Communicating With Your Child's School
If you have a child who is receiving special education services, you're more than likely to be very involved with your child's school and teacher—including planning, reviewing, and assessing your child's educational program. Over time, you will learn a lot about the special education process and how to communicate and negotiate on your child's behalf. While your knowledge, skill, and confidence will naturally increase, there are some specific communication skills that can help you be most successful in developing and maintaining a strong partnership with your child's school. We hope these "Steps to Success" will be particularly helpful to parents who are new to the special education process.
First, understand that your role as a parent is unique. No one knows and loves your child the way that you do. You are the expert on your child. And, while you may not have all the answers, you want your child to be successful in school and in life. Your passion, as a parent, can help you communicate brilliantly, and sometimes, it can overtake you.
Step 1: Be mindful of your emotional pressure gauge as you work with your child's school.
If you expect to have difficulty when meeting with school personnel, your mind and body will be primed for battle. How can you communicate successfully if you are on the verge of overflowing in anguish and outrage? Don't let your mind go there. Keep thoughts of past (or present) problems at school, worst fears, and other negatives from creeping into your mind. Focus positively on your goals and the view that the school wants to do their best for your child. Keep telling yourself that you and your child will succeed.
Step 2: Prioritize and plan.
What's the most important thing that needs to be accomplished for your child? Make a list of the issues, questions, and possible solutions. Rank them. Decide if there are any you can pass on and which one(s) must be addressed. Plan how you are willing to give and take in order to achieve the higher goal. Map out what you need to say and practice, if that helps:
- "What's most important for Jordan right now is...
- "We really need to focus on..."
Referring to these few notes, with key phrases jotted down, can help keep you and the meeting on track.
Step 3: Actively listen to understand the other person's perspective.
If you don't understand what someone is saying, tell him or her. Be direct:
- "I just don't understand what you are saying. Can you explain it in a different way or give me some examples?"
- "Is there something you can show me, in writing, so I can fully understand?"
Keep asking and wait for responses until you do fully understand. Resist any temptation to answer your own questions or put words into someone else's mouth.
Step 4: Clarify your statements if you see a puzzled expression on someone's face and ask for clarification in return.
Paraphrase, or restate so that you and others are clear in your understanding.
To be understood:
- "I must not be explaining this clearly, what I'm trying to say is..."
- "Here's a copy of...Let's look at this together. It shows that..."
So that you understand:
- "It sounds like you're saying..."
- "Is that written down anywhere so I can read it?"
Often, the process of clarifying one's understanding provides an opportunity to clear up a misconception or correct misinformation that could be critical to finding a satisfactory solution for your child. So, don't overlook the value of this technique.
Step 5: Have options in mind and offer them for discussion, as needed.
As a parent, you're in a good position to present alternative solutions that might not occur to those who work for the school system.
- (Along the lines of the old adage, "Sometimes you just can't see the forest for all the trees."):
- "Let's do some brainstorming on possibilities and see what we can come up with. How about..?"
And, if you've done some research, information gathering, or obtained any formal recommendations:
- "Here's a recommendation from...that has proven successful for other students. We should seriously consider this for Janey."
- "Let's try this for 8 weeks and see how it goes."
It's also important to make sure that the focus stays on your child and meeting his or her needs. Sometimes, words like the following can help tighten everyone's focus:
- "Jordan's dad and I just haven't seen the kind of progress that Jordan needs to make. What other options can we consider for him?"