Thursday, February 25, 2016

How to work with your child's teacher and school

By Alison Morse

Parents of children with special-education needs face extra challenges in helping their kids succeed at school.

Sometimes we assume that a teacher will automatically know how to teach our child. But every child is different. It’s important for the school to focus on your child’s individual needs—not just what they assume based on a label.

These strategies will help you support your child by taking an organized approach to your relationship with the teacher and school.

Know your child

-Get educated on your child’s strengths and needs so you can speak about them

-Understand your child’s diagnosis and how it may impact learning

-Collects articles and information that may help school staff understand your child.

Understand the school system

-Learn about special education services and programs—and your role—by attending information workshops at your child’s school, the school board or community agencies. The school board’s website is another good source of information.

Develop and maintain a relationship with the teacher

The classroom teacher is a very important person in your child’s life. Maintaining an open and honest relationship means that you can quickly raise concerns and work together to solve them. The following tips are intended to help you with this relationship with the school.

Communicate effectively

Talking about our children is emotional and sometimes we focus on what we want to say without really listening to the other person. Remember to:

-Pay attention and listen to the speaker

-Ask questions about words and procedures you don’t understand

-Repeat information to make sure you understood what was said correctly

-Speak clearly and present facts in a logical order

-Ask for a break or to reschedule the meeting if you become emotional.

Learn to problem-solve and negotiate

The school doesn’t have unlimited resources and there’s usually more than one way to solve a problem. As a parent, you want to show that you will work with the teacher to find a mutually beneficial solution. Try to:

-Brainstorm new ideas without judgment

-Evaluate each idea and identify consequences

-Select best solutions and plan details for how they will be implemented

-Evaluate results and decide whether to continue or to try another option

-Recognize the resource limitations faced by school staff

-Look for areas of agreement and compromise.

Share successes

A healthy relationship with the teacher means that you don’t just approach when there's a problem. You need to celebrate successes and let the teacher know that you recognize their skills and expertise. To do this you can:

-Share good news about your child with school staff

-Thank the teacher for their efforts and be specific in your comments

-Attend school social events and volunteer to help in the classroom or on trips

-Let the school principal and others know when things go well in the classroom.

Preparation and follow-up

Working with the teacher and the school will include meetings, phone calls and e-mails. It’s important to organize the information you have about your child and prepare for meetings. Here are some tips:

Prepare for case conferences and meetings

-Make sure you understand the purpose of the meeting

-Find out who will be attending the meeting and why they will be there

-Take someone with you to help you by taking notes or speaking on your behalf

-Be prepared to share information about your child

Keep records and notes

-Make notes of key discussions from phone calls and at meetings

-Record the names and positions of people involved

-Ask for copies of meeting minutes and other documents

-Keep your notes and records organized in a binder or filing system

Follow-up on phone calls and meetings

-Before the end of the call or meeting, reconfirm next steps, actions and future meetings

-Send a thank-you note with a summary of your expectations

-Complete all the tasks that were identified for your action (e.g. make appointments, provide information, etc.)

-Monitor changes and track progress for future meetings.

Find help in the community

Advocating for your child can feel overwhelming. It's important to remember that you're not alone and many other parents have been through similar situations. As a parent, your knowledge and skills will grow over time. In the meantime:

-Seek out information about your child’s needs and strategies that may help

-Attend workshops or meetings that will provide information or support

-Contact community agencies that provide support to families

-Connect with other families of a child with similar issues.

Alison Morse is a parent of a young adult with cerebral palsy and developmental disability. Alison has been a volunteer special education Advisory Committee (SEAC) member representing Easter Seals since 1992. As the provincial coordinator for special education at Easter Seals Ontario, Alison manages SEAC recruitment, training and support and develops information resources for families. Recently Alison started the blog Easter Seals Kids at School. It already has 50 articles about what parents can do to support students. This post Advocacy: How to deal with concerns at school outlines the chain of command to follow when you're experiencing problems. The tips above were collected from parents and professionals across Ontario. 

Photo above by Jodi Ravn. Holland Bloorview staff will remember the Ravn family, which includes Eric, 11, Alex, 8, and Nicholas, 5. You may remember this BLOOM story written by the boys' father Lloyd.


Excellent advice, says this PT who works (sort of) in the schools! Effective communication is key.