Mind Your Manners

By Sheryl Knapp, A/AOGPE

The annual IEP meeting offers an opportunity to establish positive relationships with your child’s teachers and special education team. That may seem obvious, but there is no shortage of parents and teachers who treat each other as adversaries rather than allies. When a situation deteriorates, it often comes down to personality—not policy.

A small investment in civility is likely to pay handsome dividends. Educators, like everyone else, are apt to go the extra mile if they want to—and your behavior can tip the helpfulness balance in either direction. Here are some reminders of what works when trying to establish a solid working relationship with your child’s team.

  1. Be reasonable. School districts are required only to do what is appropriate for students with disabilities. Although you may think that your child would benefit from every service under the sun, it is unreasonable to walk into a meeting demanding—or expecting—everything. Recognize that you may have to compromise and come prepared with a prioritized list of what you think will help your child most.
  1. Be respectful. You don’t have to agree with your child’s team on every issue, but you can disagree respectfully. Let others finish their thoughts, and tailor your comments to their concerns. Remember also that each team member arrives at the meeting with a unique perspective, presumably one that adds value to your child’s education. They deserve to be heard, just as you do.
  1. Be a listener. Parents often walk into IEP meetings with lots of information to present and a list of issues to discuss. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “waiting your turn” to speak as opposed to really focusing on what others are saying. Make sure you are sending the message that you value the comments and opinions of others at the table.
  1. Be knowledgeable, without being a know-it-all. Teachers and administrators respect and appreciate parents who take the time to understand their child’s diagnosis and challenges. However, it’s important to maintain your role as parent and allow your child’s teachers to be his educators. There is a big difference between offering information and telling teachers how to do their job.
  1. Be gracious. It’s easy to focus on what is wrong with your child’s program while disregarding what is right about it. Although you should never have to apologize for extra support your child requires, it’s nice to acknowledge it. Make sure that your child’s teachers and administrators know that you appreciate the effort they make to help your child succeed, even if it falls short of what you would like it to be.

Team meetings do not have to be contentious. Most educators want to do what is best for your child, but sometimes encounter obstacles that take more than good manners to fix.  Finding ways to overcome those obstacles involves a strategic approach that parents often overlook in their desire to get what they think their child needs. In 6 Keys to Winning Over Your Child’s Team you’ll find tried and true strategies for building partnerships—true collaborations—that will serve your child’s interests.

Sheryl Knapp is the founder and President of the Literacy Learning & Assessment Center of Connecticut. Knapp has Associate Level certification with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and is a Contributing Editor to Smart Kids.

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