First in the series of parent/practitioner perspectives, Walking the Line is a useful guide to approaching schools to advocate for your children. Amanda is a specialist dyslexia tutor here at Lifelong Literacy. She has three dyslexic children, all at primary school, and has successfully navigated a path through the dyslexia minefield for all of them.
Walking the line between being one of ‘those’ parents and being an effective and assertive advocate is a tricky part of the journey for any parent of a child with additional needs. We have all been there and had to mask our emotional fury, disappointment, sorrow or resignation to the futility of it all, while attempting to bargain for the best deal for our child.
There is inevitable inequity and power dynamics at any school meeting or negotiation.
Firstly, the match is on home ground for school staff. This is their arena and at the end of the day they call the shots. Even the information about what goes on within the classroom is provided to you at their discretion. It may leave you feeling like the outsider despite the fact that this is your child.
Secondly, you may feel intimidated when the teacher, Vice Principal/head of special education and other members of the school team outnumber you. They may tag team in response to your concerns. They may fail to respond, and wait for you to push the issue. I like to call this phenomenon ‘the path of least resistance’. If they ignore the issue and it goes away, in their minds it did not require a response, as the problem resolved itself.
After all ‘your child is one of many students!’ I’m sure you have been fed that pointed reminder before. This does not mean that your child’s potential and rights are any less important than those who aren’t struggling. Polite non-acceptance of this implication goes a long way.
At the end of the school year, the school also holds power in the teacher lottery. Revealing next year’s selection at the last minute leaves parents with little time to dispute any class allocation.
Here are some key skills required to gain the most out of any school interaction:
- ACT PROMPTLY
If you are concerned about class allocation, an incident at school, accommodations not being implemented act immediately (though after you have slept on it can help to provide emotional distance).
- LET THE RESEARCH DO THE TALKING
Go in armed with information; research, studies, articles. Prepare, prepare and prepare again! What is it you are asking for? What evidence do you have to that supports your request?
- USE YOUR FORMIDABLE ILP FOLDER
You are the expert and almanac of information regarding your child!
For in-person meetings, take your ILP folder and any resources you use from home to share with the school (you never know what you are going to need, and if nothing else it proves your dedication and organisation and willingness to collaborate).
- ENSURE CONTINUITY
When emailing, refer to reports and recommendations previously provided by you to the school regarding your child.
- INCREASE YOUR NUMBERS
Take an advocate with you. Equal out the numbers. This applies to meetings but also emails. CC your literacy specialist/tutor or partner into your emails.
- STAY CALM
You are going to get nowhere fast if you do not put your perspective forward calmly. Being calm helps you provide your best argument. Be calm but assertive. This takes practice. You may cry, but don’t let it disarm you. If nothing else it’s hard to be attacked when you are temporarily defenceless.
- FORM A TEAM
Be realistic, find common ground and acknowledge the reality of their position: ‘I understand it may be hard to implement initially, and my child is one of many students, but my child needs this to allow him/her equitable access to the curriculum. I want to form a team for my child that collaborates to provide the best education and outcome for him/her. I am sure we can all agree on that being imperative.’
- IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED TRY, TRY AGAIN.
Rome was not built in a day. Start small, ask for something they are unlikely to refuse and build from there. Small and frequent steps will propel you towards the end goal.
- END ON A POSITIVE NOTE
After all you catch more flies with honey. If you are pleasant to deal with the school are more likely to involve and approach you in the future.
Amanda has a specialist advocate role at Lifelong Literacy and is now taking bookings from families to help with the following tasks:
Organising ILP/IEP/ILEP folders
Helping to construct achievable, measurable goals for children, parents and schools to work on
Attending meetings with schools to assist with gaining the best outcome
Please contact us for an initial consultation with Amanda and to enquire about her hourly rate.