Saturday, February 16, 2008

Being a Successful Parent Advocate - Principle 2: Foster Positive Relationships

I am so glad to have you back for Principle 2 in this series on Parent Advocacy. The first principle was research, studying, and reading up to keep informed on new developments and support. Today's principle, number two, concerns fostering positive relationships.

Fostering Positive Relationships
I have worked with a lot of parents and administrators. I see some interesting dynamics at times with the relationships between these two sets of people. Sometimes the two see each other as support - the parents looking for the principal to demonstrate the intensity of an advocate for their child in getting all the services needed, and the principal, looking at the parent as the key to support and reinforcement at home to implement the strategies that will help the student improve at school. Both sides can be self-serving, but at least both have a common concern at heart, and that is the child.
Then there is the adversarial relationship. I have heard stories from parents at conferences and group sessions, where the parents refer to the principal and therapists as cold hearted and threatened and unwilling to listen. I don't work with any principals or staff like that in my service area fortunately, but these stories do happen.
When I hear stories like that I think about what my reaction would be if I were a school administrator and I had a parent who was knowledgeable and in my face about what I was going to do about her son. I would say,"You are my new best friend! I need you to assist in the process of developing what is best for your son. You need to be an integral part of our team for your son." The point of view taken by the leaders in assistive technology about the team process is that parents need to participate and be a part. Their participation is essential.

Positive should ALWAYS be the first line of defense
When you are looking at going to school to advocate on an issue, look at how you can share your point, and in that point make sure there is an invitation for collaboration. That means that it is not "my way or the highway." I know that I am much more apt to collaborate and work with people who listen to my ideas, maintain a calm affect in conversation and are supportive and have good things to say. On the otherhand, I have a hard time listening and contributing to discussions with people who are always on the defensive and looking for a comment or decision that "confirms" their pre-determined belief that, "No one really wanted to listen to me or do what needs to be done anyway." When people enter into dialogue with a pre-determined notion that they are going to have to fight, it adds an energy to the conversation that has the potential to create exactly what you expect.
Take a minute and think about the nature of your conversations with teachers, staff and administrators around you. If you are a therapist or teacher, do the same thing but think of it in terms of your communication with parents. It can work both ways. Are your conversations collaborative? Do they allow room for others to share their input? Do you strive to build bridges to understand others and work on solutions without stress and negative energy?
One thing we as therapists and specialists have to remember is that even when we don't get along with someone, we still need to give them a level of respect. There is also a little thing called IDEA and a federal mandate! No matter what I think, I have to bite the bullet, smile and do what has to be done to be in compliance. I would hope to see the same amount of determination on the parents side to work together so we could both come up with a "win-win" situation. When we add the child into the picture it becomes a "win-win-win" situation!
Being positive and working on solutions together allows for much more success. Being able to think this way in your relationships, problem solving and conversations, is an aspect of what I call the "No Limits Lifestyle." I wish you the best as you strive for healthy collaborative relationships. When you take the time to create these positive relationships, you are making advocacy a much easier task.

I hope this gives you a little support as you work in potentially high-emotion dialogue. Keep checking in for more tips on the next blog post. Please refer this blog to friends that could use the information.

All the best to you!

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