SpEd Guide to Student-Centered IEP Meetings

Building Confidence and Self-Advocacy Skills

SpEd Guide to Student-Centered IEP Meetings

IEP Meetings7/8/2024

Student-centered Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings place the student at the heart of the process. .

Unlike traditional IEP meetings, where educators and parents typically make most of the decisions, student-centered meetings actively involve students in the discussion and decision-making process.

The goal is to allow students to take ownership of their education, voice their preferences, and advocate for their needs. Such meetings help instill in them a sense of confidence and capability.

Importance of Student-Centered IEP Meetings

  1. Empowerment and Self-Advocacy: Students learn to self-advocate for themselves, an essential skill for future independence and self-determination, when they  actively participate in their IEP meetings.
  2. Personalized Education: When students share their strengths, interests, and goals, educators can tailor the educational program to suit individual needs better.
  3. Improved Outcomes: Research has shown that student involvement in IEP meetings can lead to better educational outcomes. Students are more likely to be motivated and committed to their goals when they have a say in setting them.
  4. Enhanced Collaboration: Student-centered IEP meetings facilitate better collaboration between students, parents, and educators by creating a more supportive and cohesive learning environment.

How to Prepare the Student for an IEP Meeting?

1. Explain the Purpose of the IEP Meeting

  • Simple Explanation: Use age-appropriate language to explain what an IEP meeting is and why it is important. Ensure the student understands that this meeting concerns their education and future.
  • Importance of Their Input: Emphasize that their opinions, goals, and preferences contribute towards making the IEP effective and meaningful.

2. Review the Current IEP

  • Understand Current Goals: Go through the current IEP goals and progress with the student. Highlight their achievements as well as areas that require improvement.
  • Identify Areas of Strength and Interest: Discuss strengths and interests with the student to personalize the IEP.

3. Discuss Future Goals

  • Set Personal Goals: Help the student identify both academic and personal goals.
  • Prioritize: Teach students to prioritize their goals, considering which are most important and realistic to achieve in the given timeframe.

4. Practice Self-Advocacy

  • Role-Playing: Conduct role-playing sessions in which the students practice speaking up about their needs and preferences. This helps build confidence and communication skills.
  • Communication Skills: Teach students to express their thoughts clearly and confidently.

5. Prepare Questions and Comments

  • List of Questions: Help the student prepare a list of questions they might have about their IEP. This ensures they are ready to engage in the discussion.
  • Comments on Progress: Encourage them to think about any feedback they want to give regarding their progress and support.

6. Create a Personal Presentation

  • Presentation Skills: Guide the student in creating a simple presentation (e.g., slides, posters, or a speech) about their goals, strengths, and areas where they need support. This visual aid can help them communicate their points more effectively.
  • Visual Aids: Use visual aids to help students convey their message more clearly.

7. Discuss Meeting Etiquette

  • Respectful Communication: Teach the student to communicate respectfully and listen to others during the meeting.
  • Taking Turns: Explain the importance of taking turns speaking and not interrupting others.

8. Provide Emotional Support

  • Address Anxiety: Acknowledge any anxiety or nervousness the student may feel and provide reassurance.
  • Build Confidence: Encourage and build the student's confidence by reinforcing that their input is valuable and respected.

9. Set Realistic Expectations

  • Outcome Awareness: Discuss what they can realistically expect from the meeting.
  • Flexibility: Prepare them for potential compromises or changes in their proposed goals.

10. Follow-Up After the Meeting

  • Debriefing: After the meeting, review what was discussed and agreed upon.
  • Next Steps: Plan the next steps together and discuss how they can continue to be involved in their education plan.

Success Story: A Real-Life Example


Alex, a 16-year-old high school student with ADHD, had always felt sidelined during his IEP meetings. His parents and teachers would discuss his progress and set goals without much input from him. This approach left Alex feeling disconnected and unmotivated.

The Change to a Student-Centered Approach

During his sophomore year, the school decided to adopt a student-centered approach for IEP meetings. Here's how they prepared and conducted the meeting:


  • Educators and parents explained the purpose of the IEP meeting to Alex and emphasized the importance of his input.
  • Alex reviewed his current IEP with the help of his resource teacher; he identified areas where he had made progress and areas that needed improvement.
  • He was encouraged to think about his future goals, both academic and personal. Alex wanted to improve his grades in math and science and join the school's robotics club.
  • Through role-playing sessions, Alex practiced expressing his needs and preferences clearly and confidently. He also prepared a small presentation outlining his goals and the support he needed to achieve them.

The Meeting

  • Alex was introduced as the key participant in the meeting. His presentation was well-received by the team.
  • He confidently discussed his strengths, such as his interest in technology and his recent improvement in organizational skills.
  • When it came to setting goals, Alex's input was prioritized. The team discussed his desire to join the robotics club and set specific academic goals to improve his math and science grades.
  • The educators and parents worked together to create a plan that included additional support in math and science and accommodations to help Alex stay organized and focused.


The shift to a student-centered IEP meeting had a profound impact on Alex. He felt valued and heard, which in turn increased his confidence and motivation.

Over the next year, Alex's grades in math and science improved, and he successfully joined the robotics club.

The student-centered approach helped Alex achieve his goals and equipped him with self-advocacy skills that would benefit him throughout his life.

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