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The Intentional IEP with Stephanie DeLussey [#136]

Click below to listen to episode 136 The Intentional IEP with Stephanie DeLussey:

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Key themes from The Intentional IEP

  • The importance of collaboration for a successful IEP process
  • Incorporating student involvement to develop self-advocacy and awareness
  • How real-world applications are crucial for goal generalization.
  • IEP resources for you including a membership, training, and support.

Do IEPs make you just want to tear your hair out? Collecting data, getting all the paperwork together, all the meetings, everything that goes into an IEP. Today, I’m interviewing Stephanie DeLussey, owner of The Intentional IEP, and we’re talking all about what IEPs are for those who might be new to them, why they are important, how you can streamline the process, and collaborate with others to make IEPs a success. 

Understanding IEPs:

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a personalized plan designed to support students with disabilities in succeeding within the general education curriculum. It includes specific academic and functional goals, accommodations, modifications, and additional services tailored to the student’s unique needs. 

Empowering Collaboration and Streamlining the IEP Process:

Collaboration is at the heart of creating and implementing effective IEPs. Stephanie emphasizes gathering perspectives and experiences from home and school to develop comprehensive, long-term plans for each student. We want to empower students to succeed outside of the classroom and into adult life. 

Stephanie also encourages students to take a role in the IEP process. This way they can have input and ownership of the goals that are set.

Exploring Effective Data Collection Methods:

Stephanie encourages teachers to explore different methods of data collection for IEPs. From utilizing sticky notes to incorporating digital solutions like Google Forms and hybrid models, find the most effective and manageable approach that works best for both you and your students. It is important to be flexible and adaptable in your data collection methods, recognizing that every student and educator may benefit from different strategies.

Embracing Support and Resources:

The Intentional IEP not only offers a vast array of resources and training but also serves as a platform for continual support and guidance in navigating the complexities of IEPs. With a wealth of resources, ongoing training, and access to a supportive community, educators and parents can enhance their expertise, foster collaboration, and ensure that individualized education plans are effectively tailored to meet students’ needs.

The episode gives valuable insights into the world of IEPs. By embracing a collaborative approach and utilizing the resources available to them, educators, parents, and students can navigate the IEP process with greater confidence and effectiveness. Understanding the importance of IEPs, streamlining the process, exploring effective data collection methods, and embracing the support and resources available can lead to more personalized, impactful education plans for students with disabilities. 

Resources mentioned:

Connect with Stephanie

Connect with Kelsey:

Do IEPs make you just want to tear your hair out collecting data, getting all the paperwork together, all the meetings, everything that goes into an IEP? Today, I am interviewing Stephanie D’Alessi, owner of the intentional IEP and Missus D’s Corner. And we’re talking all about IEPs for those who might be new to them, why they are important, how you can streamline the process, and why collaboration is really what makes IEPs a huge success. Welcome to educate and rejuvenate the podcast, episode 136. Let’s get going.

Welcome to educate and rejuvenate, the podcast to help you revitalize your teaching, renew your spirit, and reignite your passion for life. I’m your host, Kelsey Sorensen, a former teacher, current homeschool mom, published author, and certified life coach. Whether you are a teacher in a traditional class room, homeschool from your kitchen table, or anywhere in between, I am on a mission to help you not only survive as an educator, but thrive. Get ready to up level your skills with incredible insights from guest experts and discover the missing piece, rejuvenating yourself. Are you ready to both educate and rejuvenate? Let’s go.

Welcome back to the podcast on this beautiful summer day, or hello and welcome if it’s your first time here on Educate and Rejuvenate the podcast. Either way, I am so glad that you’re here, and I hope that you’ve been enjoying some time in the sun and making time for rejuvenating yourself this summer. But as we’ve been talking about, it’s also so important to rejuvenate through engaging our minds as well and learning things that are going to make us excited for making things even easier or better or, you know, just more fun next school year. And that’s why I brought on today’s guest, Stephanie D’Lessi of the Intentional IEP. Now when I think of Special Education and IEPs, Stephanie is the really the first person who comes to mind. Ever since I’ve seen her Instagram post on Missus D’s Corner, for I don’t know, years now. She’s just really the person who comes to mind because she really knows her stuff and is really kind of honed in on supporting educators and parents with IEPs. So if you are new to this, like say you’re one of our homeschool parents, or you’re new to teaching and you don’t know what I’m talking about with IEPs, we’re going to talk about what that is on the podcast and how it applies to you as well.
Even just talking about, you know, ways we can accommodate for our kids. But also, we’re really going to talk about the full IEP process, how you can streamline it, make it easier, all of that. So you’re not going to wanna go anywhere with today’s episode. She also shares some great free resources that are going to help you make it easy and more If you’re wanting to really get support, which, like I said, Stephanie is the total expert in that. You’re going to want to take her up on it if you want more support with your IEPs. Also, Stephanie is a presenter at our upcoming summer 2024 Educate and Rejuvenate Conference. She’s teaching about easy team collaboration for students in special education. Education.
So we’ll be diving even deeper into the collaboration piece that we talk about on today’s episode during the educate and rejuvenate conference. So if you don’t have your ticket yet, be sure to snag 1. Would love for you to join us at the event. It’s going to be a great time. And if you already have a ticket, this episode is going to give you some of the background information, and just some more ideas that kind of go along with her session. It’s not like a repeat of it. It’s both are some different information that will help you to, again, thrive with the IEP process. In her session, she’s sharing the 5 key ways to make collaboration work without adding more to anyone’s plate and how to read an IEP for implementation with fidelity.
We’re really kind of focusing on just that piece in her session. Today on the podcast, you’re getting the full big picture. So they’re really complimentary to each other. You’ll love to listen to this podcast. And then if you’re attending the event, make sure to watch your session too. Like I said, they really compliment each other and you’re going to want to watch and listen to both. Okay. Before we dive into the interview, let me introduce Stephanie a little bit more for you.
Stephanie is the owner of the intentional IEP and missus Dees Korner. She’s a veteran, special education teacher, IEP coach, and dual certified in special education, and 12 and elementary education k 6. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Coosetown University, completed an IEP coaching program in 2020, and is studying to be a board certified inclusive education specialist through the National Association of Special Education Teachers. Stephanie has been featured in publications like, Exceptional Parenting Magazine, a guest on the autism helper, and Be Kind to Everyone Podcasts, and others. More than 500,000 online followers across platforms trust her expertise and turn to her her for inspiration, and not only planning effective adaptable lessons for students, but in utilizing a more collaborative special education process for all students and families. Visit the intentional IEP.com and missusd’scorner dotcom to learn how to work with her. When Stephanie isn’t working with teachers and staff, she’s spending time with her husband, young son, and 2 dogs on the beach in Northwest Florida. Okay.
Let’s get to today’s interview. Welcome, Stephanie, to educate and rejuvenate the podcast. We are so excited to have you on here today.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Yes. I just can’t wait to chat about IEPs on the podcast because we haven’t yet. And I feel like when I think of who can help with IEPs, you’re the person I think of. So I don’t know I don’t know if I mentioned that to you, but but yeah.
No. That makes my heart really happy. I’m excited to nerd out over IEPs, which is probably something not a lot of people ever will say.
I know. Everybody’s like, oh, this IEP. They’ll even happily in coaching. People will be talking about, oh, I’m stressed about that. You know? So I I feel like you’re such a great resource for for teachers when they are working, and even parents who have a child with an IEP. You know?
Yeah. Okay. Yep. So can you introduce yourself briefly and tell us your background and what led you into becoming so passionate about helping others with their IEPs?
For sure. So my name is Stephanie De Lusi. I’m the teacher author behind Missus Deese Corner as well as The Intentional IEP. I have a dual certification in special education and elementary education, and I’m certified in other things too. Like, you know how you take those tests, and you’re like, oh, now you can teach middle school math. I’m like, cool. So I have taught in, oh my goodness, 4 or 5 different states. I’m certified in 5 or 6 different states, something like lost count at this point.
But I’ve taught pretty much everything in special ed from k to 12. I’ve done inclusion. I’ve co taught, done resource, push in and pull out. I’ve taught self contained. I’ve done extended school year, and I’ve taught in public and charter schools. And the one thing, yes, IEP formats change state to state, and it’s so different. But what hasn’t changed ever and what I’ve always I’m very much into organization, and I love the paperwork because I can organize it and make it make sense to myself and be in such an organized way. Like, again, nerding out, but making it more efficient for me to write IEPs.
So I’m that person that has always loved writing IEPs. And so when I left the traditional classroom setting due to my own mental health, I was like, how can I still be a part of education without being in the classroom? And I was like, IEPs. Teachers hate writing IEPs. The majority of them
I mean, I did too. Oh, I hated it.
So that is when I started the intentional IEP, and I’m just that’s where my teacher soul currently is lit on fire is just helping other teachers and parents with making a more collaborative IEP process, and I think that’s something that we don’t often see, unfortunately. Yeah. That’s what I’m really passionate about.
I love that. I yeah. And we’ll get we’ll talk about that too, about how collaboration is important. I feel like there’s so many great things we’re going to touch on today. But what I love that you just mentioned too is that you’re like, most teachers hate it, so I’m here to help them. And I find that when you’re really passionate about something that other people don’t like to do, it’s like, okay. You figured out that way to make it less unbearable. Yeah.
You know? And so you were able to help people so that they now won’t dislike it as much as they used to to either. Maybe they’re not, like, nerding out on it as much as you are, but but it might be like, okay. This is totally doable. Like, I’m not super overwhelmed about it anymore.
Yes. That is my whole purpose and everything I do with missus Deschor and the intentional IEP and just in education in general is I just wanna make the process processes easier for teachers so that we can actually do what we love, and that’s teach and build those relationships with students. Yes. Because that’s what we got into education for. We didn’t get into it for all the paperwork and the red tape and all of that. I do my best to try and help other teachers just simplify the process and make them more efficient at writing the IEPs and the IEP process and all of that.
I love that so much. So before we get too deep into that, we’ve been talking a lot about IEPs, and most people here are going to know what we’re talking about. But just so we make sure we’re all on the same page for those who are new or considering teaching or parents who haven’t yet been at the IEP table or homeschooling whatever. What is an IEP, and what is the purpose of it?
So an IEP is an individualized education program. It is covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is we call the IDEA law. It’s a federal law, and then the states have their own, like, policies and laws and regulations and things from there. But it all stems from this 1975 IDEA. And, essentially, for any student who has a disability and they qualify, which we’re gonna talk about here in a minute, how to qualify for an IEP. But if they qualify for an IEP, it’s basically their road map to being successful with their peers in the class. They’re gonna have goals to meet. They’re gonna have accommodations and modifications, so supports, additional services.
A lot of our students have, like, speech therapy or occupational therapy. And so you’re gonna get those supports and services to help them make success with the general education curriculum, which is what their peers in the general ed classes are learning.
That’s such a perfect explanation. Okay. So how does a child qualify for 1? And then also the difference between a lot of times the IEP and 504 comes up. So can you explain the difference between those 2?
Yes. I’m gonna I’m gonna explain the the difference, and then with that will come the qualifications for an IEP and for 504. So, again, IEPs are covered under the IDEA law. 504 plans are covered under the section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, And so they’re very different. A lot of times if students don’t qualify for an IEP, they may qualify for a 504 plan. So to qualify for an IEP, a child must formally be diagnosed with one of the 13 disabilities outlined in IDEA. Well, there’s 13 disability categories rather, and so they have to fall under one of those categories. From there, as a result of their disability, the child needs to have, like, they need to need to have, I guess, special education services to make progress in school and learn the general education curriculum.
Again, so go back going back to what an IEP is and what it does, they have to have a need for that. And so with a 504 plan, the child has to have a disability. It can be any disability, not just one of the 13 categories outlined under the federal law. But that disability has to interfere with their with a child’s ability to learn in the general education classroom. So they they call it with a 504 plan, it’s like general functions, I guess.
could be if they have trouble breathing and they need to do breathing exercises throughout the day. That may not qualify them for an IEP, and it probably won’t unless there’s, like, a secondary or tertiary disability, but they would qualify for a 504 plan. So if they maybe broke their leg and so for a couple of months, they need accommodations to help them get onto the school bus or walk down to the classroom, and they need those accommodations. They may will probably qualify for a 504 plan During that time, they were not going to qualify for disability because it or for an IEP because it’s not a long term disability. It’s not going to affect them for a long time. Now you can have 504 plans for a long time, and IEPs generally are for a longer time. And then your 504 plans are only gonna include those accommodations and modifications. Example of an accommodation, extended time on a test, or having the test read aloud to you.
Your IEP is where you’re gonna see those accommodations, those modifications. You’re gonna have learning goals, again, all those things that we previously talked about. And then with IEPs, you have to have parental consent on the initial eligibility IEP. Depending on your state, each IEP then from there, you need to have that parent or guardian consent. Again, check with your state because every state is different. And IEPs are reviewed annually, 504 plans are as well, but they’re much less formal, I guess. Mhmm. And I’ve talked to some teachers, and I’m like, we don’t even write our 5 zero four plans down.
I was like, how do you know you
have that? It’s so interesting how things are done differently in different places.
It’s very and it’s very different. And in the role that I’m currently in, now I’m just like, I just wanna learn about all It’s fascinating to me how different everything is. But at the same time, I’m like, I wish that we could just get, like I would take 5 IEP formats, honestly. There are 100 and thousands of different IEP formats. They all have the same guts, but I would take 5. That would be fantastic. Yeah. Everything is so different state to state, district to district in terms of that.
But yeah. And I’m sure
with what you do, you’ve seen such a variety with all of that. It’s
But it’s probably informed you on the best ways overall no matter where you live on how to organize it and do it and how you can help them wherever they are.
Yes. And I think my experience in teaching in so many different states, we move around a lot from my husband’s job. And so I didn’t have a chance to stay in one school for 6 years. It was I was here a year. I was here 3 years. I was here 2 years. So one of the benefits of that, though, of moving around a lot was I got to experience how different states handle things, how different schools handle things. And so that, I feel, has just given me a really good
Look at what works best, what’s not working, and how can we overall make it better for everyone.
I love that. And you didn’t know it was preparing you to do what you do now. I didn’t know. It’s amazing how life happens. Right?
Okay. Well, that was a great overview about the difference between the 2. But, yes, as you said, definitely check with your state and what, like, little specific granular things you need to do, but that’s overall the difference between the 2 and how they qualify. But up next is what does the process look like? And we are focusing on IEPs for today. We just wanna talk about 504 as well. But what does the IEP process look like in general?
Yeah. So if the student is new to the IEP process and they’ve been referred, there’s going to be an evaluation period. And so they’re gonna have their evaluations. So you have your referral, then you have your evaluation, which there has to be parental consent for no matter where what state you’re in. You have to have parental consent for evaluation. You’re gonna go through the evaluation. You’re gonna come to that evaluation meeting, which is typically your eligibility meeting at the same time. And so that is where you’re gonna go through all the results of everything and find out if the student qualifies for special education services or not.
And then once they do qualify, that’s when you have that first IEP meeting, and so that’s when you’re gonna develop that first IEP. Now every year, you have to have a new IEP written, but you can update the IEP at any point in the year. You can it’s called an amendment IEP, and they call it different things in different states. But it’s an amendment IUP. It’s basically when you make changes to an IUP. It’s a living, breathing document, so even if you do sign it and agree to it, you can change it next week if you’re like, oh, this really isn’t working for that child, or, oh, I would love to see this. It can be changed at any time. But every year, it has to be changed annually or updated rather not changed.
And then every 3 years is what we call the triennial review, and that’s when they go through the evaluation process again to get new data on how the student’s doing and if they still qualify for services. And so it’s just basically a big circle of eligibility and updating the IEP once they’re in special education.
So good. How you’re just able to explain that whole process so it’s easy to understand and all the different like, they need to wait this long for this and this long for that.
like even when you’ve been teaching for the 1st few years, it’s just overwhelming to keep track of how long between each different thing and all the different steps and everything. So that’s very helpful. One thing you also mentioned is how collaboration is so important during the whole process. So all of these different steps and all the different things. And updating the IEP, I’d love that you mentioned how you can change it next week if you need to because it’s not like, okay. We made this. It is set in stone. If you find that something’s not working for a kid, you want to have that ability to change it.
But we can talk about that for a minute too. How often do you feel like teachers usually changing up those IEPs, like, in general?
Oh, goodness. I think it depends on the student, and I think it depends on I don’t wanna say how well or how poorly written the IEP is or I love the word intentional. Right? So we have the intentional IEP, but how intentionally chosen the supports and services are for that student. If you if you have all of the data and you have really good data and you analyze it and you listen to it and you let it guide you to making your decisions, so those data driven IEP meetings, you’re going to follow through with what is best for that child and what they really need. If you’re just picking things and pulling things out of the air, you’re probably gonna find that you’re going to maybe update things more frequently because things aren’t working. The accommodations aren’t working.
using them, or this service isn’t working. I’m not seeing any benefit after, you know, a whole marking period or 2 marking periods. We’re not seeing any growth. But then, also, it depend you know, if you pick the right supports and services for the student and they’re thriving with it, you could meet goals sooner than a year. And so you could come to the table and update them early because everything’s working, and, like, it’s that is that
is the whole purpose. Ideal. Yeah. Yeah. To, like, have it
work So it really just depends on the student and how intentionally the supports and services are chosen and decided on.
Yeah. And I think that’s a great point. Like, how intentional was that IEP? I love how you call because I love the word intentional too.
a lot about intentional planning and scheduling more for just in general for your life, but it’s the same way when you’re creating an IEP. Like, you want to be really intentional about it. And if you’re intentional to begin with, then more likely it’s going to, you know, work, be what the student needs.
Yes. I love that. So we have also talked about collaboration. Why is that such an important part during the creation and implementation of an IEP? And be sure to touch you mentioned that sometimes that’s done better than others. So I’d love to hear a little bit about that. Like, why is it important, and how does it contribute to it going better overall?
Yeah. So a lot of times and even just in my own teaching, even as, like, a new teacher, because you I will never throw anyone under this except for myself. So as a new teacher, you know, you go into the new school year and you’re like, this school is always going to do what’s best for the kids, and you just truly believe that. Because as a teacher, you’re like, I will always do what’s best for the kids. Mhmm. But, unfortunately, that’s not what always happens. And so you just you really have to, at the end of the day, think about what is best for this student. And so when it comes to collaboration, a lot of teachers, I’ve been there myself, we feel like special education teacher.
I’m the only self contained teacher in this classroom. I’m a or in this school. I’m an island of 1. I’m all by myself. Nobody else understands at the school what I’m doing, and that very well may be true. You may be the only resource teacher for grades 3 and 4 at your school. You may be the only math resource teacher at your school, but there are other people in your district and online that have the same position as you. So you can collaborate with them, which the Internet is a great thing for that.
Just be very careful and double check all of the information that you do get from other people. But collaboration within itself of the special ed teacher working with the general education teachers, working with administrators, working with support staff, working with specialists, and most importantly, working with the student and working with the student’s parents. And so when I say parents, I mean the caregiver, whoever is the adult Right. For that child, but I’m gonna use the term parent. But keeping them in that whole process, so that whole IEP process we just talked about that goes in a circle. There are things that you can do throughout the whole process that really make collaboration work more easily. And so, for example, when you’re writing the IEP, the beginning stages, you’re writing those present levels, which is where you should always start because everything else stems from the present levels. You want to get information.
Right? So we send out parent input forms, teacher input forms, student input forms, if applicable, if appropriate. And we want everyone on the IEP team’s view because everyone comes to the IEP table with a different lens
And with different experiences. And so it’s really important to get everyone’s lens view, everyone’s experiences on paper, what they’re seeing at home, what we’re seeing at school, how can we help each other, what’s working at home that we can try here, what’s working at school that you might be able to try at home for something. And so getting advice also on as special education teachers, some of us have our students for 3 or 4 years, and then some of us have our students for 1 year, or they move up to middle school. Right? Our kids eventually move up to middle school, move up to high school, and then graduate, or move into adulthood or whatever that may look like. But we have to plan for that with the parents. Even in 1st grade, even in 3rd grade, even in pre k, their long term goal is independence for that child, and that’s gonna look very different every family. But we have to help them with that. And so when we’re IEP goal planning, we have to talk about what are your priorities for skills that you want your child to learn this year.
It doesn’t always have to be, we need an ELA goal, we need a math goal, we need a science goal and a social studies goal. Well, what about a life skills goal or like a functional academic school? Yeah.
Have a math goal, but why don’t we have a math goal about learning how to use money or making sure that we have enough money to pay for something? Still a math goal. We can still tie it to standards, but we’re working on those more functional goals and following through with what the family’s vision is for that child long term.
I love that you mentioned this because they feel like a lot of times, like, you know, math, ELA, all those, we think those are what’s most important. But, really, when you think about it, then becoming independent in society, getting a job, yeah, that money goal. To know how to use money is very important. So I think a lot of times we focus so much on just the math, language, arts, and all of that. And not that we don’t want to because, obviously, we want them to know those things. But
They’re still important.
But, yeah, it’s all important. So it’s looking at it very intentionally, like you said.
Yes. Well and if you think about it, in your day to day life, we don’t think about it as adults. Right? Because we’re like, oh, I can read that stop sign. I know what it means. I’m comprehending the words and what the sign is to know what to do when I’m there. Or a crosswalk, like, I’m comprehending the sign that’s showing me the stop
So I don’t walk. So we’re still working on those ELA skills. We’re still working on those math skills and science and social studies. Wants and needs and the seasons. We have to know what clothes to wear each season. That is the science goal. But it’s just making it a little bit more functional for long term independence and not so much, can you pass the state test, which is a whole other conversation. For sure.
They’re they’re different conversations. Yes. Yeah. So with the IEPs, collaborating is so important. Also, we face some different challenges as we’re doing the IEP process too, and collaboration can help with that. But what are some common challenges that are faced during the IEP process? And and maybe this is, like, what we talk about after, but how do we navigate each of those challenges with as much ease and grace as we can?
I think just from personal experience, one of and seeing in Facebook groups and what like, I’m in parent support groups for IEPs and things. So just from what I’ve seen in my own teacher experiences, one of the biggest hurdles that we see as IEP teams and special education teachers is it’s a very real thing and parents feeling like the school is against them. And I think as teachers, we might not have the key to fully fix that because as teachers, we do walk a very fine line Mhmm. To not getting fired because we do work for the school, but we also care so much about our students. Right. But we we have a lot of power, and I don’t think that we realize it for maybe being a little birdie in the parents’ ears or saying, here’s a resource outside of school that might benefit your child, or here’s a summer camp that I think Stephanie would love this summer. They’re working on all these things.
I just think that as teachers, we can be such a valuable resource when we work together and collaborate, and it doesn’t have to be so much of butting heads. Yeah. But I do I do see the parent perspective of they’re not listening to me, or I want this for my child. And so I think both sides have to come to the table and all sides because it’s not school against home.
It’s every single person at that IEP table has to come to the IEP meeting discussions with the lens and the mindset of coming to communicate what we think is best for this child based off of the data. But also when we’re listening, we’re not listening to respond. We’re listening to to hear somebody. We’re listening to understand how they feel about it, what they think, and then how can we help the child with this, through this, the family with or through this. And so I think that, honestly, just coming and being able to listen, not to always fix something, but listen just to hear someone would solve a lot of problems at the IEP table.
Solve a lot of problems in general. Right?
Definitely at the IEP table because I feel like especially when we’re talking about what when parents are involved and it’s their child, then definitely emotions can arise, and then there’s all this stress. Like, you know, teachers have stress too with it. And so I think it’s understanding that everybody who’s at the IEP table wants that child to succeed, and they might have different perspectives. But, yes, listening to understand and being willing to compromise on all sides and be like, okay. I wanna listen to you. I wanna hear you out, and what can we come to consensus with? Yes. Yes. Love that.
For sure. And consensus with? Yes. Yes. Love that. For sure.
And it’s not a a no is not always a forever no. Yeah. It might just be no and not right now. We need to work on this skill before we can work on this skill. And so also being able to explain things
So that everyone understands that I think is a big thing too. Not just saying, well, here’s the LRE. This is where they’re going. Okay. But what is LRE, first of all? Why are they going there? Why did we make this choice? So just explaining and asking clarifying questions, I think, would also help.