Episode 40, A Parent’s Guide to Having a Productive & Helpful Meeting at School
In This Episode:
Many different types of meetings occur in the school setting. For parents, the most common are parent / teacher conferences, IEP meetings, 504 meetings, meetings to address a specific concern and/ or gather information, and so on. ..
Each school has its own culture and each district and/or school has certain protocol, policies, and procedures that they follow. Usually, these are readily available either on the website, the student handbook, calendar or request from the school.
Regardless of the type of meeting that you are attending and where you are attending it at, having a few basic elements in place can make a huge difference between a productive and helpful meeting to one that is not.
As a disclaimer, I worked as a teacher and a school counselor for years in a wonderful charter school so I am giving you my opinion from my limited view point. Just like with any information, take what you need of this information and leave the rest. You may not agree with what I’m saying and that is okay. My intent is to provide some tips that may help you.
Sometimes meetings at school can involve some information and decisions that are heavy by nature. This can lead to a wide array of emotional responses.
Here’s some tips that I believe can help meetings at your child’s school be more successful:
BE ON TIME – this starts the meeting off with respect to the importance of everyone’s time, as well as afford you and the school the time allotted to focus on how to best help your child. Tardiness or last minute reschedules can really set a tone from the start. With this said, sometimes things happen. If you are late or need to reschedule, always apologize and try your best to not let it happen again.
ERR ON THE SIDE OF KINDNESS and RESPECT – You can’t go wrong with kindness and respect, even if you don’t feel like it is reciprocated. The old adage “You can get more bees with honey than vinegar” applies here.
CONSIDER YOURSELF AS PART OF THE “TEAM” - Viewing yourself as part of the team that is working together to help your child can create a different energy around the entire situation. Remember, the others on the team are people too that are in the field of helping children.
BRAINSTORM A LIST OF THINGS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO COVER - This will help you to prepare for the meeting and increase the chances that you get your questions answered and concerns addressed. In some cases, it’s helpful to send this to the person that coordinates the meetings, such as the school counselor or the assistant, to give them time to prepare. Be sure the email is written in an information seeking way that conveys kindness and respect. It may be helpful to write it out a few days before you send it to allow yourself time to edit the content to get it just like you want it.
SOMETIMES PARENTS BRING A PERSON TO THE MEETING AS PART OF THE TEAM – I’ve been in meetings with the child’s therapist, a friend of the family, a family advocate, and a handful of people that offered some other type of support in the child’s life. For this to happen, it is always best to let the school know beforehand. A letter of authorization that allows the school to discuss private matters about your child in front of the guest that you bring to the meeting will most likely be required.
ALWAYS STAY PROFESSIONAL – If you feel yourself getting upset, it may be helpful to excuse yourself to the restroom to engage in some calming practices before you return. Communicating while we are emotionally flooded can cause relationship ruptures that are difficult to repair. Remember, always err on the side of kindness and respect. It is everyone’s best interest to establish and maintain a good relationship.
FOLLOW-UP COMMUNICATION AFTER THE MEETING – It may be appropriate to send a thank you email to all of the participants that include a list of the key points that you took away from the meeting. This will help you to remember and have a list of important things that came up, as well as send a message to the school that you are involved and care about the situation at hand.
KEEP THE FOCUS ON YOUR CHILD – It may be tempting to get off track, especially if you feel emotionally charged about a certain issue. Keeping your focus on your child helps keep the meeting moving in the right direction, as well as supports productivity.
EDUCATE YOURSELF – It can be really helpful to learn about the process, whether it be IEP, 504, EP or another area. If you get an invitation for the meeting, look for a paper that accompies it that explains your rights and options as a parent. Beware of some of the information on the internet though, as there are some sites that depict school meetings as somewhat of a battle ground, and that is seldom the case, at least in my experience.
AVOID TRASH TALKING ANYONE IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILD – Sometimes, meetings are held as a response to a parent complaint. It is not helpful at all to say hurtful, degrading things about your child’s teacher in front of your child – even if you feel they are true. You can still convey that you are addressing a situation, but be sure it is done in a respectful manner. Remember, your child will need to go to class again, so it’s in their best interest for you to handle your concerns directly with the school, not in front of or through your child.
KNOW WHO IS AT THE MEETING – It may be appropriate to ask who will be at the meeting. Often, introductions will occur at the beginning of the meeting to let you know who’s on the team. If you don’t recognize someone, it can be helpful to ask for a round of introductions. Some meetings are small with just the parent and the teacher, while other meetings can get quite large with several professionals i at the table such as a teacher, speech language pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, resource teacher, exceptional education teacher, administration, advocate, school psychologist, staffing specialist, behavior analyst, and other such professionals depending on the needs of your child.
If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check out episode Melissa’s Mantras. It’s with a lady that I really admire, that is an integral part of school meetings, both in a professional and personal capacity. In that episode, she really offers some helpful advice.