Remember screen-sharing your meeting content? Or, what about the little squares of participants staring back at you from your monitor? How could any of us possibly forget the surprisingly difficult-to-manage mute/unmute button? Meeting via videoconference became a routine practice during a scary and frustrating time. It’s easy to see this type of meeting as a “Covid thing” and let it fade away into the distant past.
Believe me, I initially loathed individualized education program (IEP) videoconference meetings. Over time, I went through something similar to the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).
My five stages of videoconferencing looked something like this:
3. Reluctant adaptation
5. Deep appreciation
Embrace the Benefits of Videoconferencing
1. Increased parent attendance. If parent feedback has told me anything, it’s that in-person IEP meetings can be intimidating. Parents walk into a room full of school personnel, some of whom they may have never met. The conversation is going to touch on sensitive subjects, with what feels like a microscope on every identified deficit. Parents themselves may have insecurities that end up adding to these perceptions. Despite our efforts to help them feel comfortable, anxiety itself does keep some parents from attending.
Additionally, we have parents who work several jobs, have a lack of transportation, or can’t come due to childcare issues. These hard-working parents may be busy, but they care just as much for their children as any other parent. They want to be a part of their child’s IEP meeting.
A parent can log in from anywhere. They can attend from the comfort of their own home, with a baby on their hip and a pot on the stove. In my district, parents have joined in virtually as they worked from their desk or the back of a garbage truck. I’ve had parents join who hadn’t attended an IEP meeting in years.
Last month, I had a parent attend and leave the camera off. They shared some really sensitive information about their child that they’d never been comfortable sharing before under those unforgiving fluorescent conference room lights. That information will help us meet their child’s needs in ways we wouldn’t have known to try. As a result of using videoconferences, I see parents attending and contributing more than ever before.
2. Stronger special education and general education relationships. Special education departments work hard to form and maintain positive relationships with their general education (gen ed) colleagues. Relationships can easily become strained because special education teachers are, frankly, asking gen ed teachers to perform a lot of specific, additional tasks. These tasks can include data collection, implementing behavior plans, attending a variety of conferences, putting new supports and interventions in place, trying new instructional strategies, and lots of meetings to touch base on what is or isn’t working for a student.
Videoconference calls have made it easier for teachers with tight schedules to take part in meetings. They can quickly log on between classes, during planning times, and manage their many duties more effectively. As a special educator, I know that collaboration with students’ gen ed teachers is the key to student success. I’ve been excited to see these collaborative relationships both improve and increase with the use of videoconferencing platforms.
3. Special education teacher job satisfaction. A recent NPR study reported that more than half of teachers are looking to leave the profession. This is truly frightening and raises the question, “How can we improve the situation, so that they stay?”
Videoconference meetings are keeping my special education team and me from working those historically long hours after school. The efficiency and effectiveness of videoconferencing allows us to hold meetings more often during the school day.
Think about it: You eliminate the need to make copies, highlight them for parents, reserve a conference room, gather team members, etc. You simply jump on the videoconference and get right to it. Sharing the document onscreen, after providing it to parents before the meeting, makes it easy for everyone to follow along together. Being able to manage our time in this way allows us to get back to our students and, when we aren’t contracted to work, spend precious time with our own families.
When good, experienced teachers maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay working in the field, they can help kids flourish in the classroom.
4. Easier scheduling. Many schools have related service providers, like speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists, who spend time in multiple buildings. Videoconferencing means these professionals can join meetings, even if they are at a school across town. This increased availability makes scheduling easier, as more options are available for coordinating all of the meeting attendees.
If you’ve ever had a related service provider attend “in writing,” you know it was likely because their schedule made it difficult to get to the school building for your in-person meeting. These providers can attend more meetings when conducted virtually and contribute valuable information the team needs in real time.
Because of the many benefits for everyone involved, I’ve grown to love videoconference meetings. I encourage you to reconsider if you’ve found yourself relegating them to nothing more than a Covid fad. We owe it to every member of the team to continue to provide this as a valuable, effective meeting option.