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3 Tips For A Successful Back To School With IEPs | Music Teachers

3 Tips For A Successful Back To School With IEPs

back to school exceptional learners iep May 25, 2021

      Going back to school can fill teachers with many emotions. For many of us, one of the first emotions is excitement! The students are coming back and it’s a fresh start! However, it inevitably also fills many of us with varying degrees of anxiety and dread (especially after the 2020 and 2021 school year).

When it comes to IEPs, it can be overwhelming for the non-special education teachers to think about. We need to be aware of ALL the components of an IEP, but, to help you with feeling less overwhelmed, I am here to tell you that there are three components that are the most important for you to be aware of.

      As music teachers, one of the last things on our minds are probably IEPs. Some of us advantageous music teachers might think “Oh yes, IEPs, I will glance over them during the first few days,” but many of us don’t even think that far ahead.

      IEPs and everything that they encompass can creep up on us special’s teachers, but that should never be the case. We are legally obligated to uphold a child’s IEP, and that means we need to read the IEP.

      If the thought of this intimidates you, don’t worry! You are in the right place. There are plenty of blog posts here with a ton of information including what parts of the IEP are most salient for us music teachers, as well as a free guide with 5 Ways to Better Serve Students with Exceptional Needs in the Music Classroom.

And, if you are familiar with IEPs but don’t know where to start at the beginning of the school year with them, this blog post right here is the right place for you!

      Below I will outline basic tips you can use to help set you up for success at the beginning of the year for your students with IEPs. These tips are great to use at the beginning of the year, but they can be utilized throughout the year, at the beginning of marking periods, and as IEPs are updated or added throughout the year.


1. Familiarize yourself with your student’s SDIs…and then make an organizational document of them

       This strategy might feel like a lot of work up front, but saves me a ton of time on the back end. Once I have my student rosters and can see which students have IEPs, I begin to go through the SDIs (Specially Designed Instruction) section of their IEP. SDIs are adaptations and modifications within a student’s IEP that help them access the curriculum you teach. Some examples of SDIs include extended testing time, alternative assessments, and/or small group testing.

      After I go through a student’s IEP and find their SDIs, I then comprise a spreadsheet or document that lists that student’s initials and their SDIs that are pertinent for my class.

      For example, if a student has an SDI that allows them to complete assignments with voice-to-text technology instead of typing the assignment, I write their initials, and then “voice-to-text” so I know I can allow this student this accommodation to complete assignments.

      Since I do not give tests in my class, I do not write down any SDIs that say “small group testing” or “extended testing time” since it is not relevant to my specific course. However, I would be responsible for implementing this if I did conduct tests in my class.

      This personal SDI list is supposed to be a “quick access” document. It is there so you can quickly glance at it to make sure you are abiding by a student’s IEP. This is not meant to replace the IEP, but it should save you time. I know personally it saves me a ton of time during the rest of the year so that I do not have to continuously look at student’s IEPs and comb through hundreds of pages to refer to their SDIs. 

2. If teachers send you behavior forms…please fill the behavior forms out!

I know this can be a hassle, but it is your legal responsibility to fill out these forms, as many of them (I would wager 99% of them) are used to gather data for the student’s IEP.

If you struggle to find time to fill these out, I would suggest trying to set up a schedule on when and how you fill out these forms. For me, it always helps me to fill out the forms a day after.

Many of the behavior forms I am given are Google or Microsoft Forms, and I typically star or bookmark them to return to them at a later time. At the beginning of the next day, I go through the forms and fill them all.

It can be hard to try to best serve our students with exceptional needs. But it doesn't have to be. There are steps you can take to help your students while taking some of the stress off of your shoulders.


      If there is something that occurs in class that needs my immediate response, I fill that form out immediately after class or at the end of the day. Ways that I remember to do this are setting timers or daily emails from case managers with the behavior forms (this is always so much appreciated! And if your student’s case manager does this, make sure to thank them!)


3. Be in contact with the case manager about IEP due dates, and try to provide input if you cannot make the meeting!

      It is understandable that you will not be able to make every single student’s IEP meeting, but it is always nice to email the case manager input or at least tell them that you will not be able to make the meeting.

      As a former special education teacher, I have had the unique experience of being in both the specials teacher role at an IEP meeting as well as the case manager of an IEP.

      As the case manager, I always appreciated knowing who would be in attendance at the IEP (after all, it does have to go on the IEP document, which is a legal document).

      Alternatively, as the specials teacher at an IEP meeting, I always appreciate being able to give my input at the meeting first, and then being able to leave the meeting to grade or finish other prep time work.

      Creating a relationship with the case manager that is conscientious and collaborative will benefit both the student and yourself, as the case manager will most likely remember how helpful you are and be extremely appreciative of you (and help you out as well!).

      At the end of the day, all of this always comes back to the kids. You may be thinking, “this is so much work, I didn’t sign up to be a special education teacher.”

      It may seem daunting, but as specials teachers, we teach ALL students. We don’t get to pick and choose which students are in our class, but we must serve them all equally.

      For students who have IEPs, we are legally obligated to oblige by these students’ IEPs. By using these tips, you are not only helping yourself out, but more-so, you are helping your students be able to maximize their learning and achievements in your class. 

Do you have any helpful tips when it comes to strategizing for students with IEPs? I would love to know your thoughts! Leave a comment below, or you can follow me at @makingspecialmomentsteaching on instagram, and we can talk more about this and many other things!

This article was submitted by Lauren Marcinkowski contributing author for Interested in becoming a contributing author? Email resume and writing sample to [email protected]

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