No More Us against Them; Time for Us and Them…one professional’s perspective
Fear, budget cuts, distrust, lack of knowledge, unrealistic expectations and no idea of priorities seem to form the foundation of many special educational planning meetings attended by families and the professionals that develop and implement the very programs their son or daughter are attending.
Parents have to become specialists in order to support their son or daughter. In their anxious and fearful state they are asked to process educational and therapeutic jargon found in assessments, progress reports, behavior support plans, goals, benchmarks and on IEP documents. Most often parents are being asked to respond to information without prior time to read and digest the information.
Professionals where is your empathy and when will you cut these families some slack? If you are a speech therapist, educational specialist or educational psychologist you were involved in years of education and training to be able to write reports and develop goals. How can you be disappointed or frustrated when a parent wants time to read and question these items? Why is it that professionals think the IEP shouldn’t take more than 1 hour to complete when the parent has not had an opportunity to watch one therapy session, ask any questions or observe individual or group education in the classroom or be shown curriculum, strategies and interventions that are helping their student?
Did you know there really are some schools that mandate that parents visit their son or daughter’s program throughout the school year and especially before the IEP meeting? This happens to build understanding. This builds a relationship between the professional and the family so when everyone meets at the IEP table there is some share understanding and thus trust. Perhaps you professionals feel that receiving a quarterly progress report builds trust. Not so…If the parent did not understand the goal in the first place, has never seen the child perform the goal in the second place, how is a quarterly note going to create understanding. Did you know families often throw that progress report in the drawer at home? Perhaps a few read them but they didn’t realize they could ask why the goal was just partially met.
Professionals, did you ever consider that if families make regular observations and connect with you they might be less likely to call in specialists to help them understand. If we professionals took some time to help the parent understand what strategies, interventions and curriculums worked with their kids by showing them and coaching them, it might not be Us against Them. If we took time before the IEP meeting (a time of high anxiety for parents) to review goal areas, ask for input, review assessments and ask for questions it might not be Us against Them.
Parents, you also need to understand and respect the feelings of the professionals you work with if you want to build the feeling of Us and Them and not Us against Them. Some families never comment on what is working in their son or daughter’s classroom but are quick to find something more the teacher needs to do. There are parents who never return daily log books, teachers’ emails or inform their education staff when their son or daughter is sick, has a fever, did not sleep or had a change in medication.
I have seen moms angry because the teacher will not stop and talk to them during drop off or pick up or will not stop at lunch time to prepare their son or daughter’s intricate meal. Families please think about how many other students are in the classroom, how much extra support the teacher has in order to stop in the moment and have discussions with you, how much time the teacher has to prepare food during lunch for not only your son or daughter but the other 6, 7, or 8 students in the classroom. Teachers feel they are letting you down when they do not do everything you ask, so ask wisely. Please set priorities when making requests and find out if your requests are realistic for your teacher or therapist.
Teachers want more than anything to help your student learn and be successful. Teachers want to please you and have you appreciate the work they are doing. Their job does not stop when your child gets on the yellow bus. Your teachers are making materials, training their staff, cleaning the classroom and preparing for the next day. Teachers are evaluating, writing goals, creating progress reports for all the students in their classroom. Many are going to school after school to increase their skills. Many are thinking and preparing activities for the next day while eating dinner and watching an evening show at home.
Families, if you want to build Us and Them…value your team. Send a note giving gratitude. Remember your teacher’s birthday. Thank them when a goal is reached or a benchmark achieved. Ask them if you could make materials or come into the classroom one day and help. Keep consistent communications with your teacher and therapists. Ask them what you can do at home to support the work they are doing and then follow through. Schedule appropriate times to ask your questions. Be honest about your child’s health and behaviors.
If you wish to establish the Us and Them feeling instead of the Us against Them prioritize your requests at your IEP and be realistic. Once you have taken the time to obtain knowledge about your son or daughter’s strengths, challenges, skills and interests learn to establish priorities. Determine what the most important needs of your child are and work towards helping the team embrace those. Realize that there are limitations to what is realistic, affordable and possible in a classroom of more than one student. Understand that just because your student has a special need it is not the sole responsibility of the school to provide all the solutions. As a parent you are responsible for helping your son or daughter reach their true potential just like parents of neuro-typical students. Contact outside agencies that can help support your efforts. Be creative, resourceful and realistic.
Professionals, be honest with families. Be proactive about evaluating students and identifying the areas of challenge. Be open to their outside providers’ knowledge or experience Learn to write meaningful goals in all areas of need. Obtain professional development training in best practices and keep aware of specialized curriculums that support the needs of the student. When you do not know the answer, say so and collaborate with those that do. Take time to teach the child, the instructional assistant and the parent. All these suggestions will lead to US & Them.
We may not be able to control budget cuts but we can control how we work together to help a student learn and grow. Establishing realistic expectations, communicating consistently, setting priorities, establishing shared understanding, providing time for observations, mentoring and asking each other questions is something we can control. Learning, teaching and collaborating together inspires higher probability that a child will be successful across environments. This too is something we can control.
So, no more US against Them
Let’s be US and Them…and help our kiddos
Photo by woodleywonderworks