215: IEP Strategies for Parents, with Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed.

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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If there’s one thing parents of struggling learners understand, it’s that the IEP process is complex. Between the law (IDEA), qualifications, the IEP document, goals, measurements, and formal meetings, there’s a lot to know and navigate to ensure that your neurodivergent child receives the education they deserve (and have a right to). In this episode, I’m joined by Master IEP Coach, Catherine Whitcher. Catherine shares insights on the IEP process,  two main strategies for IEP meetings and what to expect in those meetings, and all the facets of a student should be addressed with special education, not just grades and test scores. Join us to discover your voice of advocacy for your child. 


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My Guest

Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed.

Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed has been solving Special Education struggles for schools and families for over 25 years. After watching her family navigate the system for her brother with Down syndrome, Catherine was motivated to create change. She earned several certifications in Special Education, spent time in the classroom, and became a positive voice of hope and collaboration for families and teachers in her community. She is the founder of the Master IEP Coach® Mentorship and Network, creator of the IEP Development Assessment Wheel™, host of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast, and is currently traveling nationwide working hands-on with teachers and parents to build IEPs that work in the real world. Her unique special education strategies and solutions have been implemented at thousands of IEP tables and she can’t wait to support you in leveling up your leadership on your IEP team.



Catherine Whitcher 0:03

If you do get a surprise at the IEP table, you absolutely need to kind of take a deep breath and say to yourself, I'm not making a decision on any of this information, you don't have to. So any new information that's coming at you, that's what it is. It's new information, you do not need to try to take that in and make decisions at the same time.

Penny Williams 0:24

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast I have with me, Katherine Whitcher, who is an IEP expert, and coach and is going to give us lots of great insight into IEP s, what they are, how to write goals, and how parents can really advocate for their kids and their needs. So I want to start Katherine, just by having you introduce yourself. Let everyone know who you are and what you do.

Catherine Whitcher 1:13

Well, thanks for having me. I'm excited to chat with everyone. So I have been in the field professionally for about 25 years, I am a special needs siblings, and my brother is 45 with Down syndrome. So I come to the IEP process with the perspective of the family with the perspective of a certified teacher, I did spend some time in the classroom, but really, for the last 20 years, I've been traveling around the country and working online, helping parents and teachers work collaboratively together to build IEPs that work because that's the bottom line is we could build this beautiful, you know, document that really is meant to support a child. But if we're not headed in the right direction, with the right priorities, and working together on making that happen, then it all just kind of falls apart.

Penny Williams 1:55

Yeah, for sure. You know, my son has graduated high school now, but we spent many years in IEP meetings with lots of struggling in that area. So I'm so excited that there's so many more resources for parents now to really help them to navigate that process can be really overwhelming, and sort of almost minimizing if that makes sense. Like you feel so small, sometimes when you enter that meeting. So let's start though just with like, what is an IEP? Who gets an IEP? Should the kids have some of the parents listening? be asking for an IEP? What do we need to know about that?

Catherine Whitcher 2:34

Yeah, so if you think you know what an IEP is, still listen to this, because I promise you, I want to flip kind of the perspective of what an IEP is. So an IEP, you know, go Google it, it's gonna say, you know, this individualized education plan, and then all this jargon comes up, and all this, you know, have this meeting, get this evaluation, do all of these things. And there's this really important part of the IEP process, and kind of the paperwork, and it's called the purpose and findings of ideal law. That's the federal law. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not giving you legal advice, I'm just telling you where to look. And then the purpose and findings of ideal law, it says that the purpose of an IEP is to prepare a child for further education, employment and independent living. Now, most everybody, when they're going through this IP processes are trying to figure out what it is, they read a different part of this, they see it's a free and appropriate public education, and they kind of get ready to put their armor on and go fight for their child's education.

So yes, absolutely. This Individualized Education Plan is supposed to help your child get an appropriate education, but it also needs to meet their unique needs, and prepare them for the future. So when you're looking at, you know, Does my child need an IEP, there are all different eligibility categories, there's all this different criteria. And that that process really varies kind of state to state when it comes to exactly what the wording is of what you're looking for. But the bottom line is, if your child is struggling through school, and that doesn't mean that they can have good grades and still be struggling, because that happens a lot in our communities. Is that right? We have good grades and we're still struggling. But if your child is struggling, socially, emotionally, you know, independent living skills, relationships, and you know that there needs to be something else happening in the school, definitely starting that IEP process. And if you're already in that IEP process, think about flipping your perspective, and really looking at this as a long term support for the future. Instead of just let's just create this paperwork so I can help my child keep up or help my child do better.

Penny Williams 4:34

Yeah, I love that future thinking there. Because that is, you know, that end goal. I'm always asking parents and myself, what is the actual end goal here? Is it that my kid completes this worksheet? And his handwriting is beautiful, and he gets a turn in on time? Or is it that he learns and he gains skills for life? Right? Yeah, he learned some material and, and that was a big question for us because how But it was so hard for my son. And so I was constantly saying, Well, can you show this differently? How do we do things differently for him, right? But I honed in on one thing you said, as you were talking, you're talking also about social emotional independence skills. I think this is where we so often forget that these things are part of the educational experience, too, right? That my kid could be getting good grades, but could be so overwrought and upset and anxious in school or struggling socially, where the school experience is still really traumatic and hard. Right? So it's important that we're also looking at these other aspects, not just academics.

Catherine Whitcher 5:44

Yeah. And there's, there's qualifications, you know, so there are there's checklists, and different assessments and different things that can be done in all of these different areas. But so many times parents are told like, well, you know, IPs are for academics, and there's not an academic struggle, therefore, you know, we'll just wait and see. But that's not true. There's all these different categories, where a child could be supported. So you know, one of the most kind of MSA popular categories, when it comes to a child that doesn't fit into a specific learning disability, or they don't have a specific diagnosis, like Down syndrome or autism, you know, where it's highly impacting their school experience in a way that's very visual, you know, we can see what's happening, but Oh, Hai. So other health impaired, it's kind of like this catch all, we kind of say behind the scenes like this kettle, but it's really important because, oh, a tie is a lot of times where those invisible kind of deficits or struggles or disabilities, they fit in this other health impaired, meaning there's something else that's going on, that we need to support to ensure that a child has equal access to their education as their same age peers.

Penny Williams 6:50

Yeah, there's so much to unpack there. And I know we can't get into like all of the details here, of course and a half an hour, but I want to make sure that parents understand that if your kids struggling, no matter what aspect of school, ask for help. And how do they do that? What do you do to get that ball rolling?

Catherine Whitcher 7:11

Well, in special education, we say if it's not in writing, it didn't happen. Which means that the first thing you got to get really comfortable doing and really confident in is your ability to put everything in writing. And this doesn't mean that we're sending email after email after email after email, right? Like that's not effective. So you have to have effective letter writing skills to make those requests to be very specific, in what you're asking for. That's something that I love to teach inside of our Master Ip coach program. So I have a, you know, online training programs for parents and teachers to learn how to, you know, really do this whole IEP thing collaboratively. And, you know, there's several modules in that, that talk about writing it down, because it's not just, I'm going to send an email. So it's really important for everybody here to kind of hear like, I have to put it in writing. And I've got to get specific, and I'd have to ask for specific desired outcomes.

And I need to list specifically what my child is struggling with. And if the school is going to say no to any of your requests. So if you put something in writing, and you say, I see, you know, that my child has been struggling consistently, with homework time, what should be taking, you know, an hour to complete is taking four hours to complete with multiple meltdowns. And this is chaos. And it's affecting, you know, social emotional at school, a child struggling, because I know that they don't have peer relationships that they should have, they don't have the executive functioning skills, you know, the kiddo with a locker that never shuts, right, because there's just papers coming out everywhere. It's like listing out what is happening. So there's a clear documentation of it and saying, you know, I'm respectfully requesting that my child be evaluated for special education services. And when you're asking specifically, not just like, I think there's some problems, what do you think now, here are the struggles?

And I'm requesting a special education evaluation, like you want to start the process for the special education evaluation, then if for some reason you get a no, you have to make sure you get that know in writing? Again, very clear. I always tell everybody I'm working with I can't help you get to a yes. If I don't know why. They said no. So I need to know, what is the know. So if you're hitting bumps in the road, so whether you're starting the process, or you're in the process, and you're getting like, I hear this all the time, parents will tell me, they said no. And I'm like, who's they? And did they put it in writing? Yeah. Right. Like, I have to know those two things. Who's they? And did they put it in writing? Because there's multiple levels of people in special education. And a lot of things can be said casually. But until we get to kind of the right people, and we get things in writing. We don't actually have a no, we have not yet or oh, I don't think so we get a lot of opinions, kind of pushback of like what should we do next? And I don't want you to be making decisions about your child's education based on opinions or kind of just casual conversations, I want there to be specific, you know, documentation and data to support any decisions that are being made.

Penny Williams 10:08

And that documentation then can help you to come back at what's going on. Right. So if you get to know and you have a documented that then triggers parts of the law, right, that are there to protect the kids and the students. So that's so valuable, really crucial, I think.

Catherine Whitcher 10:26

Yeah, it is, it's really critical. One of the best strategies when you are advocating for your child is to really have this timeline, kind of, you know, this documentation, right. So if the time comes, let's just say, and I know a lot of parents feel this way, you're like, I've been asking for this for forever. Like, I feel like I've been asking forever. A lot of times when parents would contact me and say, I've been asking for this forever. And I would say, Show me, show me, show me the forever, right, like show me all of the things. And they only had one or two pieces of documentation, because they were having a lot of verbal conversations, a lot of casual kind of sticky note kind of things going back and forth between school folders. And I'm like, No, we need to really document this and then be able to say, let's say we are then 90 days down the road or six months down the road. And we have this documentation that we've asked, they've tried, they offered, we asked they try, you know, there's a lot of trial and error. Sometimes when we're getting started in the process. Or again, if you're already in the process, you have to be able to show somebody kind of in this chain of command of special education, like listen, we've been trying this for 90 days, we've been trying this for four or five, six months, here's the documentation of everything that's gone back and forth. Now what?

Penny Williams 11:37

Yeah, I came to understand or realize that what would help me a lot in our own journey was, when there was a conversation, I always followed it up with an email, I always put it down on paper. And I always let everyone know, you know, in the conversation, this is how I understood it. And this is how I understand each party have that conversation is going to take action now. Because otherwise, it gets much more laws, it's just not as real, I think. And as concrete. If it's not in writing, a lot of times teachers are overwhelmed. And then as you said, it is keeping that documentation that we're going to need potentially going forward. So I was one thing that I learned very early on, if you talk about it, then you send it an email.

Catherine Whitcher 12:28

Absolutely, that recap is definitely critical to making sure that just everybody's on the same page life is busy, a lot of times the things that are forgotten or not followed through on it's not out of, you know, kind of malicious intent of I'm going to refuse to do this. It's more of like, Oh, I forgot that we had that conversation in the carpool lane. You know, even during parent teacher conferences, I forgot that we agreed upon this unless it's put into writing, we really, you know, can't say Well, remember, we agreed on this, or we end up in that he said she said kind of conversation. And and we don't want to be there.

Penny Williams 13:03

No, it's not helpful. So let's talk a little bit about the meetings. I just want to give parents kind of an idea. Parents who haven't been an IEP meeting before? What is that? Like? What should they expect? Because I know, it's pretty shocking for me going in, you know, I was the one person and it felt like everyone else was on the other side of the table. And on a different side, kind of the opposite side wanting the opposite of what I was there trying to get for my kid. And so I think it's really good for parents to have an idea of what to expect, and also how they can interact, what they can do in those meetings as well.

Catherine Whitcher 13:44

Okay, so I'm gonna give two strategies for parents, right, especially our parents that are newer to the system. But even those, again, if you've been to lots of IEP meetings, you need to lean into these two strategies for yourself also. So number one, there should be no strangers at the IP table. Even if you haven't met somebody face to face, there's zero reason why you should not have had some prior communication with everybody at that table. Because you're trying to figure out who the people are and what they do. Well, you're sitting there with all of your emotions going, and you're like, Why is this person here? Why is like, I don't need him to understand or Oh, yeah, I forgot that my child did get that type of evaluation. So now this person is sitting here, and I didn't even realize that this information was gonna come to me. And so the people around the table should not be strangers. And that's a big core piece.

And that's something that is a newer concept. If you've like, I've never heard that, like, I've always walked in and there's been people there that I'm kind of like, I don't know, like, I've never really communicated with this person before. It does take prep work to make sure there's no strangers at the IEP table. Yeah, but make sure that there's no strangers at the IP table that you already know who they are. When you walk in, you might have to put a face to a name. But again, there's almost no reason for that either. Because with our technology and the way things are we don't have Meet people for the first time right at an IEP meeting. The second one is no surprises, which means that if you do get a surprise at the IEP table, you absolutely need to kind of take a deep breath, and say to yourself, I'm not making a decision on any of this information, like just say to yourself, like, I know, I'm not going to make any decisions on this new information, you don't have to. So any new information that's coming at you, that's what it is, it's new information, you do not need to try to take that in and make decisions at the same time.

A proper IEP meeting would make sure that there's no surprises at the IEP table. And there's been like a draft IEP that's been shared, there's been some talking points between you and the staff of like, we're going into the meeting, we know that this has been a struggle, these have been some strengths and our ideas for what the, you know, next IEP may look like are this and you're giving parent input. And that's a whole, we could do a whole hours hours on parent input, okay. But, but there should be no surprises. And so when I say no surprises, that means no surprises from the school team to you, and no surprises from you to the school team. And that's why I say parent input is a big deal. So I have an entire like recommended process for submitting this parent input approximately 10 days before the meeting that's going to really help drive your child's IEP, I know that we're going to chat a little bit about goals and how that might, you know, kind of all come together for you in a new way. So no strangers at the IEP table, no surprises at the IEP table, you should know what's happening, what is the agenda and who's going to be there.

Penny Williams 16:29

And that so often happens, there's often strangers and surprised that I learned to ask who was going to be there before the meeting so that I could look these people up, I can know who they were, what their expertise was, what their role might be. In that meeting, I also learned to submit my own concerns, days in advance at least, so that they could be copied and pasted into the document that we were talking about. Because so often, I didn't feel like I had a lot of time to have a voice in the meeting. And so that was my way of starting that out, too. So I love that you say that, though, because it's so very important for how we feel as a parent going into that meeting. If I know who's there. I know what we're going to talk about. I'm feeling much more calm than going in and not having a clue why somebody asked for an IEP meeting, right? If it wasn't me, right, very, very valuable. I love that.

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So should we pivot some to talking about goals because I think that so many people misunderstand them, teachers and parents, often, especially that measurement piece that they have to be measurable. And I know too, I want to talk a little bit about what we should expect to get from the school as far as data for me in our area and our school district. I only got data if I asked for it. I never gotten data. And it wasn't kept. It was always oh, let's go back and try to make up some data. I think it's a really common thing that happens. But it's such a shame that it happens because that data is so golden.

Catherine Whitcher 19:10

Yeah, absolutely. So just to kind of connect this meeting and this parent input statement to goal. So that's really important. Yeah. So when you're submitting a parent input statement, and for those are like, I don't even know what you're talking about. Catherine, there's a section in your IEP, that's called parental educational concerns. So I'm talking about filling in that section. And most of the time, the way that that is filled in, is during the meeting, the school team says, um, so Mom, do you have any concerns? And you're so overwhelmed that, you know, one of two things typically happens? No, I don't have any concerns at this time. Okay, when I see that an IEP me an IEP document, I'm like, Are you kidding me? I've never met a parent that has no concerns. Right? Like that's not true. That is a false statement and the parent has no concerns. There are concerns.

Now did the parent know what to share when to share it? It, you know, all of those kinds of pieces that could be part of the IEP? No, they didn't know. So this has to be some prep ahead of time. And you can submit this ahead of time. And when I'm preparing a parent to submit a parental concerns letter ahead of the meeting, we're talking about what are your concerns when it comes to academics, functional skills, independent living, social, emotional behavior, communication, in all of these areas? And if you're like, I don't know, what goals might my kids should be working on in those areas, you're not supposed to you as the parent, your role is to share your concerns in those areas. And then that's kind of how you kind of pass the torch and say, okay, expert, teacher, expert, speech therapist, expert, social worker, I have these concerns, what goals could we be working on to kind of address these? So one of the reasons that, I find that a lot of times data is not collected, let's say or effective or shared, is that many times there's IEP goals inside of the document that don't feel very meaningful.

Now, this is not like, right, okay, meaning that, oh, well, if the school doesn't feel meaningful, we shouldn't take data on it. That's not what I'm saying. A lot of times, it's because this goal maybe was not so meaningful, it hasn't taken a priority in the child's school day, and then we're not taking data on it, and then we're not communicating about it. And when goals like that are in the IEP, we need to get excited about this child's education, which means we probably need to reprioritize what goals we're working on, let's really liven up this IEP to make it really meaningful, then I tend to see more data taken. Because if we can get excited of like we are working towards like, let's just talk about independent work for a minute. So be a child being able to work independently, that's a big scale on a lot of different levels. So you know, children who are easily distracted, or have a lot of sensory overload and have a lot of things kind of just going on working independently is tough.

Now, in the parental concerns letter, it might come out more like, I'm afraid that you know, my child's not going to be able to be safe when we're on vacation, because they're easily distracted, they wander away, I can't cook dinner, because you know, my child constantly needs my attention, you know, needs my help with every step of every process, to walk them through that. So your child learning to have more independence and do tasks from beginning to end. And to follow those directions can have a big positive impact at home, like vacations or even, you know, bedtime routine, dinnertime routines, all of those things, right? The school can get excited about those two, because guess what they want your child to be able to work independently, they want your child to be able to like, just go with the flow, let's do everything like the you know, like the rest of the class, let's get this done. So if you can start to get excited about how are we going to address this, then you're able to create a goal, then we tend to see more measurement. That makes sense, right? Like, oh, look, he used to only stay on task for, you know, three minutes, we are now with a preferred task, you know, on task for 1015 minutes with us. And with a non preferred task, we've increased by 50%, you know, because you know, the child's like, Okay, if they have the supports that they need, they know how to get started on the activity. There's all different things that we could be measuring. When we find these Win Win kind of sweet spot goals. We see parents and teachers excited to talk about them.

Penny Williams 23:28

Yeah. I love that you keep talking about independence and skills for independence, because we rarely talk about that. With IEP meetings, I feel like but it is part of that goal for that student in the long run, you know, that conversation started coming into play like sophomore year in high school, they would start saying, Okay, we're supposed to focus on independence and life skills. I'm like, but you haven't yet. And now look how far behind we are right? Like, because executive functioning, which is a lot of what we're talking about here in the examples that you're giving. They are pervasive, these skills when you are lagging in these skills, it affects getting everything done, not just your schoolwork, you know, not just getting ready for bed in a timely manner and not forgetting anything, but it's like everything. And it really sets the path for whether or not a kid is going to be able to be successfully independent. That's one big piece of that puzzle. So I love that you're bringing up this independence skills for all ages. Because I think the earlier we start, the better off our kids are in the long run anyway, you know, and maybe if we start in elementary school by high school, they're doing a little better than if we start that conversation in 10th grade. Yeah. So you know, again, it comes back to that consideration that I always have that it's about more than academics. We have to get schools to be looking at more than just the grades and the test scores, because so much more matters in the success of a child's education.

Catherine Whitcher 25:07

And when you see a child build their own confidence from being more independent kids, no, right? Kids, no, no, I need an adult come over here and help me get started with this task. Because I don't understand it. Well, did we teach the skills explicitly on how to read the directions and break them down and get started on a task? Did we set up the process of first we're going to do this on this worksheet, then we move to the next step. And we transition because transitions are tough. A lot of times, transitions between all activities can be difficult or even within that activity. So there's a lot of pieces that we will actually see the academic side of things grow, here's the thing, we're going to learn academics, the rest of our lives, right, like we're gonna constantly be learning, if we can nail down these skills to be more self sufficient, that allows us to open up space to learn more academic things, because we're not struggling with kind of the other side, the hidden things behind the scenes. So you can get the nominal growth, with less prompts with less support with less kind of the traditional things that we might be focused on. Like, let's close the gap and reading. Absolutely, I want a child to close the gap and reading, I want the highly trained teacher, I want the measurable IEP goals, I want to make sure, but we can't just focus on reading, if other areas are falling apart.

Penny Williams 26:30

Yeah, especially emotionally and mental health wise, you know, I had I had this kid, they're in survival mode the whole time, they're in school, they're waiting for something bad to happen, they fear not fitting in or being bullied or being bumped in the hall or, you know, not understanding the assignment or the teacher getting upset with them, you know, and they are just in this constant state of feeling really dysregulated and out of whack, and they're not available to learn. You know, I talk a lot about helping kids to be available to learn, because it's not just that they walk in the door, and they put their butt in the chair, that doesn't make them automatically available to learn. There's so much more that goes into that, right. And so again, that's, you know, looking at this whole child perspective, and how all of these different skills affect their experience at school, rather than just their academic learning and what they can show that they've learned.

Catherine Whitcher 27:25

Yeah, and you know, one of the things that you can do as a parent to kind of pull this together is to make sure that you're asking questions all the time. And don't ever feel like your questions are too much, or that they're a burden. And there's gonna be some people that listen, it's like, no, that's questions all day long. Got it? If you have the confidence, you're like, you're asking questions all day long. Let's get the right questions. So let's get the questions that talk about when's the last time did your child have an assistive technology evaluation? There's usually silence Yep. When it comes to that, like assistive technology is not just about iPads. Assistive Technology is anything from your child needs a specific pencil grip, they need a slant board for writing. They need visual schedules, visual prompts, like that's all assistive technology.

And we don't have time to go into that part of it. But that's like, whoa, what we could all be in the IEP. Yeah, those are all the pieces that when they get left out, we might do some academic growth. But if we don't have all of this, I call those like the glue that holds it together. That's all the glue. And if we don't kind of put the glue in the right spaces here, but we have this assistive technology, and we have the staff training, and we have the research based curriculum. And we've, you know, addressed the full continuum of placements. And we've made sure that there's all of these supports, and just services and supports, and all of the things that need to come together, if we don't look at all of those pieces and ask the right questions of, you know, what do they need? And who's going to do it? And who's going to take data on those types of supports, also? And how are we going to make sure that it's working and all of those pieces, you got to ask the right questions?

Penny Williams 28:55

Yeah. Let's chat just a second about what to expect as far as collecting data. As I said, you know, they had to give us the report, I guess it's called with the report card. And it would always be the exact same two sentences for 12 years straight. have, you know, he's progressing towards meeting goals. That's all we ever got. And, you know, I learned after a while, like, I want to see some data, I want to see how he's really doing with this. Because a lot of times, I knew there wasn't any improvement. And that was my way to sort of bring that to the forefront. And then I would get oh, well give us a couple of weeks. We gotta go back through everything. Yeah. Right. And some of that was because like, some of his goals, were writing specific, because he has dysgraphia and written expression disorder, you know, and so that is easier sort of data, I think to have because it was based on you know, doing a certain amount in a certain percentage of time, right. And so that's easy, but what about like, some of these emotional support goals, things like that, like we had one and where he was allowed to get up and leave the room without asking if he needed a break. And he would go, and he would sit in the guidance office, and no one was allowed to talk to him, because that made it worse. And we had to learn to get there, right. And so the way we ended up sort of measuring that was just that he needed at less than last, the more that he knew he was able to take a break, the last dysregulated, he got thinking that he couldn't take a break, right. And so things like that, I think aren't as cut and dried as in how we're going to measure them. But then also, what do we expect from educators as parents of those measurements and getting that data from them.

Catherine Whitcher 30:38

So a good starting point is for you to look at the current IEP. So whether you just got one, or you've had one for eight years, inside of the current IEP, you have your goals. And inside of those goals, each one of the goals will list how that goal is going to be measured. So it'll say things like charts, it'll say portfolios, it'll say, teacher observation, which means that there should be logs of observation, not just the teacher observed and is trying to remember from memory, what is happening, that does not work well. So you have to have lots of observations, I'm all about a good observation, there's a lot of things that teacher or therapist can see, that's happening. But let's make sure that we have a log of that. So there's going to be all these different options that could be within each one of the goals. So start there. So when you get your progress report, which is what you're referring to is, at the same time, as typical report cards go out, you should be receiving a progress report, most progress reports are exactly how you described, it's a bunch of checkmarks that say making progress, making progress making progress.

And you're like, great, great, and then all of a sudden, yeah, one day you go, what does that really mean? I'm not really sure what that means. So I want you to get into a routine of asking for the data to support the progress report, at minimum, the same interval that you would be getting that progress report. So if you're on trimesters, you're getting it three times a year, three times a year, your team should be expecting that you want the data to support the progress report, you're going to have to put that in writing, they're going to look at you like you have three heads, right? I'm like, Ah, what do you mean which data and you're like, Well, this is where you need to be informed of what data are you requesting. And the first place to start is looking in the document saying what is supposed to be collected for this. Now, sometimes that box that is checked, or that notation of what is being collected, it doesn't make sense as an we just kind of filled it out by habit of, you know, teacher observations, teacher observations, your observations, and you're like, wait, but this could be more, we could be doing some charting, or we could have a work portfolio for that writing, you know, we don't necessarily need a teacher observation just on the writing, we need teacher observations, and we need a work portfolio. So we can physically see the growth.

The other thing that just kind of take this next level, is don't hesitate to ask the school to integrate some technology into tracking, meaning that sometimes some video or some pictures of what is happening, or how the task is being completed, or what's going on, that could absolutely be part of the process of collecting data. But we're really old school, when it comes to collecting data in special education, it's kind of like we have old school, like put it on a sticky note, and then upload it, you know, into like making progress kind of thing, or uploaded into even kind of the next level of fancy would be that Google Doc or something. So a teacher is taking this information and putting it into a Google Doc. So there's that. But we could be integrating technology in so many different ways. There's so many programs that teachers could have access to. And a lot of times this has to do with teachers knowing what to ask for, or parents knowing that they could be asking the school district for the teachers to have additional tools, if necessary to collect that data on a more regular basis. And again, with technology, it'll do all the percentages for you, it will show you exactly where your child clicked, it'll show you you know exactly what's happening. But we have to get tools like that into the hands of our teachers, without our teachers. I'm gonna do a little teacher advocacy here too, without our teachers having to pay for it themselves. Is there tools out there? And it would be beneficial. Again, knowing what to ask who to ask how to ask, that's really important. And you can do some great advocacy for teachers to even have better tools, so they can help measure your child's progress.

Penny Williams 34:21

Yeah, it's really important to ask, and I found too, sometimes they would say, well, we don't you know, our district doesn't own that. We don't have that software, and then they wait and they hope that you say okay, but you know, you have to sort of say, Okay, well, this is what my child needs. This is what, you know, not just my child, but other students can really benefit from this could make your staff more productive. Like, you know, sometimes as a parent, you have to learn to solve it. To to the team.

Catherine Whitcher 34:48

Yes. And there's things out there that cost like $20 a month, you know, and so a teacher is like, oh, I'll just pay $20 A month because it'll make my life easier. And I even tell the teacher I'm like, stop, stop that. Yeah, put a number was addition to your school, I don't care if you think they're gonna say no, get it in writing, like from a teacher's perspective to like, get it in writing. So anytime you can support the teacher and getting the tools that they need, I had wonderful parents in my first couple of classrooms. And this is a long time ago, it was a long time ago, I was in the classroom, but they were like, do you have this specific curriculum? And they listed off? And I'm like, No, I don't have that. I mean, I was a new teacher, I walked into an empty room with a stack full of IPs and was expected to do my job. And that's very common. Parents think that is very, very common.

So I was like, No, I don't have it. And the parents straight up said, like, Listen, I'm gonna go to your boss, and I'm gonna be asking for these things. This has nothing to do with you, or your capabilities. This has to do with tools that my child needs to learn, we've already agreed upon them, they're in the IEP, you need to have them. And she like, warned me like, this may not be a pretty conversation, we might be sitting through some not so great IEP meetings. It's not about you, it's about my child having the tools, and you have the tools and training that you need. So you can learn and I was like, okay, all right, let's do this. And that has had a big impact on a lot of the strategies that I watched my mom do that I watched my students parents do that. And so teachers, you know, a lot of times we can build that trust on the IEP team. And really help them understand that when we're looking and asking these questions, and navigating the system for more a lot of times, that's for their benefit, too.

Penny Williams 36:21

Yeah. We've barely scratched the surface. Right. But we're out of time. And I want to make sure that everyone is aware that you have a podcast where you give lots of information and strategies about IEP s and special education. And that's the special education inner circle, correct?

Catherine Whitcher 36:41

Correct. Special Education inner circle podcast. You'll find it on your podcast apps, you'll find it on YouTube. But yeah, they're really quick, like 12 minute episodes to get you just moving in the right direction with your IEP process.

Penny Williams 36:53

Yeah, yeah. There's so much to know, as a parent, and nobody is going to tell you, you're going to have to figure it out. And so resources like Katherine's are invaluable for doing that and for helping our kids in that school environment. I just want to thank you again for sharing some of your time and wisdom. We are going to link up in the show notes, Katherine's website, podcast, social media, everything that you need to be able to connect more, learn from her more and take advantage of those resources. Those show notes are at parentingADHDandautism.com/215 for Episode 215, and I really hope that you will, as I said, connect with her and learn more from her. It's been an honor to have you here and I'm so thankful. Thank you penny for having me. I will see everyone next time. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parenting ADHDandautism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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