IEP Case Management Tips for Teletherapists
For Speech-Language Pathologists switching to a teletherapy setting, case managing IEPs is often one of the biggest unknowns... ask me how I know. To be completely honest, I hadn't served as an IEP case manager until I worked as a teletherapist. Talk about one learning curve piled on top of another.
It's hard to conceptualize how you'll do all the case management duties for student IEPs, both big and small, from your home office halfway across the country. These challenges can feel like impossible barriers to being a successful case manager. The following tips can help make your job as an IEP case manager easier each step of the way!
But before we dive into those tips, let's start with one that accompanies nearly all the others. It is crucial to know and understand the specific laws and policies of the school, district, and state where the students (not you) are seated. A great deal of what you need to do (and on what timeline) is likely specified, which helps make the process of case management more concrete. And in my eyes, less guesswork is always a good thing.
You can research on your own, but meeting with an administrator or another special education case manager to get as much information about the way of doing things will be well worth your time. You can learn about formal matters (such as how much IEP notice is required) as well as more informal logistics such as how the IEP gets "signed" by all parties.
Case Management Tips for BEFORE an IEP Meeting
Since you're not just a quick jaunt down the hall from your admin and other school staff, you'll want a (likely digital) process for getting availability. Using whatever system the school uses (such as Google Calendar), gain viewing permissions to see possible time blocks for all participants at a glance. This is especially worthwhile when your caseload is pretty consolidated (within one school or a set of specific grade levels). In fact, some schools might have one or more blocks of time that are designated for IEP meetings each week.
For virtual IEP meetings, you might want to schedule even earlier than you might with a face-to-face meeting, and also include a backup meeting date. This can come in handy in the case of a tech issue, time zone mix-up, or any other reason that the original meeting can't take place.
Use some sort of digital form to collect information from parents and/or teachers. I like to use Google Forms because they are often familiar to people, simple to complete, custom-made for my specific questions, and display all responses in easy-to-read views.
From my experience, this just might be the most important tip of all (second to having a solid understanding of the school's and state's specific special education processes and laws). Have an on-the-ground person there to act as your hands by doing all the things you can't do from the other side of the computer. This person (whether it be a para, SLPA, secretary, etc.) can complete tasks such as making and distributing copies of the IEP paperwork, setting up the room and technology, and providing reminders.
Use a system to keep track of upcoming IEP dates since you may not have printed copies of IEPs to help you remember. This could be a digital system (like a spreadsheet that you can sort or calendar reminders) or something as simple as a list of dates that you keep in a frequently-viewed place!
When you remind parents and other participants of the meeting, re-send the instructions for joining the meeting (a clickable link, phone number, meeting number or password, etc.) so it is easy for people to find at the time of the meeting.
Case Management Tips for DURING an IEP Meeting
Ensure that you're sitting in a quiet room with good lighting. Use a headset to reduce the chance of an echo being heard by meeting participants.
Arrive early to the meeting in case other participants join early as well. This gives people some time to figure out the technology such as turning their microphone on.
Have your camera on throughout the meeting and encourage others to use theirs (especially when speaking). I have found this goes a long way in making the meetings more natural and personal.
Use a conference call phone line for audio if your platform gets laggy. This seems to happen in meetings with many people, which can result in people unintentionally interrupting each other.
On a related note, mute participants (or request they mute themselves) when they're not talking.
For IEPs for students in the upper grades or with lots of testing to report from various professionals, provide a visual outline of who will give their report and when. This will streamline the conversation and help participants be prepared for their turn.
Similarly, share the IEP draft on the screen. This way, you don't have to rely on people accessing or navigating through their own copy (that you may have sent previously). It also helps attendees have a better understanding of what's being discussed at any given time. If needed, zoom in on the portions of the IEP and/or use text annotation to highlight what's being discussed throughout the meeting.
Also, present any visuals that you would normally show in person to explain scores, demonstrate student work samples, etc. Have those documents open and/or pre-loaded to save time.
Finally, explain the next steps to the team, especially if they're not familiar with doing virtual IEP meetings. This usually entails summarizing how you'll send the IEP for signatures.
Case Management Tips for AFTER an IEP Meeting
If possible, use a digital signature service (such as DocuSign) to collect signatures, re-sending as necessary. Otherwise, coordinate with an onsite facilitator about how the document will be signed by all parties.
Note in the meeting notes and on the Prior Written Notice that the meeting was held via telepractice.
You may need to send hard copies (such as test protocols) to the school site.
Of course, there are many other duties related to the IEP (such as taking notes during the meeting and providing the final draft) that are relatively similar to IEP meetings completed onsite. And while this is certainly not an exhaustive list of ways to be the world's most successful IEP case manager, hopefully these practices can alleviate many of the challenges that the (geographical) distance poses for virtual IEPs. Once you are rolling with a process for scheduling and conducting IEP meetings, it may be helpful to create a printed checklist with each step. With this handy reference, you'll be feeling confident in carrying out your virtual case management duties!
If you're looking for more telepractice tips, get information on conducting virtual assessments!