5 Tips to Build a Collaborative Relationship with Your Child’s School
Collaborating effectively with your child’s school is one of the hardest part of the journey of being a parent of a child with a special need. As a parent advocate, you have to be fierce and tireless. You have to be deeply educated in your child’s disability and your rights under the Federal, State and District laws and regulations. Many parents of children with special needs say they feel so much stress because they are their child’s mom, IEP case manager, tutor, advocate and lawyer, all wrapped into one piled on top of all of the other demands of work and family life. It is overwhelming and many parents don’t have the luxury of time at the end of a busy work week to dedicate themselves to being the all-around expert on their child’s education. After years of playing all these roles, parents get worn out and really must struggle to work to build collaborative relationships with schools.
To make matter worse, oftentimes, schools don’t see the human side of these parents. They don’t look deeply at parents to see that, ultimately, they are stressed out, alone and exhausted. Especially by the time middle and high schools come around, schools don’t realize that some parents have been having this same fight, making these same arguments for 10+ years. It can really lead to strained relationships.
Building a collaborative relationship takes a lot of work, and it is not easy. I certainly do not always do a good job at it myself. Especially when I am tired, angry and stressed out as a mom. But, what I always tell parents is that you are stuck working with your school, your teachers and your school administration for a year or many years. You need them to not write you off as a crazy parent. Here are my tips for parents, mostly based on the old adage “you get more flies with sugar than vinegar”:
- Don’t be One Dimensional. If you are that parent that always and only talks about one topic, teachers and administrators will begin to avoid you. They will see you coming and know that you are going to harass them about something they did wrong with your child again. If communication ends – it is terrible for your child. You must, at all costs, keep communication flowing. I advise parents to do this is by only talking about a child’s issues periodically in causal encounters. For example, if you run into the teacher in the hall – DO NOT accost her with “I saw my child’s grade on math – did you give her the accommodation she needs?” No. Instead, say hello to the teacher, tell a funny story unrelated to your child, ask about how she felt about a recent field trip – anything – to show that you are not one dimensional.
- Make yourself Invaluable. Show that you are a team player for your school. Show up as a chaperone. Offer to mentor another child. Volunteer for the school dance. Anything to show teachers and administration that you are dedicated to the school and want to be a part of the team. If they see you donating your time, they will be more willing to help you.
- Show your soft side. Don’t be a bull in a china shop. Try to connect with teachers and administrators on an emotional level. They are humans, too. Many of them have kids. Many of them have been through very hard things in life. Use emotion words like “I am scared for my child” or “I have been losing sleep worrying.” Those are things people can connect with on a human level. It makes people want to help you more than when you walk in demanding certain things be done.
- Bring conversations back to your child. Remind people in meetings that you are talking about a real, live child, and not a data point. Bring a picture of your child. Bring a video of your child. Ask for your child to come by the meeting to tell the school group things are are going well and things that are hard. Tell school about your child’s dreams and abilities outside of school. Once the team connects with you and your child, you will be more successful. We, as humans, help people we know and have a harder time denying someone what we have a connection to.
- When all else fails, don’t be afraid to be a bull in a china shop. If nothing above works, you have to be willing to take it to the next level until you get what your child needs. There are just some schools, very few, that only respond when forced. It is a shame, but it is true. It is a very hard position to be in, but I always advise to first try to assume the school will do the right thing, and only elevate it when you have no other options.