Sun Tzu and the Art of the IEP`

As a young Army officer, I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War many times (in different versions). When I transitioned into the civilian workforce, I realized that many of the ideas would translate to the world of business. (Not literally, of course. For example, Sun Tzu’s demonstration of leadership ability using the Emperor’s concubines as soldiers.)

The Art of War can also be applied to many other common activities, such as the IEP. You can pull from many quotes, but here is my favorite:

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

Of course, this may need some translation* into more relevant wording. Such as:

Know the district administration and their stated goals and resources, and know your rights and what is best for your child; in a hundred IEP meetings you will never fail to get what you need.

When you are ignorant of what the district’s goals or resources are, but know your rights and your child’s needs, your chances of getting what you need in the IEP are 50/50.

If you are ignorant of both the district’s goals/resources and your rights and needs of your child, you are certain in every IEP meeting to get what you get, and probably not what you really need.

Of course, this important piece of advice can just as easily be translated into the school district perspective, I’ll leave that exercise to you.

Based on my personal experience, conversations with other parents, and conversations in the blogosphere, my guess is that most people (from both sides) go into IEP meetings knowing themselves, but not their “enemy.” As a result, we often see winners and losers in the outcomes of IEPs, the result of hard fought battles that leave everyone bitter and exhausted.

What would happen if both sides heeded this advice and came in knowing themselves and the “enemy”? According to Sun Tzu, both should expect to win. But both sides can’t “win”, can they?

To that I answer a resounding, “Yes, of course both sides can win.” Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

* (If you are interested in some thoughts on translation within a language, check out my post Knowledge in Translation on my No Straight Lines blog.)
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5 thoughts on “Sun Tzu and the Art of the IEP`

  1. I’m all with you here—I try to think of the IEP as a conversation, and an ongoing one. Not combat, metaphorical, legal……Super title says a lot on its own.


  2. Nice post. I might consider amending this part:“…Know the district administration and their stated goals and resources, …”to “…Know the district administration and their stated (and unstated) goals and resources, …”Joe


  3. Joe, you make a good point. The laws, budget, etc are relatively easy to find (if not understand), but the individual and personal motivations of the people involved are much more challenging. Kristina’s point about the IEP as a conversation is a good one, because that is something that can be extended throughout the year, not just focused at a specific meeting. Those unstated goals you mention become a part of the conversation, and through that conversation, everyone can get a better understanding of everyone else’s wants and needs so that the time spent in the actual meeting can be much more efficient, effective, and “friendly” (that’s not really the right word, but it is the best I could come up with).


  4. If there is an enemy, then I think it would be the underlying budgetary controls that tie the hands of the school district, but I think yours is a much better approach.Best wishes


  5. On my blog I am presently doing a chapter by chapter study of “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, however next month some time, I plan to begin a chapter by chapter study of the art of war. This is going to be very challenging. It would be great if you could drop by and give some of your own insights on the writings of Sun Tzu.The reason for the chapter by chapter analysis is exactly because of what you wrote. I believe life itself can be equated to a battle field of it’s own kind and the strategies of Sun Tzu are relevant.


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