The Advocacy Corner

Relationship Building is
the Place to Start


By Andrea Marwah, Director, Illinois H&V

“I’m going to get what my child needs no matter the cost.”

Ever feel or say a statement like this?  Ever feel so frustrated with your school district that you’re ready to scream?  I’m sure we all have, even those of us who appear to have seamless IEP’s and workable teams feel this way from time to time. What we should consider, however, is the ramifications of this and similar “Let’s go to war” statements.  What is the actual cost of being a very forceful parent?

An IEP team needs to be open minded, flexible and respectful.  They should be knowledgeable, certainly.  How do we build these relationships with school personnel and how will it mold our child’s journey through school? We all know the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  This is true, right?  But we should also consider that after awhile the squeaky wheel just goes unnoticed and becomes more and more “damaged.”  The same goes with your relationship with a school.  Once that relationship is damaged, it takes many years to repair, if it is even salvageable.   So, what can we do to make sure we do NOT damage the ever necessary parent/school relationship?

Many things come to mind but first and foremost we need to behave. It’s easy to get angry and blow up in the face of adversity. The problem isn’t during the act of “blowing up.” The problem is that many professionals discount the highly emotional or angry parent. We can easily go in and throw an “adult” temper tantrum to get what we want but then every time thereafter you will fight harder for what you need for your child. We also need to remember that our children are watching us. Our main goal of successful advocacy is to teach our children how to stand up for their own needs. We wouldn’t want them going into the classroom and start squeaking about what they need, would we? We want to model more reasoned, respectful, collaborative actions.

So, here are a few easy steps to maintaining a healthy parent/school relationship.

  1. Work with your team, if you wish to be considered a respected team member, you need to respect the other members.  This doesn’t mean you have to always agree with what is said; but it does mean one should show respect for expertise.
  2. Always be prepared for any school meeting or conversation. The more prepared you are the more your team will in fact accept you as a knowledgeable team participant.
  3. Always cool off before speaking with school personnel. Don’t immediately go in with both guns blazing; it’s more effective to have your well thought out rationale ready.
  4. Don’t lose your cool. There is nothing more detrimental than the impact of an adult temper tantrum.  Screaming, demeaning and demanding are never a good idea.
  5. Find ways that you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.  Come to meetings or conversations with ideas that work.  Sometimes school personnel may just be stumped as to what to do or need a parent to bring up a need in the program.
  6. Consider ways to create positive relationships with the team outside of the meeting. Do they see you only once a year? Even if you can’t volunteer or support the school, you can thank a teacher or a therapist for an especially good experience or troubleshooting for your child.

The law names parents as equal members of the IEP team. That right doesn’t make us the leader of the team; it makes us an equal participant. How we come prepared to problem-solve at the meeting shows us as the experts on our own children. The others around the table are experts in their specialty. Allow them their expertise, disagree in a respectful way and I would bet your team meeting will be successful and your child will benefit.  Don’t be that parent that the school dreads to see coming through the front door. It may work once but you will end up working harder and longer for everything your child needs from that point forward.  Be a good model for your child. It is possible to have a productive, even happy IEP meeting.

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