It’s Not Rocket Science: The Art of Planning Good Meetings between Home and School Teams
You may think I am nuts, but, it’s true. Parents, me included, make it harder than it has to be. I am talking about home and school team meetings. We think that it, like science, is complicated. In reality it is really an art.
As much as parents want to complain about the school and the personnel involved, they have the power to build strong relationships to advance their child’s education. Like an artist, there is not a right or wrong way. You can craft your own approach.
Quite simply – it’s not rocket science. It’s about getting people to work together. The parent is the creator of this effort.
Now this may strike a chord with some who may respond, “Ridiculous!” The truth is that advocating for your child makes good business sense. Even if you are not a business person there is plenty of research that demonstrates the most successful people in the world do one thing well – they get others to come together.
I know all too well that whether or not you have graduated from a Dale Carnegie seminar (“How to Win Friends & Influence People” or “Step-up to Leadership”) it’s a different game when your child is involved. As someone whose previous career was in business, my ability to be persuasive and build interpersonal relationships was severely hindered when it related to our son. Remaining calm and collected was almost impossible. All I felt like doing was unloading my heart – yelling and screaming. Bottom line – unleashing your emotions accomplishes nothing for the long haul.
These statements are based on my experiences during the past 7 years as a parent. I set up meetings for the obvious reasons: to update an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), review summer school placement or to simply touch base.
So here is the truth. You, the parent, have work to do to prepare before meetings that involve the entire team. To build successful collaborative partnerships you have to invest some time and park your emotions. Yes, it is a full-time job, but it’s your responsibility. Only you can make the change to “win friends and influence people” for the benefit of your child’s future.
Here are my tried and true tips for preparing for successful meetings:
(1). Get organized: Read the reports, know the IEP goals, and be familiar with what goes on during your child’s school day. You need to know what you are talking about.
(2). Create open lines of communication: Find out what are the preferred means of staying in touch with the team members. Some of my son’s teachers prefer email, others like a log, and some just want to talk by phone. There are 6-8 people I stay in touch with and each has a difference preference. You may scoff at this but if it gets me what I want (strong relationships) it’s worth it.
(3). Be Patiently Persistent: The reality is that these teams of professionals have overloaded responsibilities. As budget cuts have continued, many of them are working two school sites or have been given increased responsibilities with pay cuts. Always start the conversation with acknowledging this and thanking them for their time. The majority of folks in this business do it because it is a passion. There will always be the 10% that need to do us all a favor and just retire or leave education. This leads me to my next point.
(4). Identify Who You Trust: You don’t have to like everyone on the team. The reality is that you may not be able to get everyone “on your bus” of support. But most will respect your advocacy for your child and will thank you for your interest in advocating for your child. There is a lot of judging that goes on between the two sides – it’s only natural. Pick one or two people you trust and start with them to talk about your concerns and to get help.
(5). Outsiders: You can bring whoever you like to school meetings. However, I do believe that when you bring in legal teams or representatives who ask to record the meeting, you are impacting the dynamic of the meeting. I am not saying that there may be times when this is necessary. The truth is that it puts people on alert and does not create an environment of trust.
(6). Do a Self-Assessment: You don’t necessarily need to take part in a Meyers-Briggs personality test to determine your style; however, there are free on-line tools. I think it’s important to know yourself and your preferences. Then think about who are the main “players” on the team and think about how they are like or different from you. You may need to “flex” your communication style to connect with them. For example, school administrators are often “data driven.” If you are requesting specific services you may need to “speak” to them with information that supports your point and aligns with their style.
(7). The 2 Week Rule: If you are requesting a meeting date, it may take them 10 school days to coordinate a date and time that works for all. Be sure to be very clear with how long you think the meeting will last. This will prevent members from leaving early
(8). Have meetings before the meeting: I swear by this method. Talk to the members in advance to get a clear idea of how your child is doing. I always say that I need to know so that I can better support them. It’s a true statement. But it also cultivates a spirit of teamwork. This assures there are no surprises and expedites the full-team meeting process.
(9). Sending a letter or an agenda in advance of the team meeting; it’s all about setting clear expectations about what you want to cover. It recaps what I have learned from each team member. It also lists my concerns, what I want for my child and my ideas on how I can support the team effort.
My final statement is always that I do not like surprises. I always ask them to contact me prior to the meeting if I need to be informed of something not listed on the recap. I explain that the process is hard for me. I also tell them that being “blindsided” with new information will derail my ability to be focused during the meeting.
You may say that I should not “show my cards” but it gives them time to prepare and to pull information that I may need to see prior to the meeting. It takes the emotion out of the situation and allows me to advocate with my head and not my heart.
(10) Determining follow up communication dates/times: This process keeps things rolling. It also fosters trust and collaboration.
(11). Celebrating the success of the meeting/relationships: Take time to send a quick email, handwritten note or even a homemade cookie to say thank you. Simple acts of kindness go a long way.
(12). Continue building the relationships after the meetings: Volunteer at your child’s school. It helps the team to see you in a different role and to get to know you. It also allows you to see how your child interacts with other students and school personnel.
More IEP Help
- Advocacy: What Does That Word Mean to You?
- Parents Working Together How Parents Can Work Together to Help Their Child With Their Education
- IEP… I Do’s Building a Viable Home-School Relationship – It’s like a Marriage
- What Special Education Teachers and Professionals Want You to Know
- The Importance of Parents and Professionals Partnering
- Family-School Collaboration Focusing on Quality of Life for All
- How can parents prepare for an IEP Meeting? (Part 1)
- Pre- IEP Worksheet
- IEP Meeting Overwhelm? How to Avoid It!
- Rock Your Next IEP: Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting
- Big Picture of Parent Participation in an IEP Meeting
- Beyond the IEP Team: 6 Tips for Parent Participation at School
- Should My Child Attend the IEP Meeting?
- Calm Your Nerves – Know What To Expect At An IEP Meeting
- The Importance of S.M.A.R.T IEP Goals
This post originally appeared on our March/April 2013 Magazine