Earlier this summer: I’m sitting in a conference room, alone, with 5 people in the school system, who have lots of degree between them, thinking we are all working towards what’s best for my child.
Within minutes, as I look into their faces, and process their comments and questions, (and stifle tears), I come to the realization: I’m alone, and I must now become ‘That Parent”.
“That Parent”: the one I once rolled my eyes at. The one I once thought was all up in their kid’s business and stirring up stuff, just because the parents might have their own issues…
Yeah… I admit it.
I’ve been humbled.
I have a degree in elementary education and I was always uncomfortable with the teacher’s lounge talk of “those parents” who “needed to be watched out for”. So, when I first determined to be ‘that parent’, I had to get over insecurities and generalizations that I had in my own mind, and the fear that all of the teachers were talking about us.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I want to share some of what I’ve learned, in hopes of helping other parents who might be struggling with something similar.
Tips for Advocating for Your Child
1) Give your child’s teacher enough time to get to know your child. But don’t be afraid to let him/her know at the “Meet the Teacher” meeting that you will be getting in touch soon to meet. This meeting does not mean that anything is wrong or that you have issues, but getting to know your child’s teacher, and allowing them to put a face to your name can go far, if, and when, you need to circle around and do the following steps.
2) You are your child’s advocate. Don’t assume that anyone else will do this for them. Seriously.
3) Keep your cool. This goes without saying, but, exploding and talking disrespectfully will not get you very far. You can’t control what the staff and administrators think of you, but you can, and should, be able to walk out of any meeting with your head held high, knowing you were respectful and did your best.
4) Know the rules for the school and the county. Know your rights, and your child’s rights. If possible, become familiar with any legal processes that can be utilized, if necessary.
5) Put everything in writing, even if you talk on the phone. Get a notebook and dedicate it to solely using to document dates and times, and who you spoke with, regardless of how casual or formal the meeting/call/email was. Print out emails if correspondence is done via email.
6) Along those lines GET everything in writing. If you are told something can’t be done, or you get something ok’d, say “That is fine/good/ok. Would you mind putting that in writing and signing it?”
7) Stay organized. Keep all of your records in one place. There is nothing more frustrating than digging through piles, for that one note, of that one conversation, that everything hinges on. I’m in the process of creating a binder with plastic page protectors, to hold notes, correspondence, meeting summaries etc.
8) Understand how your school district works and follow the “Chain of Command” (p. 204 – 209 of Academic Advocacy for Gifted Children*, by Barbara Jackson Gilman). In other words: don’t rush into the school board and start complaining. Start with the child’s teacher, then work your way up, through the principal and on into the school district personnel.
9) Understand the jargon. You’ll begin hearing some new words thrown around (eg: IEP, RTI, RTL, differentiation, asynchronous, and acceleration), and it will be helpful if you are already up to speed on what they mean.
10) Know your child’s needs. This may sound obvious, but take the time to consider what your child needs. What is lacking? Where do they need help? What could help get/keep them on track?
11) Know what you are asking for. If you want an IEP/ALP, what do you want to include on it? Do you think your child needs full-grade acceleration, or only in a certain subject? If your child is struggling to stay organized and it is affecting her grades, come prepared with some thoughts on how you and the school can work together to help her succeed. Know what options are available within your particular district. Not all districts will make the same accommodations, and some may be unable to make certain ones due to various shortages.
12) Talk to the school’s gifted coordinator or the county’s gifted supervisor. If necessary, go to the state level. They are a great resource for finding out what you can expect, what you need to do, etc. I’ve found that many are even willing to attend meetings with you, if you request.
13) Find out if there are any support groups in your area. If not, consider starting one. Our area did not have one, so we started one. It’s one more thing on our plate, but it’s totally worth it to know that there are others who you can talk to and that can help navigate through it all.
Trust Your Instincts
Advocating for our children can seem daunting. Parents tend to assume that the school knows something that we parents don’t.
I know I did, despite my own education degree.
But it’s not true.
We need to trust our instincts, educate ourselves, and talk with the teachers and the administrators when we have concerns or think that things may need tweaking, not going as they should.