Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Being A Successful Parent Advocate Series; Principle 3: Be a Contributer not an Interrogator

This is the third principle in a series I have been sharing on parent advocacy. Some of this comes from my past 25 years in education and some from interviews with parents that I meet through work, conferences, parent meetings, day care, my son's school, etc. I have been honored with the pleasure of meeting some wonderful parent advocates and our principle this time is one that I have observed being practiced by these folks more than ever being spoken.

What it means to be a contributor:
A contributor is someone who adds to the efforts of others towards a common goal. I see parents more often than you might think, who expect all the effort to come from a school team to meet educational goals and criticize them if they are not met. If a parent is a contributor to the process, they are doing many things. Here are some examples I have seen through the actions of successful parent advocates:

  • Volunteering to spend time in the classroom as a helper once a week.

  • Attending team meetings and being available to be in the loop on decisions that happen at school.
  • Looking for grant and foundation money to obtain equipment and software needed in the classroom that supports modifications of the curriculum for their child.

  • Looking for ways to contribute in the exploration of answers for treatment and special needs issues rather than criticize decisions that have been made without their input.

  • Demanding excellence but being willing to share ideas, time and some personal expense if possible to see it attained.

  • A realization that they, as parents, are experts on their children's needs and behaviors at home, but also respecting the fact that needs and behaviors can be different at school and the staff and specialists may have conflicting reports that are still accurate.

The wonderful thing about these kind of advocates is that through their efforts, they have earned the right to share in the processes at their schools. They have the right to be in the process anyway, whether they know it or not, but might be permitted by the school begrudgingly because of poor interpersonal relationships. If done right, the relationships at school can blossom so that the parent is seen as a positive influence in the process and their opinions are respected.

How do you think you are perceived by the staff at your child's school? Are you an antagonist and an interrogator when it comes to what is happening at school for your child's services? What could you do to improve the situation? What areas above do you do well? What areas could you possibly improve in?

Now I know there are those of you out there that are saying, "Yes, this might be true, but you don't know what I go through. I have to deal with a principal that doesn't get it when it comes to IDEA and the rights of disabled and special needs children." You might say, "The staff at my child's school always get their defenses up when I come around and I can't get through to them." You could also be one saying, "I have been dealing with incompetency throughout the whole school career of my child's life. I have been patient but I am about to the point where all I know to do is use the "S" word...sue."

I am not an attorney and I am not about to start giving legal advice. I realize there are situations where being nice isn't enough. Still...I would encourage you to take a deep breath and look at the principles above. Compare them to your realtionship with your school. Look at where you do well and where you could do better. Putting some effort into these principles can go a long way to bring positive results that will be a win/win situation for everyone.

I hope you are enjoying this series. If you know of anyone that might benefit from this post or my blog in general, please pass it on.

All the best to you!

1 comment:

ATMac said...

I meant to comment on this a while back ... it seems very pollyanna-ish in many ways. You talk about things as if when there's a problem it is almost invariably an irrational or unhelpful parent, acknowledging the other options only briefly. I felt the same way about some of the posts on the 2life blog too - that they were pollyana-ish and implying that everything would always be fantastic if only the person/client was positive/driven/something enough.

I didn't comment before because I am in two minds about it ... on one hand I agree with you that clear communication and positive thinking and a bit of self reflection can all be helpful, but on the other hand there are situations that are just crappy and officials who will perceive you as antagonistic just because you're being appropriately assertive about your child and so on and I feel like you're just handwaving the less easy side of things.

At least, it made me feel defensive and frustrated... make of that what you will!