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10 Ways to Get Along With School When You Are 'That Parent'

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One of the biggest challenges we face as parents of kids with disabilities is the battle with school. We don’t want it to be a battle, yet sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes we have to fight during IEP meetings to get the services and supports our children need. Sometimes we feel we have to be on constant lookout to what is coming at us next from school.

And so, many of us end up becoming “that” parent. The parent teachers and administrators try to avoid. The parent schools see as “difficult” because of the expectations we have and how hard we are willing to fight for our kids. We push the schools. We don’t settle. We are relentless.

But we don’t always have to be “that” parent.

We don’t want the relationship with our child’s school to be negative. We truly want to work together as a team, and we can. To have a team, we need to put some effort and cultivate a positive relationship with schools whenever possible. After all, like Mighty parent Candace S. says, “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Here are 10 things you can do:

1. Send a letter introducing your child and yourself towards the beginning of the school year.

Even if you know the teacher, take advantage of the beginning of the school year to establish a positive relationship. Use your letter as an invitation to partner with you this school year to help your child grow. Share any information you think will be helpful to have the teacher see your child as the wonderful individual they are. Let them know how to contact you and that you will be as supportive as you can.

2. Listen and offer alternative solutions.

It is hard to listen when you feel you are going into a battle, but one of the best ways to establish a positive relationship is showing we are willing to listen. It doesn’t mean we agree, but it shows we are considering their options. Listen, and then ask questions to better understand where the school is coming from. If we don’t agree, we can offer possible solutions. A good phrase is: “I hear you say ____, but here is my concern____, and I would like us to try ____.”

Mighty parent Shatika A. said, “[Educate] instead of placing blame and accusations.”

3. Write them encouraging notes throughout the year.

Thank your team whenever you get a chance. Believe it or not, teachers don’t get much encouragement. Sometimes a simple, “Thanks for being a great teacher to my kid” on a sticky note can have the greatest impact. If a teacher feels you are supportive of them, they are more likely to be supportive of your ideas and advocate with you. Most people do not get recognized for their jobs often (when was the last time someone thanked you for your work?), and teachers are no different. Do random gifts if you can, and keep it simple. Our first-grade teacher loved Mountain Dew so I got her a few throughout the year with a sticky note on them, “Thanks for all you do.” That’s it! The little gesture went a long way. When we needed to have difficult conversations, the team knew we were caring, and they were willing to try new things with us and follow our lead.

4. When you have a meeting, bring food!

Our culture connects over food. It is hard to have a battle when you show up with a “peace offering” for the teachers who carve time out of their day to meet with you. Yes, it is their job, but this little gesture can have a tremendous impact. A school is less likely to say no when they are eating the snacks you have provided.

5. Share the positives and milestones your child achieved that relate to school.

Whenever your child reaches a milestone, email the teacher and maybe some staff. Let them know what your child did, and invite them to celebrate with you. You can take this as an opportunity to thank them for their work to — for example, “I know you have been working on phonics with my child, and I knew you would love hearing he has been reading every single sign we pass when we are driving. Thank you so much for never giving up on my child.”

6. Consider volunteering in the classroom or in the school office.

Not everyone can do this, but volunteering in the classroom or with other school projects is a great way to be involved and present and a positive way to get to know teachers and staff better. Another option is to volunteer to chaperone field trips.

7. When needing to confront something with the teachers, use language such as, “I was wondering,” or, “I was puzzled by.”

Chances are, there will be hiccups this school year. As parents, we tend to jump in and demand an explanation. Unless there is a safety concern or you suspect abuse, the best way to confront those hiccups is by “wondering” or being “puzzled.” For example, “In my child’s IEP it says she will receive speech three times a week, but she mentioned she only saw the speech therapist once. I was wondering what happened.” Or “I got the letter you sent home regarding testing, and I was puzzled about it because we agreed at her last IEP that my kid would take the test at a different time with no time restrictions.” Language and how we approach things makes a big difference.

Mighty parent Tracy S. said:

Try not to act on immediate impulse. Let yourself calm down if there is an issue. Put things in writing so you can edit before you send. Be willing to apologize for a frustrated approach, etc., but still make your point. Know you can’t win all battles, but you might at least make people think. Never give up, but remain appropriate in delivery.

8. To work together, be willing to compromise.

There will be times you don’t love the plan the school is presenting. One year, my daughter’s teacher had a goal for my daughter with Down syndrome to learn only 30 new words in one year. I did not think that was reasonable, and I expressed I wanted her to learn at least 300 words. “Add one more zero” I said. I expressed my concern (by being “puzzled”) that the teacher did not have higher expectations for my daughter. I asked questions as to how she had arrived at only 30 words. I listened. Ultimately, we settled on 100 words for the IEP, with the condition she would be working on 10 new words a week and we’d revise once she met the goal.

9. Try to connect with the teacher at the end of the day.

My kids don’t take the bus — I provide transportation. I know not everyone can do this, but if you do, take this as an opportunity to connect with the teachers. For years, I have had short conversations with my kids’ teachers at the end of the day. As I pick them up, this is my chance to ask, “How was her day?” Last year, one of my kids walked out with an aide, which made it harder to have that connection with the teacher. Some kids have communication folders, but in my experience, those are not as effective. Ask the teacher if there is a way to touch base each day or at least each week. Suggest a weekly call or a weekly detailed email. Remember, if you have a positive relationship, teachers are more willing to work with you.

10. Pick your battles.

There are so many things we could fight at school, but not every battle is worth fighting. If we fight the small things, when it comes time to fight the big battles, we might have already severed the relationship with the school, making those big battles extra hard. Last year, being in a new school, there were certain things that happened that did not sit well with me. Most, I let go. But when I had a big battle at the end of the year, the school admitted to the mistake and rectified things as soon as possible.

Mighty parent Kerri V. said:

[Pick] your battles. There are some areas where things really aren’t a big deal and can be handled with simple (non-accusatory) conversations. Then, when a more serious situation does present itself, you will be taken more seriously because you’re [not] someone with a reputation for flying off the handle over every little thing. Plus, giving a lot of sweets and coffee gift cards at holidays and the end of the school year to remind them that you appreciate everything they’re doing for your child.

Getty image by artisticco

Originally published: August 13, 2018
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