The IEP Journey: The Heart of Special Education Planning

Stephanie DeLussey teaches us how to effectively write and improve IEP plans for students.

In today's episode, we sit down with Stephanie DeLussey, a dual-certified veteran special education teacher, IEP coach, and author of the upcoming book “The Intentional IEP.” Stephanie shares her unique insights into the often daunting process of writing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). She emphasizes the importance of collaboration between parents and teachers, and offers practical tips to make the IEP process more effective and less stressful for everyone involved.

Stephanie DeLussey talks about how to effectively write an IEP in this episode.

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This week's guest

Stephanie spent 7.5 years in the traditional classroom, teaching in multiple states and special education settings and grades, and has over 12 years in education. She has always enjoyed writing IEPs and is a self proclaimed #data nerd. Upon leaving the classroom, Stephanie dove in to learning more about special ed law and student and parent rights – where she quickly realized that a formal IEP training for teachers was needed. She understands that not everyone will love IEPs as much as she does, but it is her hope that with the appropriate training and resources, teachers will not only advocate harder for student services and supports, but also bridge the gap between teachers and families to foster a true IEP Team.

She also provides professional development for teachers. You can connect with her at Mrs. D's Corner and The Intentional IEP.



Show Notes:


Timestamp: 00:00:00 – 00:01:00

In this episode, Vicki Davis sits down with Stephanie DeLussey to discuss the importance of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and how to approach them intentionally. Stephanie shares her expertise in creating effective IEPs that genuinely cater to the needs of each student.

The Importance of Parent Input

Timestamp: 00:01:01 – 00:04:48

Stephanie emphasizes the crucial role that parent input plays in shaping an effective IEP. She suggests using input forms to gather valuable information from parents, which can then be used to write the present-level section of the IEP.

Writing the IEP: The Present Level Section

Timestamp: 00:04:48 – 00:05:22

Stephanie walks us through the process of writing the PLAAFP (Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance) section of the IEP, which serves as the foundation for the entire plan.

Gathering Additional Input

Timestamp: 00:05:22 – 00:06:08

Stephanie advises sending out teacher input forms and consulting with other professionals who work with the child. This additional input helps in determining the skills to focus on when writing IEP goals.

Drafting and Revising the IEP

Timestamp: 00:06:08 – 00:07:16

Stephanie talks about sending a proposed draft IEP to the family for review. She emphasizes the importance of open communication and flexibility in making any necessary changes.

Communication and Feedback

Timestamp: 00:07:16 – 00:07:48

Vicki and Stephanie discuss the best ways to communicate with families, whether it's through email, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings, depending on the family's preference.

The IEP Meeting and Follow-Up

Timestamp: 00:07:48 – 00:09:11

Stephanie outlines what happens during the IEP meeting and the importance of ongoing communication with general education teachers and parents throughout the year.

Addressing Misconceptions

Timestamp: 00:09:11 – 00:11:09

Vicki and Stephanie tackle some common misconceptions about IEPs, including the difference between being “fair” and being “equitable.”

Conclusion and Resources

Timestamp: 00:11:09 – 00:12:02

Vicki wraps up the episode by thanking Stephanie for her insights and mentioning Stephanie's upcoming book, “The Intentional IEP,” set to release in January.


00:00:00:22 – 00:00:04:07

John Davis:

This is the Ten Minute Teacher podcast with your host, Vicki Davis.

00:00:04:09 – 00:00:42:05

Vicki Davis:

The IEP Journey: The Heart of Special Education Planning, Episode 818. In today's episode, we sit down with Stephanie DeLussey, a dual-certified veteran special education teacher, IEP coach, and author of the upcoming book “The Intentional IEP.” Stephanie shares her unique insights into the often daunting process of writing individualized education plans. She emphasizes the importance of collaboration between parents and teachers and offers some practical tips to make the IEP process more effective and less stressful for everyone involved.

00:00:42:06 – 00:01:11:17

Vicki Davis:

Let's get started. Today's sponsor is Microsoft Education. Stay tuned at the end of the show to learn more about their artificial intelligence course for Educators Day. We're talking with Stephanie DeLussey, dual-certified veteran special education teacher, IEP coach, author, and teacher mentor. And she has a book that will be released in January 2024 called “The Intentional IEP,” which is available for pre-order right now.

00:01:11:18 – 00:01:23:10

Vicki Davis:

Stephanie, IEPs are not something a lot of people look forward to writing. What's the philosophy behind how we should be writing IEPs? These are kids, right? So it is important.

00:01:23:12 – 00:01:48:00

Stephanie DeLussey:

I'm one of those weirdos that loves writing IEPs and loves the data collection. All the paperwork that comes with being a special ed teacher. We need to be working together to write the IEP. And what I mean by “we need to be working together” is that the parents and the teachers for the school need to be working together to write those IEPs, because when that happens, that's when the magic happens and really good things come from that.

00:01:48:04 – 00:02:06:10

Vicki Davis:

I can speak from personal experience. Out of our three children, we have two children who have learning differences, and once we got the results from the testing center, we did sit down with teachers and talk through and say, “Okay, this is what I'm doing as the parents, this is what you're doing as a teacher, this is what it means.”

00:02:06:10 – 00:02:19:14

Vicki Davis:

And we each had our roles, and then we met every so often to kind of go over that. Is that revolutionary? Is that something that a lot of people don't do? I mean, what are people doing now instead of involving parents and teachers?

00:02:19:14 – 00:02:41:11

Stephanie DeLussey:

You know, I don't know that it's revolutionary. I feel like it should be across the board that it happens. I don't know that it is happening everywhere in every single school. I don't think that's the fault of the teacher or of the parent. Honestly, as special education teachers, we're not really taught how to write IEPs or what elaborative IEP writing looks like, but it definitely should be happening.

00:02:41:11 – 00:02:54:16

Stephanie DeLussey:

And it doesn't have to be anything laborious or like extra added on to the teacher's plate or the parent's plate because we're both so stinking busy all the time. But it can definitely happen in little moments that really make a big impact.

00:02:54:18 – 00:03:03:12

Vicki Davis:

Okay, so let's talk through those little moments. You have a student; they obviously have some testing going on. And then where do you go from there to do this simply?

00:03:03:14 – 00:03:21:13

Stephanie DeLussey:

The biggest thing and one of my favorite ways to begin, including the parent in the whole process, is when you begin writing that IEP. So this begins way back. So if you're evaluating a student, you're going to do this at the beginning of the evaluation process. You're going to send home what I call a “parent input form.” It's also called like a parent questionnaire.

00:03:21:15 – 00:03:45:07

Stephanie DeLussey:

And essentially just ask the parent for their input on their child. You can also give one to the student. And even if you have kids in pre-K, you can still get a student's input for an IEP. It just might look different than a third grader or a seventh grader or a 12th grader. Those input forms bridge that gap and open up that communication between the teacher and the family and sharing what works well at home.

00:03:45:11 – 00:03:59:13

Stephanie DeLussey:

What the parents' hopes and dreams are, what they want to work on this year, what skills maybe they have priorities for this year for IEP goals. It just really starts that conversation and really opens the doors. And you never know this information as a teacher unless you ask.

00:03:59:19 – 00:04:01:22

Vicki Davis:

So every year you think you should ask?

00:04:01:22 – 00:04:21:00

Stephanie DeLussey:

Absolutely. Every time you're rewriting a child's IEP. So every annual IEP, every reevaluation, every three years, you should be asking for this information. I send home like a back-to-school parent input form. It's not as in-depth as the IEP input form, but it just lets me know like, “How was your child's summer? Did they go to any camps?”

00:04:21:01 – 00:04:38:16

Stephanie DeLussey:

It gives me talking points with the kids, like, “Oh, I heard you went to horseback riding camp. Can you tell me about that?” So those input forms really are just that gate opener for so many conversations between the teacher and the student and building those relationships and just building relationships with the family as well.

00:04:38:19 – 00:04:48:00

Vicki Davis:

This is just great teaching. A lot of teachers

get sort of input forms for every single student, and this is just a great thing to do. So you get these input forms, and then what do you do?

00:04:48:00 – 00:05:05:15

Stephanie DeLussey:

Once you have those input forms, especially if it comes to writing the IEP, let's say you have Stephanie's annual IEP meeting coming up and you're 30 and 45 days out from that IEP meeting. You know when it's due. On that input form, give them about a week or two. You can touch base and say, “Hey, don't forget to send it back.”

00:05:05:17 – 00:05:22:07

Stephanie DeLussey:

And then once you get that back, that's when you're going to start writing the present level section of the IEP. So the PLAAFP (Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance), you're going to start writing that present levels and putting that data into the present level section of it, because that's the meat and potatoes and that's where you should start when writing IEPs.

00:05:22:09 – 00:05:32:23

Vicki Davis:

Okay, so you take that information, you plug it in, I guess you have a first draft. So what do you do? What, you kind of have it all together or do you just check it off your list or what do you do next?

00:05:33:00 – 00:05:47:10

Stephanie DeLussey:

Yeah. So once you have your parent input form, not only are you going to send it out to parents, you're going to send out a teacher input form, have other teachers on the team as well, and any adult or professional or specialist that works with that child, they're going to get their own input form. You're going to get them all back and put them into that present level section.

00:05:47:10 – 00:06:08:19

Stephanie DeLussey:

And from there is where you're going to determine what skills to write IEP goals for based off of student need that you have written into the present level. So once you have that information in the present level, all the data set can be even at evaluation time. Present levels come first, and then you're going to move into those IEP goals and you're going to do proposed IEP goals.

00:06:08:19 – 00:06:27:02

Stephanie DeLussey:

So nothing is set in stone with an IEP, which is amazing. You can change anything at any time. And so you'll move from present levels to IEP goals. And then I like to send home a proposed draft IEP to the family, letting them know, “Here's all the data that we have, a level playing field. They know exactly where our starting place is.”

00:06:27:02 – 00:06:45:18

Stephanie DeLussey:

And then here, based off of that information, here's what our IEP goals we're proposing are. What do you think? What concerns do you have? Is there anything you want to change? Do you want a different skill? Are our priorities in the same way? It just between the input form and sending home that draft IEP, it's a game changer for special ed teachers.

00:06:45:18 – 00:07:11:06

Vicki Davis:

And how do you get the feedback? Is it better to talk about the feedback face-to-face? Is it better to, you know, I am just not crazy about email, or particularly with tense or possibly having a child and in IEPs are really very important for children. Every time I've had to work with teachers, it's always been face-to-face on these issues because it just prevents miscommunication.

00:07:11:06 – 00:07:16:03

Vicki Davis:

So do you suggest a meeting? Is email okay or phone calls or what do you do?

00:07:16:05 – 00:07:38:13

Stephanie DeLussey:

I think it depends on the dynamic between you and the family. So every family that you work with, that IEP team is going to have a different song and dance that we all like to sway to, right? So it really depends on what works best for the family. So back to the email then. That's what I'm going to use. But I prefer to make a phone call or I'll even say you can mark up this proposed draft IEP with a pen and then send it back and I'll read your notes.

00:07:38:15 – 00:07:48:10

Stephanie DeLussey:

I can give you a call when I get it back if I have any questions. So again, it just really depends on your dynamic with the family and what's going to work best for open communication between both parties.

00:07:48:12 – 00:07:55:12

Vicki Davis:

Awesome. So you kind of get to where it's written, it's done. We know we're not done there though, are we?

00:07:55:14 – 00:07:57:16

Stephanie DeLussey:

We are not, no.

00:07:57:18 – 00:07:59:14

Vicki Davis:

Okay, so what's next?

00:07:59:16 – 00:08:19:23

Stephanie DeLussey:

So after that point, that's when you're going to have that IEP meeting. Typically, I like to send that proposed draft IEP anywhere from 3 to 10 school days before that IEP meeting comes. That gives the family enough time to look over the draft, ask questions, for me to reach back out, touch base, make any changes that I need to based off of what their concerns and suggestions are.

00:08:20:00 – 00:08:40:19

Stephanie DeLussey:

And then that comes time to the IEP meeting. And so that's when you're going to have that I

EP meeting. That's when you're going to write all of those support services like accommodations, modifications, you're going to do related services, service times, choose the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), and do all of those other little checkboxes that IEP formats have that you're finished writing out that IEP with the IEP team at that meeting.

00:08:40:22 – 00:08:52:19

Vicki Davis:

Okay, so now we have our IEP. Obviously, we have to follow that and go with it. Anything else happen during the year after you have this already written? Does the teacher need to review it? Check over it?

00:08:52:19 – 00:09:11:05

Stephanie DeLussey:

What I think that touching base, especially with the general education teachers and letting them know, “This is Stephanie's IEP, you have to read over it. It's a legal document.” But oftentimes when you say that, like people don't respond well to, I don't want to say open threat, but like just saying it's a legal document, you need to read it.

00:09:11:05 – 00:09:37:06

Stephanie DeLussey:

Like that's not going to make me read something. So really sharing with them like, “This is Stephanie's IEP. Here's the basis of what it says, here's what it means, and this is what it may look like in your classroom.” But also, I like to touch base with the general education teacher before I write IEPs because I can say, “What support does Stephanie need in your classroom to work on these proposed goals and what supports unify that general education teacher to help Stephanie reach those goals?”

00:09:37:06 – 00:09:55:07

Stephanie DeLussey:

So it's a lot of communication throughout the year and having just those relationships with the parents and the teachers and just the entire team. And you all have to be best friends with anyone on any IEP team, but you do have to have a good working professional relationship. And with that comes that communication.

00:09:55:09 – 00:10:15:07

Vicki Davis:

And I love that you're consulting with teachers, you're talking with teachers, and so many teachers do really understand that the kids learn differently. Every so often, though, there are those that think, “Well, this is not okay, I'm going to say a word and I'm sure you hate because I hate it. As a mom with kids who learn differently, do you know what word I'm going to say?”

00:10:15:07 – 00:10:17:18

Vicki Davis:

I'm going to say it's not fair.

00:10:17:23 – 00:10:26:02

Stephanie DeLussey:

Oh, yeah, there's a big difference between fair and being equitable and oh, yeah, that could be a whole other conversation.

00:10:26:03 – 00:10:47:23

Vicki Davis:

I always point out to teachers who use that word, “If somebody has a broken foot, is it fair that they have crutches? They need crutches. You're giving them something that they need in order to move from place to place.” I've also had teachers say, “Well, so-and-so is doing really well now. They must have gotten over their learning disability.”

00:10:48:01 – 00:10:49:08

Vicki Davis:

If you ever heard these things?

00:10:49:08 – 00:11:09:10

Stephanie DeLussey:

Before, I've heard different versions of them. Yes. And I love when people are like, “Oh, it's not fair. Well, it's not fair that I have to wear glasses every day to be able to see. But this is how I was created and this is how I am. And there's nothing that's going to change my vision. And so I have to wear glasses and that helps me see everything helps so I can thrive.”

00:11:09:10 – 00:11:17:08

Stephanie DeLussey:

It helps my free health so I can watch TV, it helps. I can be a member of society. And that's what all of our systems are as well.

00:11:17:10 – 00:11:44:11

Vicki Davis:

You know, these are so important and thank you for demystifying and encouraging us with the IEP process. I really look forward to seeing your book in January for the intentional IEP because I know that it's going to help a lot of kids as it helps all of us do our jobs better. So thanks, Stephanie. Sign up for this free course today so that you're ready to understand and use A.I. in your school in ways that are safe and work for schools.

00:11:44:13 – 00:11:50:06

Vicki Davis:

Microsoft has an amazing artificial intelligence course for educators that will help you and your education team have the knowledge you need to understand the best practices for artificial intelligence in schools. AI is changing rapidly, and you'll want your team to take advantage of this free course from Microsoft today. Go to

Now that sign up for this free course today so that you're ready to understand and use AI in your school in ways that are safe and work for schools. I highly recommend this free AI course from Microsoft. So sign up today.

00:11:50:06 – 00:12:02:17

John Davis:

You've been listening to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast. If you want more content from Vicki Davis, you can find her on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube at Cool Cat Teacher. Thank you for listening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere