The Basics

    • Develop relationships with the teachers who work with your child.
    • Get information and know your options.
    • Remember that the people that you are working with also care for your child.
    • You need to be credible and informed to have people listen to and respect what you say. Be sure to learn what your rights are.
    • Be aware that parents have a lot of power. Don’t wait for two months to check in for results. If something is not resolved quickly, work on it. Teachers don’t always have as much leverage as you think.
    • You may be able to help your child’s teacher resolve something much faster. Work as a team.
    • Remember that working with the school can be a very emotional, personal process because this is your child. It’s very easy to feel defensive. Try to describe your needs in behavioral terms, not emotional terms.
    • Keep things in perspective: Ask yourself, “Is what my child doing typical for his age group, or does his behavior have to do with his disability?” Encourage those who work with your child to do so, too.
      Know that everything you do is not written in stone. You can change things. Just because you decided something at the end of June doesn’t mean you have to do it for the next year. You can change it at the end of October if it’s not working. You can call the committee back and ask to reevaluate the situation.
    • Reaffirm that “I don’t expect you to fix my child” but to help him or her learn.
    • Remember to think of your child first. The disability is just part of who your child is. Remind people of your child’s strengths. Encourage teachers to praise him or her.
    • Ask the teacher to have your child be in the helper position at times, not always the one being helped.
    • Encourage a work ethic at home. Put value on those traits that promote success in school: responsibility, consequences for behavior, organization, and punctuality. Jobs at home translate into expectations. A sense of cooperation and self-worth follow.
    • If you are not sure how to talk with teachers, connect with other parents. It’s like an adult buddy system. Talk to other parents about what they are doing. You can get a parent advocate to work with you – someone who’s gone through what you’re going through.
    • The most important thing to do is to establish open communication. Try to be non-threatening. You can make friends and get what you need.
    • Look at yourself closely to identify habits or attitudes that interfere with effective communication or your being taken seriously.
    • Be sure to communicate any concerns or ideas right away, over the phone or with a note, while the discussion can be relatively casual. By communicating early, you can avoid becoming angry and frustrated; by intervening early, you can avoid a situation growing into a bigger problem or crisis.
    • One very effective way to keep communication open is to use log books. The teachers (and others who are working with your child) write in these each day and send them back home with the child. The parent reads what the teacher writes and responds and sends the book back with the child. These are especially effective with non-verbal children. It keeps the communication open between parent and teacher. Plus, sometimes writing to a teacher makes it easier to communicate an idea in the way that you want to express it.
    • Inform teachers immediately of any unusual circumstances occurring at home. A stressed child cannot attend to a task, often exhibits disruptive behavior, or may simply space out. Teachers may misread the signs. Examples range from divorce to a sick grandmother to a new baby. Each student has a very different response to these life changes.
    • If you feel that decisions are being made without you, call and ask to be included in discussions. You can suggest a “pre” IEP meeting to talk about some of your ideas and what your goals and the goals of your child are. This is especially helpful for meetings that involve therapists and/or both special and general education staff. By talking before the meeting with the specific people who are responsible for your areas of concern, you can structure the formal meeting so it goes smoothly and so the entire group can sign off with only one meeting.
    • Make a list of things you want to say before you go to a meeting and take it with you.
    • When you meet, give yourself plenty of time to discuss important issues.

    Used by permission from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY).

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