandstand with email.  Did you know that people print out, forward, and save emails?  If you have a lot to say, call a meeting. You can also talk to people face to face, or use a telephone.  Emails, however, can come back to haunt you.  If you have doubts about what you are going to send, then don't.

4. If you meet informally with parents during the course of the year, it's sometimes good to have another school person there.    This could be another teacher or therapist who knows the child.  Keep a log of meetings and phone calls. 

5. You are part of an IEP team.  It helps greatly if your IEPs are collaborative and the communication goals are integrated into the other goals.  In this way, everyone is accountable for the whole document, and you, the SLP, will not be singled out if the child doesn't progress as well as others think he should.     If you do number 1 and number 5, you should be fine.

6. Don't sweat the small stuff.  Sometimes, you have to give in a little.  If you dig in your heels about 30 additional minutes of speech time, an inordinate amount of meeting time might be used to discuss and defend this. The other staff members might be grateful that you are in the spotlight.  Occasionally there is room for compromise for your own well-being.  Read number 1 again.  If you have documentation, then that can help determine if your services are effective.

7.  After such a meeting, make plans to have a nice evening, and leave work behind.  The kids will be there the next day, and so will you.


  1. I think most SLPs get a taste of this sooner or later. Like Diana, I think this is a great post!

  2. Gonna pin this and hope all my friends see it too! Excellent!

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