Blog Archives

Is that a question? Communication tips for parents

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?

Using IEP Progress Reports

Parents of children with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, should receive reports on their child’s progress toward meeting their IEP goals at least as often as report cards are issued.  The IEP team can require more frequent progress reports if appropriate, and document that decision on the IEP itself.  Many parents, however, are not quite sure what to do with the progress reports when they get them.

Some school systems, or good teachers operating on their own, do a great job of providing details about the child’s developing skills, continuing struggles and even some insight as to the strategies that they are using. Other progress reports are perfect examples of minimalism.  There will be a single letter such as a “P” to indicate that “the student is making progress at a sufficient rate to reach the IEP goal” or a “T” to indicate that “progress is limited due to more time needed.”  When the progress reports are adequately detailed, there may not be a lot of clarification needed.  When the report contains only letter codes, there will almost always be a need for some sort of follow up in order for the parent to get the information that they need to effectively participate in their child’s education.

Additional information can be obtained in a variety of ways.  Parents can request a conference with the teacher, during which they can view work samples and materials used for instruction.  Seeing the classroom setting may also be helpful to understanding why their child is responding or behaving in a certain way (good or bad).  For example, after noticing that the place where my son’s 1st grade class did “circle time” was right next to the classroom computers, it was quite clear to me why the teacher was having difficulty keeping his mind focused on the lesson and hands off the computers.

Parents can also request a telephone conference to get more information from the teacher and ask any questions that they might have, or perhaps exchange email messages to accomplish the same thing.  Most teachers will understand that requesting more information is simply a way for you to better understand what’s going on with your child’s education and how you can best support your child’s learning.

After gathering information, parents should ask themselves (and maybe the teacher) whether the child’s progress is satisfactory. 

If the IEP goals truly reflected what the team thought the child could reasonably be expected to do by the target date, there should be evidence/data that they are on pace to achieve those goals.  If progress is slower than expected, there should be some discussion about why that may be, and whether changes should be made in terms of instructional strategies, supports or services (type, amount, frequency, location, delivery, etc).  Those changes could require the involvement of the whole IEP team, or sometimes a change can be implemented for a trial period before determining that it should be documented on the IEP.

In any event, IEP progress reports, and any supplemental information, are intended to serve as a guide for parents and the rest of the IEP team.  They are an important tool to help insure that the child is receiving adequate benefit from his or her educational program.  Tools have no value if they are left unused.