Advocating for Your Child at School: Patience and Persistence is Key
Advocating for your child at school is not an easy task. To be effective, you have to keep your emotions in check, be concise about what problems your child is experiencing, bring possible solutions to the table, and be prepared to wait for change to take place.
Schools are run much like the government – everyone has their post, responsibilities and territory and that is what employees stick to. I was a teacher for 13 years and know that you have to be careful about overstepping your boundaries. You can’t promise what you can’t make happen. The school is only as effective as its administrative team is. Poor leadership frequently means no solutions, solid information, or resistance to change.
Even with all of my experience both as a parent of two children with autism and as a teacher, I had difficulty advocating for appropriate support for my daughter when she was in grade 6. I’d like to share some tips that could help in the best possible outcome for a school advocacy meeting.
Best advocacy tips for school meetings, IEP’s, and future planning for your child at school
- Make it real
Bring a photo of your child and place it on the table. Open the meeting with the statement, “This child and his/her well-being is the focus of the meeting.” There are no winners, losers, or politics – just this child’s needs.
- Bring a list of the difficulties your child is having.
Divide that list into categories such as academics, socialization, communication, and behavior.
- Make note of any changes in mood, academic progress, or regression of skills.
- Bring documentation of any assessments you have had done.
Both privately or through other programs that may be relevant in making a proper assessment of your child’s needs.
- Do not point the finger at any one person, particularly a teacher.
Administrators will always stand behind their teachers and so will the school board. Speak in general terms if you can.
- Assess who is offering insight or solutions about your child.
Ask how well they know your child and how many times have they met your child. Some “experts” make suggestions for your child based on one observation or just by reading reports. This is not good enough.
- In regard to an IEP:
Ensure that the IEP goals are based on cognitive assessments or informal assessments such as the Vineland which tests adaptive functioning or the Brigance. These tests do not have to be performed by an educational psychologist so therefore are much easier to give.
- Set realistic deadlines and benchmarks.
Whatever suggestions, solutions, supports etc. are given in the meeting, ask for dates when those will be implemented, how those interventions will be assessed, and how you will be kept informed of the progress of these changes.
- Do your own research and offer solutions as well.
Parents live with their children and know what works best for them.
- You are within your rights to take it to the next level.
If you don’t receive satisfaction at the school level, be prepared to go to the next administrative level. A school division breakdown is usually posted on the school board website (who is above who etc.)
Advocating for your child can be frustrating…try to be patient and make sure you are supported.
Try to work as a team. It is the team approach that will ensure the best outcome for your child. Talk positively, try not to assign blame, and state that you know change is possible and have every confidence the team will act in the best interest of your child. Be prepared to follow up to ensure plans, changes, etc. are being implemented. Remember to look for support for yourself as you support your child. Develop positive relationships with the teachers, support staff or administrative personnel who go out of their way to help, and try to move past the negative feelings of those who don’t.
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