It’s almost summer here in Indiana! My kids are planning trips to the pool, playdates and sleepovers. I’m tempted to get caught up in all the summer fun daydreams. But before I can break out the flip flops, I remember I’ve got to start planning for the next school year. I’m the mom of a few children with special needs. School can be stressful for our family, summer is a wonderful time for us to reconnect, build our relationship and just plain relax. It’s also a time to get prepared for the inevitable start to the new school year.
Over the last 11 years, I have leaned on my parents’ wisdom countless times as I venture into the world of teachers and administrators to advocate for my children.
My dad is a former teacher and middle school principal, he now teaches administrative leadership to educators. My mom is a former reading recovery teacher as well as the mom of a son with a learning disability. When I first asked my parents how to partner with schools, they had some interesting advice. “Start early. Get to know the principal. Take initiative with communication. Define boundaries.”
- Start Early. Summer is the best time to get acquainted with your child’s new school/teacher/principal. Summer is the re-set time for everyone, including your child’s school. Use this time to seek ways to support the new teacher and prepare your student for the expectations of his or her class. Offer to answer any questions the staff may have about your child. If you are starting a new school or don’t yet know the principal/teachers, summer is a great time to introduce yourself. If you have a child with medical needs, food restrictions, allergies, anxiety etc. this is a great time to also meet the school nurse as well. Ask what you can do to prepare your child for the new environment. Start talking to your child about what to expect. Use the names of staff at home in conversation as you prepare your child for the new year.
- Get to know the principal. This one caught me off guard when my dad, said it. I was questioning, “Doesn’t the principal have too many kids to keep track of to worry about mine?” My dad assured me that principals try to know as many students as possible. A simple phone call to the principal will put your name on his or her radar. The initial phone call can go something like this, “Hello, this is Mrs. Parent. I just want to introduce myself. My son Child and I are new to the area. Child will be starting 6th grade this fall.” If you feel comfortable, this is a good time to introduce a little information about your child. You may say something like, “Child was adopted at 2 years old. He is doing really well in school and doesn’t seem to need any extra academic help. However, he has been struggling a little with the move and it has been bringing up some of the memories of past trauma, is there anything we can do to help him settle in this fall?”This isn’t the time to tie the principal up for an hour long conversation. This is just an introduction. You may end the call by offering support for the school as well. “I would love to help out with Meet The Teacher Night, where can I find information about that?” Remember that your child’s principal sets the tone for the entire school, if he or she feels valued by your family, they will be more likely to set a standard of acceptance and support for your child as well.
- Take initiative with communication. I have been guilty of neglecting this step in an effort not to pester the staff. I have assumed that someone will read my child’s file and that through some sort of teacher magic, they will understand Trauma, RAD, ODD, ADHD, ADD, FASD, ARND, FAE, FAS, Prenatal Cocaine Exposure, Prenatal Opiate Exposure, Bonding, Trust Based Relational Interventions, Frontal Cortex Damage. This is an unfair assumption on my part. My mom and dad say, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” You do not need to tell your child’s teacher or administrative team every single detail. You can begin the conversation by telling a little about your child’s history and how it may manifest itself in the classroom. This communication can open a dialogue that will hopefully go both ways. This year our first grader has a teacher who strives to know more about our son, in turn she has taught us valuable information about learning styles and the practice of flexible seating.
- Define Boundaries. Schools are bound by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). If your child has an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) you probably have four million copies of this in your possession. Long story short, you and your child have rights, one of those rights is to privacy. Not everyone your child works with will guard your child’s story with the care you would. As you begin to share important information with your child’s teacher, principal or school nurse it is vital that you also discuss your need for privacy. For instance, if your child had a traumatic brain injury as an infant, you will need to tell the child’s Physical Education teacher. You do not have to tell the teacher the details of what happened to the child unless this is a person who has gained your trust as a family.
Start early. Get to know the principal. Take initiative with communication. Define boundaries.
Remember, you set the tone for your relationship with your child’s school. Assume the best in others and strive to work together in all matters. Summertime is the perfect time to prepare yourself, your child and your school for this partnership.
What has been your biggest struggle in starting new school year with your children?