Hey Parents….listen up!

Hey Parents, did you know how you approach an IEP meeting has a serious impact on its outcome? What kind of energy are you bringing to the table? Are you biased? Do you have negative past experiences? Do you feel fear? embarrassment? anger? Do you just want to cry? I think I have worked with families that experience all these emotions. This is what I call “educational baggage” and trust me, we all have it. It all stems from what school was like for us, how we learned, and how we process the hopes and dreams we have for our children. I have had parents call me in rage, in tears, and in utter confusion. I listen, understanding this all comes from the love you have for your children, knowing we must work through them to be an effective team.

Part of my job is to help you understand these feelings and determine if they are useful to our goal. Yes, parents cry at IEP meetings. It happens all the time, but I can tell you it does nothing to help your child. I know that is hard to hear but it is true. Teams see people cry all the time and it is not productive. However, taking those emotions and turning them into an impact statement or actionable goals is far more powerful. This can help the team better understand you, your family, and your child.

If I am to stand up for your child to the best of my abilities, I need to understand every part of your child’s history, including family dynamic. I have to understand your experiences with school and your child’s experiences. This helps me paint a more accurate picture of your child. We are looking at the WHOLE child, not just the one at school. For example, some children work all day to hold it together, to keep their behavior and emotions in check and then blow up at home. This is important information for the school to know. The team can work to help your child process during the day to lessen the reactions at home. Hiding your home life and experiences is a detriment to creating an effective plan.

To make a strong plan, I also try to see things from the perspective of the district. This can be confusing to families. Yes, I am there to represent your child, but I am also there to help you understand what fights are worth fighting. I have relationships with the people working with your children. I know when something we might be asking for is not possible. (We can still ask for it, but I will tell you it’s not likely as we plan.) Often, the two parties in IEP meetings see things very differently. These different perspectives can cloud judgement and decision making on both sides. This is often the case when discussing something like methodology. I often push for Orton Gillingham to be used for a child with Dyslexia. The district disagrees claiming their methods, training, and systems are enough to meet the needs of the child.
Understanding this perspective helps us shape the conversation.

Remember, I am not a “hired gun”. I do my best to stay unbiased and focus on the child’s needs. What is in the best interest of the child? What do they absolutely need to succeed in school? Are our requests reasonable? Are we placing too much responsibility on the school? Are we not considering our own roles and responsibilities? I would be failing as an advocate who claims to represent the whole child if we did not look at ALL the angles.

In conclusion, to make the most of my services, it is important share details about your child and family life. It will be helpful to work through emotions that can hinder progress at a meeting. We also may need to answer some hard questions. We will be prepared, calm, in control, and keeping the focus on your child’s needs once we do. In the end, it will all be worth it.

But we had a meeting!

Great! You had a meeting! I hear this all the time. What matters is what happens after the meeting. Did anything productive come from it? Do you have a full understanding of the plan that was made for your child? Is it being executed correctly by all staff members? Is your child making progress?

Meetings are important but can be frustrating if you don’t feel progress is being made or your child’s voice is not being represented. It is intimidating. They are the professionals, they know all the laws, requirements, and specialized methods. What do you know? YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD! If you walk into a meeting and feel like all the paperwork is already done and you must sign on the dotted line, then this is not a team atmosphere. You are guaranteed MEANINGFUL PARTICIPATION. How is just showing up and signing meaningful? It is not. Meaningful looks like your opinions, ideas, and thoughts being heard and documented. Meaningful is your child having a voice and allowing them to speak about what works for them.

If you walk out of the meeting without a clear understanding of your child’s plan or have limited understanding of what you can do at home, then another meeting must be held. It is the job of the district to ensure you have a clear understanding of all the proceedings and that you agree. Many parents do not realize how much power they have in the process. For example, if you see a lack of progress SPEAK UP! This is important for the team to know and for you to document. A child cannot be passed along from year to year. There must be proof of progress.

I look at advocacy as having an ally in a meeting. You need someone to help you find your voice, back you up, interpret findings, and explain the districts point of view. You need someone to be able to corroborate, “This does not sound right. This does not make sense. How will this help my child?” We are on your team! We are there to represent your child and help them find their path. Remember, our number one motto, “Trust your gut!”

Why advocacy?

When it comes to our children and schools, emotions run high. Advocates, like myself, who are professionally trained understand the importance of keeping things calm and objective. Every parent needs an ally. You need that person who can tell you to “trust your gut” or “you are not crazy”. We can turn all of your thoughts, feelings, and concerns into educational language that spurs action. A well-trained, non-attorney advocate is familiar with every policy, procedure, and law you might encounter. We can sit by your side in any meeting and help assert your parental rights as well as the rights of your child. You know your child best! An advocate, when enlisted from the start, can prevent bigger problems down the road. We read reports, write letters, listen, share ideas, and do our best to represent your child.