Is Being A Team Just A Dream: A Revealing Look At The IEP Process

This is the season for intensive interactions between parents and schools.  Fall, unlike any other time of the year, is a period where trust is either built or eroded.  In most contexts one would think that the increased contact would mean people are being brought closer together, sharing information and strategizing successfully.  There are a million groups and blogs for strictly parents or strictly professionals.  What if we all need to grow in the SAME way at the SAME time?  Let me explain...

The irony in Special Education is that more contact often means less trust, increased distance and competing perspectives and perspectives about information.  For many, both professionals and parents, the Fall is stressful and to some extent “hollow” in that there is a lot of talking but little accomplished.

As I write this I am thinking of families who I am hearing from this year who are now returning to the IEP process in the coming months.  Many have told me stories of being stonewalled or at odds with their school team.  It led me to ponder if the idea of “team” inclusive of the family is possible.

It would seem a very unattractive conclusion that professionals and parents appose one another in the process of supporting a child and yet this is very often the true reality of the IEP process.

Is being a team just a dream- I tend to think not and here’s why…

In the world of political correctness and fiscal restraint it is quite easy to assign blame to systems for all parties.  The sentiment that parents are “ nuts” or “demanding” is frequently what I hear from school administrators.  That schools are dishonest and poor stewards of resources is what I hear often from parents.  It would seem to me that perhaps this issue is more about team dynamics and how roles function within the IEP process than it is the actual IEP legislation and policy that binds it.

We value teams in many other aspects of our lives.  We get married- two individuals become a unit forging forward together; in sports strong teams win games or receive recognition and in the business sector team structure drives organizations. It would be entirely appropriate to think these same concepts apply to parents and professionals working together during the IEP process.  Where does it fall apart?


In all other areas of life, roles are very easy to see as important aspects of TEAM: You do, I do, We do…there is an assumed aspect of respect and value assigned to each member of a team.  This is the first failing in the IEP collaboration- failure to acknowledge the legitimate roles on the team.  It will forever be the role of the parent to stand up for a child.  That is what should happen.  There is value in that and it keeps teams centered on the key reason they are gathering- to support a child.

Dismissing the value of a parent’s active voice undermines the entire team. 

There is also value in the classroom teacher’s perspective of how the child fits into the dynamics of the group.  I hear a lot of criticism of teachers for failing to connect to kids.  As a mother of three I can say that’s enough of a load for me- to have to connect with 30 children is a role that must be acknowledged as being as complex and as important as the parent.  And still there will always be someone on the team who has the big picture of the school’s system in mind. Budgets, resources and the like are always going to be a part of the conversation.  We may not like the reality but we must respect the individual who bears that information as a part of their role.  Understanding and VALUING each person's role is critical to collaboration.

Information sharing

Setting goals in the IEP process is complex. Teachers must be compliant to Ministry expectations and that may look like they are disregarding the information brought forward by the parent.  There is nothing that erodes trust more than to produce an IEP that does not represent strong collaboration.  I find that openly listening for solutions is very difficult because goals appear to be competing.  How can the teacher meet their goal to deliver content to the group while also honoring the individual needs of a child with an IEP?  The solution is not to relegate programming to support staff or simply not do it at all.  The answer is to openly consider all the information and look for collaborative solutions.  When team members shut down internally in the information sharing process- collaboration stops dead in its tracks.  Which leads me to my next point...

 If you look across the table and all you see is a road block for you to blast through to get to your goal- you aren't going to be a part of the solution, you will be a part of the problem.  

Respect for Others

Bar none- this is the biggest piece that I have encountered to be problematic for parents and professionals when they work together.  The idea that the IEP is adversarial comes from systemic and pervasive issues of lack of trust and respect.  The underlying assumptions that we must “fight” for the right s of the child or “ meet industry standards” for administrators and teachers puts us at odds with one another.  This mindset has perpetually cut off genuinely caring team members from even trying.  It leads to apathy for both families and schools; “our system is so broken its not worth even trying”.  What I have seen over and over is that the need to manage stress, and clamor for purchase around limited resources means it’s a dog eat dog world within the team itself.

In my 20 years of supporting both professionals and families through IEPs I am convinced that the entire process needs an infusion of healing, empathy and listening.  I am not so certain that the system is so broken we are without recourse or consideration of NEW solutions and DIFFERENT ways of finding common ground.  Regardless of whether you are a parent or a professional consider that your frame of mind, your expectations and your beliefs about people on the team and the process itself ar far more influential than anything else that is in the room.  It does not matter WHO begins the “reset” of trust- it just matters that it happens.

I can count on one hand the number of times that a meeting began with transparent statements of how people are feeling and a desire to connect with one another.  Those few meetings were so powerful and so different from what I typically saw I can tell you- they were a joy to be a part of.  This tells me that we CAN collaborate- it's just going to take some work and a huge mind-shift for all.


  1. Consider your definition of advocacy- are you coming to the room expecting a fight or a collaboration? Expecting a fight will lead to competing goals and perspectives.  Take a few minutes to “Reset” before you enter the engagement.  Are your assumptions part of the problem or a part of the solution?
  2. Are you prepared to listen? You must be open.  In your heart and in your mind to the possibility that the team may find a path unlike anything you have tried in the past.  Give some legitimate consideration to each suggestion.  If you aren't comfortable with what is being suggested say so early and clearly and respectfully.
  3. Did you deal with your own emotions prior to the meetings? Tension in the room will cut you off at the knees- think about the triggers you might encounter and process the depth of that before you go into the room.  Do not be the one to derail the conversation with big and potentially volatile emotion.
  4. Come with ideas, suggestions and feedback.  Teacher, parent and administrator.  Sitting passively and then having to renege or decline a plan that was agreed to will lose you credibility.  Be prepared to be recognized in your role and to contribute without being defensive or offensive.
  5. Be honest and open. You can share your responses and you should share them in the context of the IEP.  If you find that you are feeling a certain way- you should share that- especially the professionals.  If you are afraid, worried, scared, hopeful or excited- put that emotion in the room so the team can support or celebrate where you are at.  I have frequently on behalf of teachers turned to an administrator to say “surely you have some way of supporting this member of your TEAM”.  Often it is only the parent who shares honestly how they feel- sometimes that’s part of the problem because this emotion isn't engaged by the rest of the team and this leaves parents feeling violated.  However, if professionals were transparent about the place they find themselves we would have far more authentic IEPs- with goals people were excited to accomplish because we would be hearing the obstacles and addressing them instead of swallowing them and failing to engage over time.

I recognize that my suggestion to work towards collaboration is a big task.  I'm not blind to the challenge I have proposed.  Nonetheless I am convinced that  a revolution of healing; despite the history of pain; that the IEP process is able to be what it is meant to be- the collaboration of parents and professionals.  I do not believe that the IEP is parent vs school despite the history to exactly this end.  I believe that teams with BOTH parents and professionals can function strongly- it just takes the small adjustments that YOU make for YOU to turn the team around.


Let's dig deeper.  I am here to help. Contact me at and let's build/rebuild your ability to collaborate on teams.


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Why Putting Yourself First Is Unselfish (Self-Care Is Not What You Think It Is)

You may have been told (over and over) that it is important for you to think about self-care.  It's a topic that comes up for professionals time and time again.   I don't disagree with that overall- but let's dig deeper...

I am convinced that job satisfaction, client results and "self-care" are all wrapped up together and are indicators of a much larger issue of caring for and knowing our "selves".  When these issues are on the rise and looking good- our "selves" are healthy.  When they are in the decline- we have a problem.  Everyone would agree that low job satisfaction, client defection/complaints are not what we want to see in our careers. However, do we understand how our "self" plays a role in both our desired outcomes and our "ugly outcomes"?  The evaluation of caring for ourselves starts with paying closer attention to both the positive and the negative equally.  There is much to learn about our "selves" when we connect these issues in a cohesive way.

"Self care is not simply taking time off or eating right or managing your time.  True self-care is the merging of who you are and what you do."

For most professionals the discussion about self-care stops and starts with suggestions about lifestyle (eating, sleeping, having strong support circles).  Those are all great suggestions and are important aspects of caring for yourself.   These suggestions are common sense reminders of managing our health responsibly.  Some organizations honor this, promote this and endorse health and others don't.  If you "fail" to look after yourself there is nowhere to  make an adjustment other than you.  But...what if there is more to "self" than that?  If it is your responsibly alone then it is critical that you understand intimately what your definition of "self" is and how it impacts your performance, client results and sense of job satisfaction.

Organizational identity and personal identity are central to high quality self-care.

In re-framing the definition of "self-care" consider what it means to be yourself at work- in the role that you have.  There is a reason that you followed the path that you did and pursued the career that you are in.  Do you get to live those reasons in your daily professional life?  Many professionals experience a high level of disillusionment at one point or another in their professional lives.  When those questions start to percolate it becomes an issue of identity that is the foundation of caring for ourselves.  You see, if you do not have access to who you are in a fundamental way at work- your "self" will suffer causing frustration, anxiety and sometimes a sense that a drastic change is needed.

When you were a young child, the idea of being something when you grew up functioned to help form the very first concept of "self" that you would then live every day.  Pretend play in young children is the "trying on" of identities.  Who are you on the inside?  Our play gave us a feeling of what it meant to be in different roles.  Over time this becomes the themes that pull through our lives.  You may not have been the fireman, or the princess, or the Queen that you wanted to be at age 7- but there is a theme between then and now.  When our theme of "self" does not have the opportunity to resonate in our current careers it is an indication that we are not caring for who we are.  Over time the erosion of ourselves as we are pressed against the hard surfaces of ethical dilemmas,  client expectations, and organizational constraints forces us to face our self-care.   Issues of health like eating, sleeping and balanced life-style are symptoms of a much deeper issue.  Heed the tolling of the bells and ask yourself are you being who you're meant to be?

Many, many adults enter into a "crash and burn" reality around who they are as professionals.  It shows up as the mid-life crisis.  I am certain that if we evaluated the theme of "self" that does or does not pull through our lives- our process of evaluating who we are and what place we have in the world would have far less fall out than it does for many professionals today.  Being led through a process of connecting our identities within our work can shift our emotional experience and help us to strategize actions towards fulfilling our personal goals in our everyday engagements as professionals.  A professional coach can often reframe the relevant issues and lead you towards a healthy understanding of what changes you need and where you can rest assured- the real you is shining through.


1.Who were you at age 8? Around age 8-10 we start to make our very first statements about "self".  Can you identify the meaning of that "self"?  Were you someone who helped others, good in emergencies, a nurturer?  Find your FIRST self.

2.Who are you now?  Can you state why you do what you do- not your job description (there's a manual for that somewhere- no need to rehearse it).  I mean do you know what it is that drew you to the work that you do?  Reconnect with your CURRENT self.

3. Does the theme of "self" pull through for you? Can you see the cohesion of who you are across your life?  If you can- this can help you to feel more positive about your choices and confident about your direction.  Perhaps drastic change to meet your personal goals isn't needed now that you have reconnected to your "Self-care".  But- it can also reveal that your theme isn't there and you aren't being who you are meant to be.  This can confirm that change is needed or that you are compromising to the point where your health is going to become a reflection of poor "self-care".

Avoiding a crisis of self means asking some very revealing questions. 

A VIP Day with me and  One on One coaching can provide you with the IMMEDIATE, INTIMATE and INTENSE evaluation of what to do next.  I  can help give you clarity and peace in your work and your role.  Let's ask those questions together.

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What You Read Determines Your Success

It's important to me for people to see what it is that I do to push myself and stay focused on my goals.  I read a ton of books.  Some for the fun of it and some because it's like food- without it I wither away.

Reading is critical for professionals who want to stay current.  This book by John Maxwell "Becoming a Person Of Influence: How To Positively Impact The Lives Of Others" is a favorite of mine.  I have read it dozens of times and come back to it regularly.

Reading is food for your dream.  If you don't feed your dream- it will wither and die.

As I prepare for writing corporate contracts this week and think about the services will offer to professionals and savvy parents my influence is an aspect that I am very aware of.  By reviewing the type of influence I want to use to propel people who might be stuck, frustrated or apathetic in their daily lives I am reminded of my primary goal- to put others first.

The next book you pick up consider what it does for you.  Are you reading books that are feeding your passion?  If that was the goal of reading a book- what would you chose?  The same thing as always or something else?  Here are some tips to get the most out of what you are reading and make wise decisions about feeding your dreams:

  1. Read with intent.  Reading with intent is just as important as reading for fun.  When you chose a book- keep in your mind what exactly the learning experience is that you are looking for.  For example "I want to learn about avoiding burn-out", "I want to learn about handling conflict".  If you aren't focused when you are picking the book you will leave with something that isn't what you came for.
  2. Set aside time to read- I'm not kidding.  Most professionals have shelf upon shelf of books that they have never picked up or haven't looked at in years.  Put reading into your schedule.  Even one hour a week can make a difference.
  3. Take notes. I never read a book without a pen and paper.  If you get inspired and then walk away- you may loose that nugget of learning in the fog of your every day life.  Capture the most of your learning by keeping your thoughts on paper.


I am honored to have people like John Maxwell speak into my life and equip me to speak into yours.

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Will The Real You Please Stand Up!: Why Authenticity Matters

Establishing yourself inside of a professional community and as an expert in your field is a process.  No doubt about it- there is a definite need to be recognized for our accomplishments and gain traction for our talents.  Doing well means doing your best and giving your skills the opportunity to grow and contribute to clients as well as your discipline.  But is skills alone what is needed to attract the respect of your colleagues and the people you want to work for and with?

Allowing your Authenticity Actions to identify you in the crowd is essential to being a valued member of your community

There is an odd perception of roles that has led to a drastic homogenization of highly qualified professionals.  Everyone's office looks the same, smells the same and plays the same music over the office radio.  How do people tell the difference between a professional they can "click" with and those who aren't a good fit?  It's really hard to do when you are swimming in a pool of luke-warm, beige surroundings.  Do people value you because you fit in or because you stand out?  One complaint I hear all the time from clients is that often being with highly qualified professionals is a cold, clinical experience that leaves much to be desired.  Is that you? Is the image of "professional" casting a shadow over who you are?

Authenticity Actions

Authenticity Actions are more than just personality.  They are the deliberate exposure of self to others that allow people to connect with us in a unique way.  Your "personality" is that you are: warm, friendly, reserved, etc...  Authenticity Actions show others what is important to you, what captures your attention and what motivates your energy.  Believe it or not, the touches of "you" that show up in how you dress, what is hanging on your office wall and the special touches that you bring to meetings tells people that you"showed up" to be with them.

Nothing is more important in today's world of low trust with authority than for you to be real with the people you serve.

I can recall going to meet with a cardiologist who showed up at the office in his cycling gear. Unprofessional?  No!  When I commented on it to his staff and others on his team they told me all sorts of stories about him as a person.  I could feel the respect and admiration his team had for him as a fellow human being not just a highly skilled surgeon.  It humanized him, made me genuinely interested in him and connected us in a way that would not have been possible had he been in the expected suit and tie.  His team will follow him without question, they will be encouraged to be their own authentic selves and his practice will gain the respect of clients as well as colleagues.  It's his Authenticity Actions that I will remember- not just his mad skills with a scalpel.

Being authentic will attract people to you who are genuinely interested in you as a person.  The expectation that as professionals we hold our personal selves entirely separate from our professional lives creates a false barrier between us and those we work with and for.  It robs us from finding people who can speak to our dreams and our passions and holds those we serve at a distance.  That distance can undermine trust and loyalty.  If people can't say that they have had a unique and invaluable experience, then what is to keep them coming back?  How does that impact your definition of "being effective" and ultimately the bottom-line of the marketplace?

Authenticity has a strong basis in business, policy  and people development.  There are thousands of professionals out there.  When we fail to allow our values and passions to show up in our offices, our presentation and our engagements we are standing in the way or our own success.  Authentic professionals make impressions that cause others to notice and value them.  They get more referrals, they gain favor with clients and they have higher job satisfaction.  I was once told that I should stop wearing such outlandish shoes because I worked in a male dominated professional.  Instead I chose to present myself in a way that shows who I am.  Those who want to be with you will stay and those who don't will go and that's a good thing.  So bring flowers from your garden, display your MLB bobbleheads and dust off those bits of you that you tucked away because you were trying to be "professional".

A lack of authenticity in your professional self makes you ineffective in  your role and  indistinguishable from a sea of thousands where low trust robs people of true connection.


  1. What Authenticity Actions are you currently using to demonstrate what you value, what motivates you and what energizes you?
  2. Can your clients identify you from the "sea of thousands" and say that being with you is unique compared to others?
  3. How do you show the "real" you to your colleagues so that they trust you when they refer?


Need a hand?  I can help.  Let's keep the conversation going and discover your Authenticity Actions together.  Email me at to book a VIP day, One on One coaching or just to ask me a question.  I'm here...



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