As a parent, when you are prepared for school meetings it helps reduce anxiety, allowing you to focus on the task at hand. When you are not prepared, it's easy to become distracted, and you may find yourself straying from your path and purpose.
To be the best advocate for your child, there are three factors to consider in preparing for school-based meetings:
- Be clear about your purpose
- Have expert knowledge and good support in attendance with you
- Approach the meeting with a sense of calm confidence
Creating Your Plan
Imagine yourself preparing and training for a pilot's license. In this case, you are piloting your children's direction and helping them navigate through challenging experiences. You can't control the bad weather, but you have the option to fly around it or meet the cloud bursts head-on. There are written policies and procedures in place for every contingency on an airline flight. In addition to clear instructions, you know that you must rely on yourself, your instincts, and your ability to ask for the help you need.
We parents may not have a pilot's manual, but we can certainly start with a clear flight plan.
Prior to each meeting, focus on the purpose of your agenda. Set forth goals that you would like to see accomplished. Set priorities, from most to least important. Organize yourself, and list your ideas on a piece of paper. If you feel like you need support structure so you aren't alone in the preparation phase, it's a good time to ask for help.
Take advantage of the valuable resources available in your community. Arriving at school-based meetings with expertise puts you in a favorable position. Understanding the rules, procedures, processes, and language is critically important. For some of us, that means learning the material ourselves. For others, it means getting experts on our team. Use a variety of resources for information and try not to rely on a single source. Connecting with others can be helpful, as each individual offers his/her own particular area of expertise and perspective. Support groups, counseling and coaching are all valuable means of connecting with others so you are not isolated.
Knowing your parental rights is empowering. The Office of Civil Rights has published a Dear Colleague Letter and Resource Guide to students with ADHD, which is explained in this leadership blog from CHADD. Wright's Law is also a tremendous online resource. Additionally, you should look at your State's Department of Education's Website for guidance.
In my role as an Educational Consultant and Child Advocate, I have sat in on many meetings with parents. It is not uncommon for information presented to be untrue. Usually this is not malicious, but often comes from a place of ignorance. An expert in the room helps the team examine the facts, and can often give the parents the power to say “no” when their best interests are at risk.
Frequently, parents tell me that they didn't think that they could say no or disagree. In some cases, parents don't realize that they should ask for written policies or procedures when they are told, “It is our policy to do X, Y, Z.” Sometimes we come to find out that there is no such written policy in place. When parents see themselves as equal participants in the process -- when they believe that they have a voice – it improves the outcomes considerably. Having an expert guide helps parents know what questions to ask, what options are available, and what is true and what is not.
Parents also need general support to be an effective advocate in a school-based meeting. There are two ways to accomplish this. First, never attend a meeting alone. It is helpful if the companion understands the process, but it is not necessary. In many cases, your partner may offer their assistance by simply just taking notes and offering emotional support, allowing you to better focus on the meeting dialogue.
Another very important thing to do before a meeting is take the time to examine how you are feeling about it. Ask yourself if your current state is helping or taking away from your purpose. For example, if you are feeling angry and overwhelmed, will you be self-confident when meeting time arrives? What will it take to arrive in a place of calm? What support tools do you have to help you deal with your feelings so they do not interfere with the object at hand?
Arriving at the meeting in a calm emotional state, and with confidence in your abilities, will take you a long way when navigating the process of advocating for your child.
Preparedness will alleviate much of the tension that can interfere with a successful outcome. As the pilot on this journey, you will always have storms to maneuver around or even through; but knowing which maneuvers to execute, when to utilize them, and staying calm under pressure will help you safely arrive at your destination—whatever the weather may be.