Thursday, April 24, 2014

Let's Fix This- IEP Edition

Wow!  That last post was a doozie!  It seems to have been well received so I think I will continue to share some more IEP insights.  I come at this from a unique perspective.  I am a mama of typical children as well as a mama of a special needs child.  I am an educator and I am a parent.  I see the table from a lot of different perspectives and I try to be fair.  I will never advocate for the impossible.  You won't see me push for dolphin therapy for Isaac.  I know that no one goes into education for the exorbitant salaries or the world wide fame and glory (I giggle just writing that sentence).  We all start our journeys to the IEP table because we have loved a child.

So what the heck happened?

How did this group of people who have dedicated their lives to the service and love of children and knowledge come to sit around a table glaring at each other as adversaries instead of as team mates working together for the benefit of the child.

How did we lose perspective?

We lost sight of each other.  The emotion that pervades the atmosphere around the sterile conference room descended like a fog and clouded our vision.  We as parents lost sight of you the educator who are buried under paperwork and deadlines and budgets.  You are no longer Mrs., Miss or Mr.  You are no longer teacher, administrator, therapist or psychologist.  You are that entity that is denying our child what we believe will help him.  Our parental eyes are clouded by the instinctual protection of our young.  Instinct erases reason and elicits knee jerk reactions.  There is a moment when every parent believes that you as educators have the ability to make our child better.  We want a miracle and we forget that you are human servants just like us.

I have seen educators lose vision around the IEP table as well.  The professionals around the table are proud of the work that they have done for our child.  As the discussion progresses, I have seen educators become threatened and defensive.  The professionals lose sight of their student as this person's child.   Educators have dedicated years of their lives and mounds of money to their pursuit of knowledge as to how best to teach children.  As I have questioned educational practices as relates to my son, I have seen educators flare up in defense of their qualifications, professionalism, and personhood.  How dare I as a parent question established practice?  How dare I question them?

It does not take an expert in relational counseling to know that in those moments of anger, defensiveness and instinct, the child who should be at the center of the discussion is forgotten.

How do we fix it?

-Let's all remember to be grown ups.  Our child is counting on our ability to collectively move past first grade squabbles and work something out to their benefit.  The best bit of advise I was ever given regarding IEPs was to litter the IEP table with adorable pictures of my son and heavy helpings of chocolate.  It may sound silly, but we need to remember that the meeting is about a child and we should keep it sweet.

-We need to concentrate more on the relationship and less on one meeting.   My plea to administrators is to work on building a relationship with the families of the special needs students they serve.  Remember that our children cannot communicate much if any of what is going on at school.  If at all possible, let us meet the teacher before our child's first day of school.  Schedule an open house for the parents of the special needs students well before Labor Day.   Take a lesson from kindergarten.  Our children may be older but are in many ways as dependent and we as parents are just as protective.  The administration, therapists, staff to include nurse, psychologist, guidance counselor and other professionals who will interact with our child should be present.  Welcome the parents and their children at the open house.  Have food!  Display your best artwork!  Offer resources for them to use at home.  Be glad they are there and willing to participate in the education of their child.  These parents are not hurdles in your endeavors to educate but rather are resources to be received with gratitude.  They are the experts in the children you will serve and if treated with respect and camaraderie will be your greatest assets.

-Parents, remember your child's teacher and aids throughout the year.  Remember the administrators and staff.  Look for the good and compliment when you see good things.  Schedule those compliments if necessary!  Put it on your calendar once a week to share a compliment - an honest one- with your child's educational team.  I have never seen anyone go into education to advance their own grandeur.  They sincerely want to help your child accomplish and grow.  Encourage that.  Encourage them.  Become part of the school environment and culture to better foster the relationship that will help your child achieve his potential.

-Administrators, special needs students are essential and should never be pushed away as an afterthought.  The pressure to preform under the scrutiny of tests and standards is mind blowing.  It is easy to forget that hallway that pretty well runs itself anyway.  Taking the extra effort to include your special needs students into the day to day activities of the school will breathe humanity into your entire student population.  Your school will come to understand that as people we all have special needs.  You will facilitate an educational community who looks to help and care for those around them and will themselves achieve greater goals.  Inclusion of the entire student population will establish you as an advocate of children.  You will be regarded as someone who understands and respects the value and potential of all children.  By opening your door, your mind and your heart, you will build open relationships and so avoid the catastrophes of IEP meetings gone horribly wrong.

-Everybody, Breathe.  Relationships take time.  Give each other grace and forgive our collective human screw ups.  Ask forgiveness when warranted.  Assure each other of your devotion to the child and to the process.  Respect.  Love. Remember.

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