I remember the first time I walked into my son’s educational team meeting and I was way outnumbered by those in attendance. My son at that time was placed in an approved private school setting in the next county over from where we lived. So those attending the meeting were both the administrators of my school district as well as the approved private school, related support providers as well as their supervisors, agency representatives, special educators, regular educators, and then me, the parent. At first, I must admit this was most intimidating, but obviously they were there for a reason, and I needed them to support, guide and well, be on our team. So, I began to put a plan together to have all of these folks provide a specific role for my son, and together we would use a team approach to make the best team decisions regarding my son, his individual placement and his education.
- Promote the dream you have for your child!
You have a dream for your child, you now have to promote it and sell it! As parents, we have dreams for our children. Keeping the end in mind, share the dream with your team, plan with your team, and make it happen. Think of your goals, strategies, and the steps of your plan that you need to take.
- Knowledge is power.
Educate yourself and know your rights, but try to keep things positive. If you have concerns, discuss them. Often right at the start educators and parents go to meetings in defense mode; use strategies to avoid this. For example, if you wish your team to read something, don’t tell them to read it, ask them if they would help you understand what you have read. Instead of asking a teacher to change their way of teaching, ask how they teach and what would be the best way for your student to learn in their environment. There will always be a variety of obstacles and barriers, but use your child’s strengths to overcome.
- Identify your allies.
We have always had a large educational team; I also have my “core” team members, those members that work most closely with my son, those I feel that I can bounce ideas and thoughts with and recruit to make things happen. It is important to connect and collaborate with these allies to help us begin the change process.
- Decide as a team the best way to meet besides the typical yearly IEP meeting.
Our team agreed and had it written into my son’s IEP that we would meet quarterly through the school year. Together we identify the date and time, we come to the table with an agenda, a note taker, a lead or facilitator and follow up with the dissemination of the notes to all involved.
- Let others know that you appreciate them.
I personally always come to meetings with food and a case of water. We all know this is not necessary, but I feel a gesture of appreciation is well worth my time. It is a small token, however this and a simple "thank you" can often speak volumes.
The truth of the matter is as a parent to a child with a disability, it is never easy. Each of us has to decide what works best for us and our children. I knew very early that there was no cure for my son, but I did know he would be able to learn, even though it was going to be different from the norm. I knew I could not do this alone, so I chose to enlist a team. This strategy has worked well for us over the years, although the theme has changed often. We have used this plan of teaming when we were advocating for his assistive technology use, when he transitioned out of the approved private school and back into his home district for high school, and now the same plan as he is transitioning into a post-secondary program. There have and always will be road blocks, but we keep the dream, plan and make it happen!