We’ve had some spectacular blog posts the last few weeks on great therapy techniques, family stories and iPad apps for cheap (and who doesn’t love that, am I right?) but I am about to get “real”. Yes, this blog post may hit on the serious side, but I feel it’s something that needs to be said!
As a speech therapist, I write an average of a hundred reports a school year and probably sit through roughly 70-80 meetings . Working as an IEP Team (for those of you who aren’t up with the current school lingo, IEP is Individualized Education Plan) is hard work for all of those who are involved for a number of reasons. The team wants to please all of the participants: the student, team members, administration and most of all, the parents. The school system has changed in so many ways in the past few decades that it sometimes feels unrecognizable from where we first started. Can you imagine what the school system would look like if we were never introduced to computers?! ( I shutter at the thought *shivers*) With the shift in curriculum standards, achievement and standardized testing, our goals for students only climb higher. So does our anxiety. “Our” includes teachers, therapists, administrators, students and of course, parents. Do you see a pattern here? Yes, I am talking about parents.
First, I want to let all you readers know that I am NOT a parent. This blog post is written from my observations over my short time as a speech therapist. I work in an amazing school district with amazing teachers, paraprofessionals and administration and most of all: students. I have a caseload hovering a little below 65 students and I adore each and every one of them. When I present my data in a meeting, I always try to give the parent a personal note on an accomplishment their child achieved in my therapy room, but why?
Before every meeting, when I am writing an IEP, when I am collaborating with other professionals (and I could be collaborating for solutions to help a student with a “difficult” parent), I always try to put myself in the parent’s shoes. I always ask myself a series of questions: Am I answering the parent’s questions? Am I finding a plausible solution? What are the parents’ feelings on their child’s progress? Would I ask or request the same accommodations if I had their perspective?
Sometimes, I believe we lose sight of what it is like to be a parent. We worry about putting an individualized plan in place that achieves every goal we want the student to meet. We adjust progress and benchmarks. We add accommodations, SDIs, (Specially designed instruction) and supports for school personnel. We gather and report data and update present levels. Sometimes, we talk in a frenzy because we have so much to say. But are we talking so the parents can understand us? Remember that thing called “plain English”?
A few weeks ago, I had a parent thank me for talking in a way that she understood after a meeting. I replied that it’s the way I would want someone to explain data to me. It’s so easy to get lost in professional “lingo” and spout off all of these special words forgetting that not everyone in the room has our job!
My little brother is an engineer and my father works in the same line of work (they actually work for the same company) and when they get together at the ‘supper’ (this is ‘dinner’ in western PA!) table, I become so uninterested in whatever they are saying because I have no idea what they are talking about. As a professional whose job is “communication”, not being able to join a conversation because the other participants in the group aren’t privy to your lack of “electrical vocabulary” makes me very frustrated (Well, pardon me!). How can a parent in an IEP meeting ask questions or join the conversation about their child if they don’t know what to ask?
Maybe you’re having a meeting with a so-called “difficult” parent and you are so worried about what questions they might ask and if you will answer them correctly. Well, stop for a second and put yourself in their shoes. You have no idea if that parent coming in didn’t sleep the night before because they also have a toddler at home who is sick and a significant other who works out-of-town and can’t help with the rest of the children. For those of you who have children, it is certainly not an easy job and it is most certainly a full-time job. What about those parents who have full-time jobs (there are so many!) and find the time to do all of the house work and take care of the children. Talk about exhaustion! All of this aside, all of these parents have two things in common. One: They want to see their child thrive and reach their full potential and two…..
They want you to listen.
It sounds so easy doesn’t it? They want you to listen to their concerns and their observations. They want to be the top participator on the team. What can we do to improve our communication with them? Start by answering their questions so they understand and feel supported. Don’t talk over them. Make suggestions and let them make the choices. Tell them you understand where they are coming from. I often think that if I have a child one day who requires an IEP, I will know WAYYYYYY too much about the system to be a “calm, cool and collected” parent if I thought for a second that the IEP team was not listening to me. It’s not the parents against the school. That’s not the definition of “team”. Of course, there are always cases that are exceptions to this rule and that is a completely different situation. There are always exceptions.
Remember, we all have ONE thing in common: The STUDENT.
It’s the reason I wake up and love my job. It’s the reason I spend hours laminating new materials, making new projects and have a subscription to Amazon Prime. (I love getting things in 2 days!)
I believe that if we as administrators and professionals take the time to “put ourselves in their shoes”, no one will benefit more than the STUDENT! 🙂
Samantha Kessler, M.S., CCC-SLP