How To Teach Students About Their IEPs


If you’re a transition, self-contained, or special education teacher who works with students between the ages of 13 and 20, nearly all your students have IEPs.

But did you know you shouldn’t write IEPs without your student’s input?. It’s not just best practice, it’s the law!

So how can you teach your students to advocate for themselves when creating their IEPs? How do you help them take the wheel in shaping their own future?

Let’s look at these helpful strategies for teaching students about their IEPs.

Tips On Teaching Students
About Their IEPS

Now, let’s explore practical strategies to help you teach your students about their IEPs!

#1: Teach Disability Awareness

multi-ethnic and disabled people community with pencils

Before discussing the IEP with your students, make sure they understand why they have one. Do your students know what the word disability means? Start with talking about the history of disabilities with this free video made for students. Ask the student what they’re good at and what they have difficulty with. 

Students should understand that they have a disability, and what that disability is. And for many students, the earlier the better. So begin with an age-appropriate conversation about it. 

How exactly do you do it?

You can even teach a full lesson on the overview of different disabilities to your class, or work 1:1 with a student to talk about a specific disability, like what it means to be autistic.

No matter what, try to use Neurodiversity affirming language. Avoid negative or stigmatizing language when talking about disabilities. Yes, you’ll need to talk about their challenges, but don’t make the word “disability” out to be a negative one. Disability is a neutral word, and is the word students will need to know as they get older and receive government benefits as adults.

#2: Discuss What an IEP is

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. It’s a personalized plan for each student with a disability. This includes specific accommodations, materials, and teaching approaches needed for the student to learn effectively.

Explain this in the best way you think your student will understand. Use simple and straightforward terms. You can use this free, editable overview of what an IEP is to get started.

And don’t forget about your visual and auditory learners. Why not use a YouTube video that clearly explains what an IEP is, like this one?

You can use this video to teach kids, teens, or young adults on IEPs who are learning how to participate in their IEP meetings. 

Teach your students what an IEP is, why they need one, and how it outlines their educational plan and support needs.

#3: Introduce the IEP Team and their Roles


The IEP is developed by a team that consists of individuals who play distinct roles in the development and implementation of a student’s IEP.

The roles within the IEP team typically include:

  • Student
  • Parents or Guardians
  • Accessible Education Teacher(s)
  • General Education Teacher(s)
  • School Administrator
  • Psychologist
  • Other specialists (OT, SLP, PT, BCBA, etc.)

Together, the team discusses the student’s strengths, challenges, and needs. The team will then create specific goals and determine what services and accommodations are needed for the student to achieve their potential.

Make sure your student is familiar with all of the people that are in their IEP team, and that THEY know they are the most important voice of the team.

#4: Explain Why Your Student Needs to Be There

Let your students understand why they need to be in their IEP meeting. Explain that student-centered IEPs are the best and most effective IEPs. Here’s why:

  • Personalization

Students know themselves best. Their input helps create an IEP that’s actually tailored to their unique strengths and challenges.

  • Ownership

When students are involved in the process, they can take ownership and responsibility for their education, motivating them to work towards their goals.

  • Self-Advocacy

Students who understand their IEPs can communicate their needs with teachers, parents, and peers. It empowers your students and helps them build self-determination so they can advocate for themselves.

By involving your students in the IEP process, you’re giving them a chance to take control of their own lives, including their education and what comes after school.

#5: Empower Your Students to Advocate for Themselves


Teaching self-advocacy skills to your students is important. That’s why we started this list with strategies that help the students understand their disability, strengths, and difficulties.

With those things in mind, your students get to know themselves and what they need better. And when they know what they need, they are most likely to ask for it.

Encourage a humble yet self-confident approach when advocating for accommodations and modifications in their IEPs.

An easy way to do this is to have a template ready for them to use when participating in IEP meetings.

Here’s an example: SPED Student-Led IEP Meeting Participation.

You can use this editable slideshow and printable template that can guide your students on IEPs to write their learning goals and transition vision after high school.

With templates like these in hand, your students will find it easier to speak for themselves during IEP meetings! They’ll be able to identify their strengths and challenges, communicate what their short-term and long-term goals are, and share their thoughts on how they can accomplish them.

Student Led IEPs

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Teaching students about their IEPs is a powerful way to support student  success and encourage self-advocacy. Student led-IEPs are an incredibly important transition skill for students to take part in their own self-direction. 

You can even teach students how to progress monitor and track their own progress towards their IEP goals, with this Student-Centered IEP bundle. 

By following these strategies, you can help your students not only understand their IEPs but also become active participants in shaping their educational journey. You can teach them the self-determination skills they need to transition into adulthood.

Exploring what to teach your transition students, and overwhelmed by the endless ideas?

Remember that your units of focus will depend on your students’ needs; you can build your own curriculum map for the year by using this guide in conjunction with your students’ IEP goals. 

You can get the Transition Roadmap Scope & Sequence here!