One of the most basic advocacy tips for parents is to make contact with your child’s teachers at the beginning of the school year, or anytime new teachers or service providers become involved. One purpose for this initial contact is to introduce yourself, exchange information about how each of you prefers to be contacted, and to establish a good working relationship long before there are problems to tackle. Another important purpose for this first contact is to share some vital information about your child, such as the fact that the child has a disability and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Accommodation Plan. Sometimes classroom teachers are not made aware of these things right away.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of diagnoses, accommodations, modifications, special education services and such, it is important to make sure that the people who will be working with your child have a sense of who that child is as an individual, unique human being. Some parents simply write a letter, others have created brochures and PowerPoint presentations. ECAC has developed a couple of tools that make it easy for parents to share important information about their child with others.
Painting the Big Picture This is a worksheet that offers a way to quickly share information about things such as your child’s likes, dislikes, strengths, successes, challenges, as well as your dreams and visions for your child’s future. In each section there is also a place to share tips and successful strategies (what works) that help your child overcome difficulties and build relationships with others. There is even a place to capture Other Helpful Information that doesn’t fit anywhere else. This could include information about special healthcare needs, dietary restrictions, fears, unusual responses and things that can be done to calm your child when he/she becomes upset. Having a written document to refer back to will give teachers and others a big head start as they get to know your child!
ECAC’s Student Snapshot serves the same basic purpose as Painting the Big Picture, but it mainly focuses on the most important information that will make the biggest difference for your child. Areas of concern could include things like emotions, communication, sensory issues, medical conditions, academic needs, etc. In addition to teachers and other school staff, ECAC’s Student Snapshot can be shared with childcare providers, summer camp staff, Sunday School teachers, Scout leaders, etc. It provides a description of something that the adult may notice, an explanation of what that probably means, along a suggestion or two. Statements could go something like this:
When you see that I’m not raising my hand to answer questions, I’m probably not confident that my answer would be correct and I don’t want to embarrass myself. You can help by only calling on me when I do raise my hand.
If I ask to use the bathroom in the middle of an activity, it means that I cannot wait until the next break. You can help by letting me go immediately so that I do not have an accident.
If I’ve been having problems with asthma lately and I seem unusually hyperactive, it may be a reaction to the medicine that helps me breathe better. Please try to be patient and find ways to keep me occupied so that I don’t drive you crazy.
Teachers can also share these tools with parents so that they can get to know their students more quickly. It would also send a clear message to parents that you care about their child. Regardless of who reaches out first, sharing important information will help the people in a child’s life work together as a team. This will give the child a much better chance to have a successful experience.
Parents generally contact ECAC when things are not going well with their child’s education. Ineffective communication is often a part of their frustration. Today we will look at the use of questions versus statements. The distinction between the two is usually taught in first grade, but as an advocate for your child, it is important to know when it is better to choose one over the other. This is especially important during parent-teacher conferences or IEP meetings.
Don’t ask a question when you are trying to tell someone something. I often share the story about a meeting that I had with my son’s 3rd grade teacher after weeks of spending entire evenings struggling with him over homework. My son has ADHD and a learning disability in writing, and it took him three times as long to get work completed. Evenings had become miserable for both of us. After meeting with the teacher and learning that she expected the average child in her class to spend 45 minutes to an hour completing homework, I told her that we were going to spend no more than two hours on homework from that date on. The madness had to stop, so I did not give her an option.
Sometimes parents really want something to happen for their child and they ask ” can we…”, “how do you feel about…” and other questions, when they could more effectively make statements such as, “Michael needs…” or “I think it would work better if…”. There is a place for the other approach, but if you have already made up your mind about something, it’s okay to be more assertive with your communication. Asking questions in a certain way gives people the opportunity to say “no”, and you don’t want to do that if “no” is not acceptable.
On the flip side, there are times when parents are seeking information, but they make statements that don’t require a useful response. A statement that, “I don’t see why…” might sound like a request for an explanation, but it leaves enough room for other participants in the conversation to treat it like it was a personal observation that could be acknowledged without further comment. Asking the question, “why…?” has a much better chance of producing more information or greater insight. It’s hard for people to ignore a direct question without appearing to be rude. Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions if more detail is needed.
The bottom line is to not expect other people to read your mind, or to know what you “mean”. Say what you mean and ask for the information that you want to get. Re-word and try again if necessary. That’s a whole lot better than being ineffective and feeling frustrated.
Did you get that?