Communication is Key!

Last week, I wrote to my daughter’s teacher and shared my “All About Her” letter. This is standard practice for me every school year. I love that I get to brag about her and explain what works. I also love writing out her specific needs/weaknesses. I love explaining the history of what we know doesn’t work. The teacher loves how honest I am and has a great starting point. It is a wonderful communication tool! I encourage every family I work with to start this practice. There is a real purpose to communicating early and often. It sets a tone and helps the people on your child’s team understand you know them best. This not only helps your child, but it also helps their teacher shape their learning experience specific to their needs. However, this typically does NOT trigger any kind of IEP/504 meeting or being evaluated for a potential disability. (Even though it probably should.) This is where parents start getting confused.

Often families who start working with me tell me they have contacted the school multiple times. They tell me, “I’ve told them my child can’t read. I’ve told them my child is depressed. I’ve told them my child can’t focus.” And to many, this is what they consider initiating a conversation about a potential disability. I can tell you it is not.

First, most of this communication happens with the classroom teacher. FANTASTIC! I love it when families have a good relationship with their child’s teacher. However, in all of my years of teaching not one time did an email, comment, conversation, or request ever lead to a child being tested for a disability. Not once. Most classroom teachers have no idea how to even request services for your child.

Second, when I am looking over emails or texts or an entire educational record, the information parents give is always vague. It usually sounds something like this:

“Dear Mr./Ms Teacher,
Hey! Just wanted to send a quick email telling you I am worried about Johnny’s reading. He just doesn’t seem to be getting it. What do you think?”

This is NOT going to trigger a comprehensive educational evaluation. This is not going to trigger individualized instruction. This is going to gain empathy for your child. This is going to get a teacher looking into how your child’s reading gains. You might even get a response like, “Everything is fine. Children develop differently. Don’t worry.” And then you find yourself worrying year after year because nothing is changing. So how do we get that change? We write another letter! A better one!

Here are my best tips for an effective, “get attention” letter:

1. ALWAYS keep it friendly and professional. Leave your worries, your feelings, your anxiety out of it. (The best word to use is “concern” if you must include something of that nature.) Introduce yourself, explain a little about your child’s history and then move onto your request.

2. Be DETAILED. Simply saying my child is having trouble focusing is not going to get you far. Tell them they can’t sit still, they are out of their seat, they switch topics every five seconds; tell them whatever you objectively observe at home.

3. Include an encouraging call to action, whether that be asking for evaluations, accommodations, a written plan, or meeting in person. I used the word “encouraging” on purpose. I have seen too many demanding “call to action” letters that alienate educators and put them on the defensive. Mention working as a team to figure out what is appropriate for your child.

4. Send it to more than one person. Send it to the teacher, the principal, the school psychologist, and/or the special education teacher. This information is all easy to find online.

I had multiple families utilize this strategy since school has started and things are changing. Meetings are being held, testing is being completed, documentation is happening, and everyone is looking to meet the unique needs of a child. I love being involved in this process! Send me your letters, I’ll look them over, make some suggestions and smile as you watch your struggling child suddenly get some help.

Defending Children in a Broken System

Recently, I have had the opportunity to discuss what I do within this system of special education with a variety of people. I always respond that my goal is to level the playing field for families who have no knowledge of educational language, methods, or appropriate interventions and to inspire those around me to think differently about a child. I found their comments intriguing. One said, “It’s almost like you’re a defense attorney.” Profound statement! Why would a system that loves and supports children and is designed to meet their unique needs, warrant a defense attorney? These children are not criminals. They haven’t done anything wrong. They do not need to be punished. They are children who think, learn, and interact with others in a non-typical way. Yet, often those of us working to help them feel as if they are being treated as such by “the system”.

Ahh… “the system”. Amongst my fellow advocates, we talk about “the system” all the time. The system won’t allow certain therapies, the system won’t all certain methods, the system is short-staffed, the system is overstressed, the system if failing. All true! Inherently though, “the system” often treats special education students as an inconvenience. (I know this is hard to discuss and I am probably offending everyone from teachers to parents but stay with me.) These students take the most time, the most skilled interventions, and often need additional staff and resources that take significant funding. Students in special education are not labeled as the “easy” student. It is often quite the opposite. They are atypical and often do not fit the mold of conventional teaching methods or traditional schools. They may even need in school instruction from those outside “the system” who have dedicated their adult lives to honing their skills as specialists.

On some level, the request for additional services is seen as a burden, a problem, or catering to a child/parents’ whim. Many of us have experienced this truth. Recently, there has been a significant uptick in gaslighting and dismissing the concerns of families. We become the problem, we become labeled as difficult and wrong. We find ourselves second guessing our requests. Were we wrong? Were we asking for too much? Are we overreacting? Are we the problem? Is my child the problem? Are we not being considerate of the needs of the school? Is my child the reason the system is strained? WOW! That is a lot to process!

Understanding we are trying to educate students that do not reflect common and established teaching methods can influence the plan we develop. This is where a child’s disability and the challenges that come with it become the perceived cause of the disagreement. In many IEP meetings there is this unspoken tension. The sighs, the eye rolling, the large silent pauses, the use of the word “no” over and over. The situation is permeated with negativity when it comes to requests for testing, intervention, and help. When parents come in with questions, outside resources, or an advocate the air suddenly leaves the room. (I do my best to put everyone at ease, but that is not my job or my responsibility. My job is to speak on behalf of the child and their family.)

Those in “the system” will disagree. They may even feel judged by my opinion on this topic. They will say, we love these kids, we love what we do. We do our best to accommodate everyone. I believe them. I honestly believe their intentions are good. I know many dedicated and kind people in special education. I know many who go above and beyond. I know many who think outside the box and welcome input. These are my go-to people whom I trust! However, I also know many unwelcoming, threatening, and rigid people in special education. They hold so tightly to their way of doing things it is a detriment to the children in their care. These are the people I am constantly trying to reach, even if my attempts are futile.

I am there to help people truly see a child. I am there to offer creative solutions. I am there to inspire. I want them to know it is ok to hold a love of education and a frustration with education at the same time. You can love something AND you can also be completely overwhelmed by it. You can have advanced degrees AND lack knowledge in certain areas. You can love to work with kids AND still fear their behaviors. You can be a trained expert in one method AND still need help and insight using a different method. These can co-exist. It does not mean the system is bad. It doesn’t mean the teacher is terrible and it sure doesn’t mean the student is the problem. It just means “the system” is not being honest with itself. It is ok to admit when something is not working. It is ok to learn and try new things. It is ok to ask for all parties to ask for what they need, and it is ok to say yes to them.

A system that discourages this type of collaboration and compromise needs to change. A system that makes parents feel like their child needs a defense attorney needs to change. What if “the system” approached unique learners as the law intends?

Yes! They can stay in the general classroom setting with support services.
Yes! We want to include the input from their therapist.
Yes! Train our staff on the methods the data shows works for your child.
Yes! I am glad you asked for an evaluation, something is hindering your child’s ability to learn.
Yes! This plan is not working, let’s make changes.
Yes! Bring someone along who can offer you support in a world you know little about.

What if a switch flipped and the intended concept of everyone at the meeting being an equal team member was honored? What if everyone’s input was considered and weighed against a child’s needs? The so called “system” would no longer be seen as an untrustworthy enemy. The system might actually work.

To all of you navigating this with me, keep on keeping on. We will learn together, grow together, and keep trying. We will change this pervasive, underlying, unspoken, negativity to special education. We will keep being reasonable and creative and collaborative. Let’s keep painting beautiful pictures of our children together!

Jackie Waldie
Inspire Education

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Do you feel heard?

I help families whose children have Dyslexia. The story is always the same, ALWAYS. Their child is struggling with reading, writing, and spelling from as soon as parents can remember. The parents begin to worry and are reassured by very well-intentioned, well-trained educators that their child will get there. They are told, “This takes time, read more at home.” As years go by, their children are pulled for small group work; maybe some word work is added, maybe more reading time is added, maybe they go in the hallway and read with a volunteer. Yet, test scores continually show this child is making minuscule gains, sometimes an entire year will go by with no improvement. They are just not at grade level. At some point, everyone realizes this child is not making adequate progress, everyone see’s the struggle, and everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have to help this child. Then suddenly, things take a turn. The parents begin to lose trust in their educators. Their child begins to give up. Lots of googling happens and parents begin to suspect Dyslexia. They suddenly realize their child is being described in every post, every website, and every forum they read. They get brave and go to the school and say, “Could my child have Dyslexia?” The BIG question! Parents believe they asked so things will change. Often, it does not. Often, parents are dismissed. This is heartbreaking. Here is what I want all parents and educators to know when the word “Dyslexia” is mentioned:

1. Educators, parents that ask this question are not crazy. Please stop making them out to be. Please stop vilifying them, claiming they are making excuses for their lazy child. Dyslexia is REAL and Dyslexia has been recognized as a disability since 1975. The state of South Dakota even has a handbook all about it.

2. Educators, parents do not think you are a bad teacher or are questioning your professionalism. They are frustrated. They are sad their child hates to read and write. They are only looking to try something different because the years of what has been used is not working.

3. Parents, please understand most educators CANNOT answer the BIG question. This can only be answered through specific evaluations that address ALL the components of dyslexia. This includes making sure your child is evaluated for decoding, phonemic awareness, processing speed, fluency, comprehension, receptive and expressive language, syntax, sound symbol association, morphology, written expression, verbal and non-verbal learning skills, and anything connected to underlying language skills. This can include speech and auditory processing.
Most schools DO NOT do testing this comprehensive. You may have to ask for it. You may have to get an independent evaluation.

4. Parents, please understand, most people (educator or not) are not trained in Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, or Dysgraphia. (These all go hand in hand, more often than not.) You may have to hire your own specialist to work with your child outside of school. Most schools in South Dakota are not equipped to intervene properly. If someone tells you they are, please ask about their training and experience. I find, it is usually a one-week course they took online. (It’s better than nothing but still not what I would call sufficiently trained.)

5. Dyslexia does not have an overnight, easy fix. This is not something that will go away. This is a disability that your child will learn to manage.

6. Kids with Dyslexia are GREAT at hiding. They are good at masking the indicators and do not want anyone to know they cannot read or write. (We know they can read and write, just below grade level.) To a child with Dyslexia, they FEEL like they cannot read and write. They hurt, they feel dumb, the feel not good enough, they feel frustrated, they feel like they need to avoid all things literacy. Reading more, using the same methods, in small groups is NOT an individualized educational plan. It is just compounding the problem. It is making a Dyslexic child feel worse, feel dumb, and feel like they cannot grow, learn, or succeed.

7. There is nothing wrong with admitting when something is not working. Whether it be a curriculum, a method, a strategy, if it does not work stop using it. Try something different. This is what makes us GOOD parents and GOOD educators. We are willing to understand how this child learns and apply it to their daily routine.

My goal is to take they personal judgements out of Dyslexia. It is a diagnosis. It is a disability recognized by the federal government. It takes specific teaching methods to help a child manage. These are facts. These are not open to debate. These are things we have known since the Americans with Disabilities Act was issued. If a child is displaying the inability to understand or communicate using spoken language, written language, and cannot read, write, or spell they are protected as a person with a disability. If we stick to the facts, how many children with Dyslexia would be receiving help today? How would that transform our educational system? How would that change lives? Use the word “Dyslexia”; say it often, research it, talk about it, and watch the change happen. 605-431-3318

The One Hour Challenge

I am issuing a challenge! I truly believe you can change your life with one decision or one conversation. I challenge families across the State of South Dakota to spend one hour with me to talk about their child’s needs in education. One hour to change your perspective, to start creating a plan, to put specific steps in motion, and to get involved! Many people think of advocacy as a person who goes in and fights the battle for them. They can be reluctant to use my services for fear of the perception it may cause. However, I am here to remind everyone that fighting battles for you is NOT the goal of advocacy. A trained advocate knows the importance of empowering parents. I am here to make sure your input is included in every step of the process. I am here to learn about your child and their dreams for the future. I am here to ensure the schools know about these dreams so we can be a team that works together to achieve them. This is where the one-hour challenge comes in.

What can we achieve in one hour of time? Plenty! You can vent, tell me your frustrations and I can help you be calm and balanced for a meeting. We can talk about your child’s history and how to include that information. We can look over an IEP or 504 plan and look for ways to incorporate your ideas. We can talk about accommodations. We can talk about curriculum and requirements. I can meet your child and hear from them about what works or does not work in school. The list and possibilities are endless. One hour can make a difference! It is a reasonably priced way of dipping your toe into the world of advocacy without fearing how much everything will cost. It’s a way of gaining knowledge and preparing for the future. The time is now! Do not wait until a few days before your IEP meeting. Do not wait until parent/teacher conferences. Do not wait until you are overwhelmed or angry. Do not wait until your child is failing or getting in trouble. There is confidence and comfort in being proactive. Let’s be deliberate, direct, and diplomatic this year to PREVENT problems. Let’s build positive relationships with everyone on the team. Give me ONE HOUR of your time and see the difference it can make!

Hey Educators!

Guess what? As a special education advocate, I am not the enemy. What I am is a former public educator who has been in your shoes. I taught 5th grade for 12 years and I was good at it. I received numerous awards during my time in the classroom, including South Dakota Teacher of the Year. I also have my Master’s Degree in Education. Yet with all these accolades and degree’s, I can tell you I failed so many students. I began my educational career with exactly one class in special education on my resume. ONE! After 12 years of teaching, it was still ONE. I had no training in Dyslexia, no training in Autism, no training in emotional problems, no training in ODD, no training in Downs Syndrome; yet I was expected to sit at that IEP table and contribute. I was expected to execute that IEP like I knew what I was doing. I read books, took Love and Logic classes, and did what I could but deep down I knew I was out of my depth with some of my students. They needed more. They needed experts in their area of need. I knew those kids deserved better.

I am ashamed to admit, understanding these differently abled people and how they learned was not at the top of my to do list. I regret this every single day. This is one of the big reasons I chose advocacy, I chose to complete two and half years of training with national organizations like COPAA and ISEA. I chose to learn about Orton-Gillingham. I chose to rely on experts in OT or ABA therapy because they know better. I realized when kids were having meltdowns, throwing things, threatening others, I had NO IDEA how to respond in a way that could truly help them. When I had students who still could not read or write effectively after all my whole language strategies, I had NO IDEA they needed something more structured. As an educator, I hated it. I hated I could not help these kids. I hated they left my classroom missing some valuable tools. I hated no one was helping when I was saying over and over, “Something is off. This child needs more. This child needs something different.” To be clear, saying these statements should not make anyone the enemy, not even me, the child’s advocate. Saying this makes me an advocate who believes in the power of public education. It makes me an advocate who believes in teachers and believes the system can work. It makes me someone who is flexible and willing to try new things. It makes me someone willing to learn and admit they need help. It does not make me your enemy.

Somehow, last year advocacy became the enemy of public educators across the nation. I even felt those effects here in South Dakota. Out of all the teams I worked with last year I can only cite two who were kind, understanding, and open to the presence of an advocate. That is sad. I found myself in IEP meetings shocked at some people’s reaction to my presence. The anger, the condescending tones, the gaslighting; it was awful. I was sworn at, yelled at and accused of terrible things. This is unacceptable behavior in public education and therefore deserves the reminder again, I am not the enemy.

The true enemy is being closed off to a family’s requests, not being open to new ideas, and not allowing yourself to be open to discussion and compromise. I may hold you to a high standard, I may ask more of you for the sake of a child, I may write down what is being said for a clear record moving forward, I may ask hard questions, and I may even challenge status quo. This does not make me your enemy. This makes me the kind of teammate you want to work with, the kind of teammate who is open to new ideas, who puts children ahead of everything and everyone else, and who will do her best to help that child learn, regulate, and have written in their plan anything else they need. I know it is YOUR classroom, YOUR school, YOUR day to day with this child. If the child gets what they need, if they can find that success, the child will be better for it and so will YOUR classroom. As the school year begins, if I am at your IEP meeting know I will continue to speak up for the best interest of the child. The only thing I ask in return is to remember, I am not the enemy.

Back to School!

It is AUGUST! My goodness this summer flew by! I spent the time off from advocacy reshaping and reclaiming the mission of my business. Something I rediscovered is my love for coaching parents through this process. I had one coaching session that reminded me how much families really do need help. This awesome, kind, loving Mom had been pushed to her limit. She felt lost, powerless, and in over her head. In 2 hours, we were able to identify what was causing all the strife and create a solid plan to communicate the needs of her child in a more effective way. I loved hearing the optimism in her voice again! This is when I realized families don’t need someone to go into their meetings and yell or be demanding; they don’t need threats or vague promises. They need a trusted guide. They need someone outside the system to offer them support and knowledge. They need someone to help them trust their gut and give them the language to express all their thoughts and emotions about their child’s progress.

With this renewed outlook, we will be shifting some of our services for the coming school year. We are going to focus more on coaching families, sharing our skill set, and helping parents become empowered, equal participants at the IEP table. We will still attend IEP meetings and offer our advocacy services but only AFTER some specific steps have been taken.

In order to attend an IEP meeting, we will need to meet with you and your child. Together, we will create a plan to start helping you communicate in a way teachers and administrators will understand. We need to review ALL documentation and set realistic, reasonable goals. This must be done FIRST. You will be amazed how effective you can be with the right educational language and written responses. Remember, my goal is to put myself out of a job. I want you to have all the tools and confidence you need to communicate effectively with the school team. Now is the time! Do not wait until everyone is stressed and busy and your child is failing. Intervene early and intervene often. I look forward to a year of inspiring!, 605-431-3318,

Positives from the 2020-2021 school year

The BIG positive message from the 2020-2021 school year is persistence pays off! I worked with many families who were persistent (and somewhat relentless) in getting their children help. Some had documented requests dating back 7 years! I am excited to tell these success stories and to demonstrate how advocates, families, and schools can work together.

First, I want to focus on the families who have children with Dyslexia. Some needed full advocacy support, while others only needed some basic training. Either way, the work was worth it! These students were tested in elementary school and they did not qualify. (Scores were not low enough, achievement was not low enough, but the parents also learned they were not specific enough.) These three families learned the importance of being specific when you suspect your child has a learning disability. Detail, in writing, exactly what you see at home and school. They gave concrete examples and some even submitted audio/video recordings of their children reading. This kind of evidence makes a difference! They also had the advantage of working with awesome school teams. School psychologists, administrators, and teachers who really listened and were there to help. I was profoundly grateful to come along side these families to coach, advocate, and support them through the process. All three qualified for IEP’s. This is a huge celebration because now they have extra-help available to them through different classes, specialized instruction with an Orton Gillingham approved program, assistance from paraprofessionals, technology tools, and other accommodations that will help them unlock their potential. I am so excited to see what their future holds!

Some of the families I had the opportunity to assist were looking for basic guidance. They knew they could handle the meeting, but wanted to be fully informed about the IEP/504 process. I love doing this! We had a few zoom meetings where I explained everything about 504’s and IEP’s. I also gave them a list of questions to ask specific to the needs of their child and important steps to follow. They did beautifully and obtained appropriate services for their children! This made me take a second look at the power of coaching and the need to EMPOWER parents. Look for more of this strategy in the future.

Next, I had the opportunity to help two children transfer to buildings where there were more resources and staff trained in their specific area of disability. These two situations were urgent and filled with emotion. I was honored to be the one to calm the waters, remind the families to stay logical and give as much evidence as possible to help the powers that be make the decision we were requesting. In the end, they were transferred, and it all worked out for the better. These kids are thriving!

Unfortunately, advocacy does not always go smoothly. I did help one family this year, who were in a particularly stressful and difficult situation. It involved the awful practice of seclusion and restraint. Without disclosing too many details, we knew the school was not prepared or trained to offer the proper supports and interventions for their child. We advocated for 6 months and were successful in all our requests with the help of an attorney. This family not only prevailed for their child but for all other differently abled children. (There is far more to this case but for the privacy of all involved I am trying to be as vague as possible.) I am relieved to report the child is doing well and I look forward to checking in on them in the future. With their new plan, I am sure I will hear about all the wonderful things they are accomplishing.

Finally, my last update is about three young people all poised to leave high school. The families knew they were just not ready to take on the real-world, so our advocacy efforts were spent on preparing for the future. One of these young people is in an amazing program for the next two years where they will receive on the job training, soft-skills, and practice independent living. They even got to start this summer doing some job shadowing and participating in a transition group. The other two are also practicing soft-skills and life-skills within the school setting. Both are getting ready to take their driver’s exams and have their first summer jobs. I cannot imagine where these three would be without these amazing learning opportunities and the advocacy efforts their parents committed to on their behalf. These students are even learning the important skill of self-advocacy! I am proud of them!

In the end, when I reflect on my role in all this change, I realized my task was simple. I helped families shape, verbalize, a document their concerns, requests, and insights about their child. They were the ones who did it all! I just offered guidance and support. I am completely humbled to be a small part of their journey. Across the State of South Dakota, parents are learning about their rights and how to obtain reasonable/appropriate services for their child. I can hear those winds of change building!
Call me to talk about how we can shift these winds your way! 605-431-3318

*Disclaimer: this post contains information about cases that took place in various districts across the State of South Dakota and across multiple grade levels. No specific district is mentioned nor should be inferred from any of the information listed above.

Honesty is the best policy…

As I spend the first few weeks of summer recharging, refocusing, and renewing I am spending a great deal of time reflecting on the school year. You know what? It was NOT easy and processing all I learned an experienced is not easy either. I am struggling sorting through the emotional labor that was this school year. From Covid restrictions, ridiculous decisions made by bureaucrats, and the amount of negativity that filled meetings, it is hard to focus on the positives. (So, bear with me if this post veers off the positivity track for a moment.) The only word that keeps coming to my mind is: challenging. This year was challenging. The start of the school year was filled with unknowns, delays, and massive implications from Covid. I urged everyone to use grace with each other because parents and staff alike were getting frustrated. Then school went back into session, and we had kids coping with the transition between online and face to face learning. It seemed like there were races to hold meetings and evaluate kids. Children were being categorized as “not low enough”, there were staff and funding shortages, and suddenly we went from feeling frustrated to feeling angry and overwhelmed. We just kept facing one challenging situation after another.

Personally, I had all this amazing training from ISEA I was excited to put into practice. I was excited to work with teams and make a difference in the life of a child. However, I found it challenging (There’s that word again!) to balance all I knew, all the love for kids I had in my heart, and my deep-rooted desire to be helpful with using this new information wisely. I never wanted it to be a weapon; or even perceived as one. Working on changing that perception was challenging. (Again, the word of the year.) I would do my best to build relationships, be kind, and be complimentary but the truth was sometimes what I said was not popular. Sometimes what I had to say was hard to hear.

Many of the families I helped this year had children who were falling severely behind, and a sense of urgency could be felt all around. They had children who were not getting the help they needed. They had children who had learning disabilities but were not being serviced. They had children whose mental health was quickly moving beyond “at-risk”. There were threats of suicide, seclusion and restraint being used when unnecessary, children who clearly could not read but still being passed along, accommodations being refused, and parent requests being ignored. These families and children needed help. Most of them, that I had the honor of advising, were successful through advocacy. They documented, they gathered data, the asked questions, they shared concerns in writing, and opened the lines of communication. We did all of this in a kind, honest, and professional manner. However, some still saw no results. Some will need to come back again next school year with more data, more evidence, and document requests in writing again. Because sometimes it takes that level of persistence to make a change. As I move forward through thoughts, plans, and establishing some resolve I will make it a point to post about my successes. If you are a family who is in this same mental state, let’s focus on the good together. Call me to vent, to process, or simply ask a question. Let’s use the summer to refocus and remind ourselves why we do such challenging work. In the meantime, stay tuned to my Facebook page for updates and all the good that is happening. We had some HUGE successes this year I cannot wait to talk about! I hope it fills your cup! 605-431-3318

People often ask, “What is your number one piece of advocacy advice?” It is quite simple. Follow up AND follow through. These are two vastly different concepts. Doing both consistently is effective and can make a huge difference in your child’s education.

Following up is the simple step of sending an email restating questions you have asked, asking new questions for clarification, sharing information, and keeping the lines of communication open. Follow-up is self-explanatory. I am “following up” about a conversation or I am “following up” with some additional accommodations; you can follow up with all kinds of information. This type of communication strategy is positive and engaging. It is a great way for parents to stay informed and to share your input.

Following through takes “following up” a step further. It is a game changer. When used consistently, it sends the message you will do what you say you will do. You do not rely on empty threats, veiled accusations, or any other negative tactic. If I say I will research something, I do and I share my findings. If I say I will speak up about a topic, I do. If I say I have questions, I ask them. This is the one thing I wish all parents mastered early in the IEP process. Do not say, I’m getting an independent evaluation.” and then not do it. Do not say, “I will consider this placement.” and then never respond with your decision. It turns active communication into an empty threat. If you plan on referencing your rights and then not using them, the consequences fall on you. Saying, “I will write a letter to the school summarizing what went well at our meeting, what I appreciated, and areas I think we still need to work on.” is great but actually doing it, is even better! Following through establishes integrity. It creates a solid paper trail. It means you are an informed, knowledgeable parent who is to be taken seriously. It means when you say something the district knows you mean it.

Too many empty promises from parents have fostered an environment where schools believe parents will eventually give up their quest for appropriate services for their child. They know this! They will wait you out and count on the fact you will not follow-up or follow through. Until one day you do… you start doing everything in writing, you track the questions you have asked and the answers you received, you track progress and goals, you keep tabs on accommodations and class schedules, you become an empowered and engaged parent. Consistently following up and following-through will establish yourself as a formidable parent who puts their child first. You will not loose focus, you will not be deterred. You have a mission- to obtain an appropriate education for your child. I believe in you! I know you can do this! All it takes is to follow-up and follow through!

What do we value?

Part of the work I do to remain positive and professional is focus on value systems. Knowing what I value about education, families, children, and the special education process is imperative. Some districts misinterpret the intention of advocates and our role in the process. Having a clear value system to refer to can help. Clearly defining
values can also help keep the focus on what your child needs to succeed in school. My value system defines my expectations at an IEP table and guides my own behavior. Here is my list:

I value children and putting their needs first.
I value meeting those needs with a plan.
I value that ALL children can learn.
I value inclusion.
I value differentiation.
I value equality.
I value the concept that “one size does not fit all”.
I value early interventions.
I value creative solutions and outside the box thinking.
I value collaboration.
I value flexibility.
I value honesty and integrity.
I value truth.
I value data, information, and learning.
I value training.
I value specific, detailed plans that are put in writing.
I value parent, child, and teacher input.
I value preparing children for the future.
I value asking questions.
(Yes, even the hard ones no one wants to answer.)
I value documentation.
I value second opinions.
(Yes, second opinions are ok! Really, they are!)
I value professionalism.
I value leaving plans a little better, a little more detailed than I found them.
I value families speaking their truth, their opinions, and
being respected.
I value open communication.
I value learning from mistakes.
I value determination and follow through.
I value optimism.
I value the rights afforded to families under IDEA and Section 504.

What do you value? Maybe we have some shared values that can help unite us in a common goal to create an appropriate and individualized plan for a child. It’s a beautiful concept!