As another school year begins, no doubt you’re happier about it than your children.
You’re relieved. They’ll be positively engaged getting their education. But don’t get too relaxed, for there may be work in store for you. Sometimes, what goes on in those hallways requires your attention. For a variety of reasons, parents may find themselves advocating for their children. That’s a test you can’t afford to fail. Your child’s education is at stake.
Here’s how to be an effective advocate for your child.
Attend parent involvement or volunteer to chaperone or assist occasionally. This helps the school become familiar with you, which is important should you or your child need something.
“If your child is making poor grades, has a learning or physical disability, mental health diagnosis, has defiance or outburst, or shows aggression for others, ask for more information about IEP (Individualized Education Program) or 504 plans in order to make a plan with the school for any needed accommodations such as class size, extra time on tests, or having an aide,” says Ashton Burdick, a nationally certified counselor providing multi-systemic therapy (MST) for children and teens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“Go with your gut,” says Lisa Lightner, whose Philadelphia-based consulting business, A Day in Our Shoes, offers resources and information for parents of children with disabilities.
Most children have good and bad days at school. They grumble about an assignment or a teacher or a friend that has upset him/her. The next day or week, everything is fine.
“But when a child constantly complains, or when his report card shows failing or falling grades or indicates behavior issues, investigate,” says Nancy Brigham, education researcher and author of A Fragile Enterprise: Yesterday’s Schools and Tomorrow’s Students.
Problems typically fall into three categories: instructional issues, social emotional issues, and bullying.
Determine what’s wrong. “Children aren’t always the best reporters. ‘My teacher hates me,’ may mean that the child is having trouble doing the work, that the teacher seems to ignore him, or that s/he has behavior issues that cause him to act out in class,” says Bringham.
ASK FOR HELP
If the issue is instructional, start with the teacher. If your child acts out with only one teacher, meet with them. If it is more generalized, try to meet with your child’s cluster of teachers, or speak to a guidance counselor or social worker, suggests Brigham.
If your child has been sent to the office, make an appointment with that administrator.
For bullying, round up every adult involved in his/her education, individually or as a group. See them ASAP.
Follow up via email to document that you’ve been trying to solve the problem.
Get a counselor for your child. They may identify a diagnosis that assists with qualifying your child for an IEP, and they may be able to work in the school with your child.
ASK PROPER QUESTIONS
Don’t be confrontational. You want discussion, not a defensive teacher.
Ask,“What do you see as Johnny’s academic strengths?” This approach focuses the conversation on your child in a positive way.
Find common ground. You both want Jenny to do her homework. If the work is too challenging, ask,“What can I do at home to help?” says Brigham.
Leave with a plan for ongoing communication. This keeps the door open to discuss further steps.
Social and emotional issues are painful for children and parents and are a challenge for schools. The problem often stems from a child’s feelings of alienation.
“As a parent, help your child find a way to connect and urge the school to become an inclusive community,” says Brigham.
Inquire about how the teacher establishes a sense of community. Then ask, “Why do you think Johnny feels left out? What can we do about that?”
“Don’t report your child’s teacher to the dean or principal. Give them the courtesy of communicating first,” says Fran Walfish, Ph.D., family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.
Keep cool. Warns Burdick, “It might feel good to yell at that teacher who seems to be singling your kid out, but the principal and faculty may take you less seriously.”