Virtual IEP's

Virtual IEP's
man at his computer in a virtual meeting

Virtual IEP's

November 2020 | Issue #19

The last few months have presented many challenges for educators as they have transitioned to delivering instruction in a virtual and or hybrid model during distance learning as a result of COVID-19. For many teachers and administrators these changes have also resulted in conducting virtual Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meetings.

Whenever individuals come together, there is the potential for miscommunication due to lack of understanding, misconceptions, not reading social or body cues appropriately, etc. Virtual types of meetings can exponentially increase the chances of encountering miscommunication. Maintaining effective communication in a virtual meeting world is possible. Effective communication is about understanding the person and emotion behind the information being shared. When we are engaged in effective communication not only do we have to be clear in our message, we need to listen to gain the full meaning of what is being said, all while making the other person feel they have been heard.

Effective communication encompasses verbal, nonverbal, and listening skills. Our verbal communication should be succinct, clear, and free from jargon to increase the engagement of our audience. Non-verbal communication accounts for 55% of all communication. The main ways we communicate emotions are through facial expressions (the eyes and mouth are very expressive), and postures and gestures. Our body postures can create a feeling of warmth and openness, or cold rejection, as when one is not facing the camera or sitting with arms crossed. Effective listening skills involve remaining silent as others speak, rephrasing what the speaker has just stated, and summarizing in your own words for clarification and to reassure the speaker that what they stated has been heard.

It is critical that in all our communication we strive to send consistent verbal and nonverbal messages. We can demonstrate active communication by giving full physical attention to the speaker, leaning gently towards the speaker or facing the camera, maintaining an open posture with arms uncrossed, maintaining an appropriate distance between us and the speaker (situate your camera at a prudent distance), moving our bodies in response to the speaker (head nodding, facial expressions). In all, remember, always be polite, professional, and respectful.

Some good virtual meeting strategies include: ensuring all are introduced at the start of the meeting, including their role; providing group norms that all can agree to for the meeting; ensuring participants allow wait time when someone speaks; stating name before speaking; actively participating; looking at the camera, unless taking notes; having microphones muted, until it is the participant’s time to speak; taking breaks – Zoom meetings are exhausting!

The following tips can help reduce the opportunities for miscommunication during IEP meetings:

Before Meeting

  • Become familiar with the technology platform and the requirement for successful use prior to the meeting.
  • Login at least 10-15 minutes before the scheduled meeting time to test and troubleshoot any technology issues.
  • Set up a back-up plan in case the technology does not work. What is it?
  • Create your own back-up plan (e.g., print the documents, charge your phone, have the call-in number readily available).
  • Remove distractions and minimize background noise as much as possible.
  • Request interpreters or other supports if needed.
  • If you anticipate any disagreements, develop a plan to address them.

During Meeting

  • Listen closely and wait to share your thoughts and ideas until the current speaker finishes.
  • Stop often and allow enough wait time for questions and feedback.
  • Discuss and agree on the processes for obtaining forms or signatures, if necessary.
  • Confirm the method for delivering a copy of the completed IEP (e.g., mail, e-mail) and the anticipated arrival date.

After Meeting

  • Ensure all necessary documents are distributed to all parties.
  • Offer and seek feedback on the virtual meeting process.
  • Ensure that the IEP is implemented.
  • Continue to share student progress and any concerns with each other.
  • Develop a plan for addressing disagreements.
  • Resolve any conflicts as soon as possible at the local level. Use the dispute resolution option (e.g., IEP facilitation, Informal Alternative Dispute Resolution, etc.) that best fits the situation to address any unresolved conflicts.

Virtual meetings can pose challenges; however, with some simple adjustments we can continue to effectively communicate in a respectful manner that fosters relationships with our team members, parents, and students.