During a conversation with another parent yesterday about the best way to work with the teachers and principal at Ben's school, she said that she was ready to "do battle." I was glad we were talking on the phone because she could not see my reaction to her declaration. I vehemently disagree with this method of advocating for your child. Using a fighting mentality to get what you want for your child may only get you a reputation for being a difficult parent, that could potentially follow you around from school to school and agency to agency. (The special education/exceptional child field is small.) The results may be that your child's needs are never met.
Here are a few ideas that came to mind as I thought about this situation with this mom and how she discussed her relationship with the school and the roadblocks she encountered. Hopefully, you may be able to put a few of these to good use:
Be an advocate.
When I looked up the definition for "advocate" and then "child advocate", I saw two very different definitions. Words like argue, plead, and defend were prevalent in the definitions for advocate, while child advocate was defined by promote the optimal development of children and engaging.
All parents are advocates for their children. To promote optimal development, parents need to build a group of advocates for their child and the school personnel are an important part of this team. By looking at them as the enemy with whom to do battle, you are alienating a group of people who are vital to the education process. Going this alone is not the way to help your child.
Build a partnership.
If you think of the teachers, assistants, therapists and administrative staff as people who you need to build long lasting relationships with, your approach may be different. If your approach is gentle and firm, smart and helpful, the people who see your child each day, will respond positively to your child's needs.
Think of each person you meet as someone who you want to know for years to come, and who wants to know you and your child too. It could become a friendship, but at the very least, it is a partnership.
Offer assistance and give it.
The best way to show that you are serious about getting the best for your child is to offer your help. Volunteer to work in the classroom, on the PTA board or if that is too much for you, ask if there is something to work on while you are at home. Stapling forms could help so much and be an easy task for you while watching TV.
Meet with the key players.
New principal or teacher? Ask to meet them one-on-one. Find out about their strengths, history and experience. Learn about how they view the future of your child, the classroom and the school. What is important to them? How can you help them meet their goals while meeting your own?
The word advocate may imply that as the parent we do all the talking. This is not the case. As my four-year old says, "Turn on your listening ears." Find out what is being said and what is not being said. The stronger the partnership, the more honest the feedback and information you will receive.
Be realistic with expectations.
Be realistic with expectations about your child, yourself and the school. Take a long look at what you are asking for and make sure you are asking for the right things at the right time. Draw up a list so you can review what is most important. Take off the items that can wait. If you go into any situation asking for the moon, you may get nothing. If you go in asking for your top three items, you may be more likely to get your child what they need.
Shout out the positives, Review the negatives.
Have you heard of the sandwich method? It is a way to give feedback to an employee during a performance evaluation. Start with the good things, add the negative in the middle, and then end with more positive points.
If you have solutions for the areas that need improvement, then offer them up. If you can volunteer to be a part of those solutions, even better. If you want more communication coming from the school, offer to coordinate a newsletter. If you want better materials in the classroom, offer to find a way to get them.
School starts in the next few weeks - think long and hard about what your approach will be: Do you have your armour on and axe in hand? Do you come in with an olive branch and open arms? I cannot tell you what will work best in your situation, only to evaluate yourself honestly and then make changes accordingly.