Sunday, January 2, 2011

Meeting with School Officials

Regardless of where you live or where your child attends school, meeting with school officials to discus your child is often a daunting task. It can make you feel like … it’s you against the world! But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Oftentimes, the school’s administration and psychological team will try to intimidate parents; especially during the first meeting. As the old saying goes – the best defense is a good offense. As a parent, the better prepared you are, the more confident you will feel. And your child will be the benefactor.

Research the school’s programs offered to other students and what you believe to be your child’s needs. This is key! Too often, schools are more concerned about their budgets and will try to deny services or limit your child’s access to services. Don't be afraid to ask for more than is being offered.

Do not feel that you have to be alone, either. In the U.S., you can join your state’s advocacy group for support and they may provide you an advocate or be able to refer you to a local advocate. In lieu of this, both parents should make an attempt to attend. If you anticipate issues arising and you can afford it, a lawyer is also advisable. There’s nothing wrong with doing a little intimidating yourself! At any rate, bring someone with you to serve as a witness to what is said in the meeting. And take notes!

Another piece of advice I always give to parents is that from the moment they learn they have a gifted child, keep meticulous records. Few school district personnel or teachers have the time to keep track of your individual child as well as you can. Keep records of every time you communicate with a teacher or anyone from the school; i.e., psychologist, principal, administrator and insist that you get it in writing. The easiest way to do this is to require all communication be done by email. Information conferred during a phone call can never be proven. Even the nicest, most well-intentioned teacher has a tendency to defer to their school’s principal or district superintendent during a meeting where all parties are present.

Before you agree to a meeting, at the very least, have a working knowledge of gifted education and what you want to request for your child. The library and Internet are both good sources of information. Two of the best books for newcomers are Christine Fonseca’s Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and Karen Rogers’ book, Re-forming Gifted Education.

       

Once you get through the first meeting, you’ll have a better understanding of what to expect the next time. I’m not going to say it will get easier; it probably won’t. And the meetings will continue until your child is finished with school. During the last few years of high school, it is advisable to start including your son or daughter in these meetings. When they go to college, they will need to be able to advocate for themselves. This is especially important if your child is twice-exceptional.

Life as a gifted parent can be a roller coaster or it can be a walk on the beach with the waves rolling in. It’s all in your viewpoint. I prefer the beach.

5 comments:

  1. Your assumptions in this article concern me. Let me ask you a question: would you want school district personnel to walk into a meeting with you assuming that you are going to be closed-minded, antagonistic, and demanding, concerned only with getting undeserved privileges and special treatment for your child? Or would you rather that those same teachers and administrators would approach the meeting with a collaborative, problem-solving mindset?

    To my mind, if any party enters a meeting about a child with the goal of "winning," (e.g. I get what I want), then the child has already lost. Please don't equate a difference of opinion with an attempt to intimidate, either. Good educators (and there are plenty of them out there) know that a parent's perspective and insight are critical to assessing a student's needs. But they are not the only thing.

    Instead of coming into the first meeting "armed for bear" so to speak, come in ready to work. This is not a negotiation, and you aren't settling a contract. You are working together as a team to work out the best way to identify and meet the needs of your child.

    I'm not saying you will never run into a teacher or administrator who is adamant that they will not do anything for your child, or even that there is no educator whose first priority is their convenience or budget constraints. When you assume that we all think that way, however, you could be creating a fight that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  2. When I first read Gerald's letter, I was surprised because none of this occurred to me when I read the blog. Chapter 2 in my book "5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options" (formerly titled "Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind") vividly shows how common what Lisa Conrad writes about is. I was a classroom teacher prior to becoming a mother, and I was an excellent teacher who differentiated and treated each child as an individual. But, I still didn't truly understand the needs of gifted children or the RANGE among the gifted and how their needs differed until I specialized in it much later. You can be a good teacher and care very much for a child and still not have enough information to know how to meet the child's needs. A local g/t coordinator tells his staff, "Why don't parents leave their child's education to us, the professionals? Let us do our work." And yet, experience shows me that too many kids fall through the cracks simply because the educators don't welcome the parents as part of the team at all. The all-too-clear message is more often, "We're specialists and we're trained for this and you're not. Now let us do our work."

    I fully agree that parents need to assume the best from the beginning. I also remind parents that some schools aren't set up for meeting some gifted children's needs, and knowing ahead of time what those needs are will be very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the shout out! This is a great article for parents as they begin to navigate the sometimes difficult waters of GT education

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! I love this blog AND the comments. As a teacher (who assumed I understood gifted) and as a mother of recently *diagnosed* (what is the right word??) gifted children, I find the balance to be quite interesting. I don't want to be "that parent" who is pushy and overbearing. As a teacher, I know what "that parent" can be like, and know that I risk it. Partnership (but also documentation) can be very important.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is rare that I post a response to a comment on this blog, but feel it necessary at this time to add a disclaimer.

    I believe all people should be allowed to express their opinion which is why I post virtually all comments on this blog. However, I want to make it clear that this post did not reflect my personal experiences, but rather was in response to situations and concerns shared with me by gifted parents for whom I have worked over the past 15 years and in confidence.

    ReplyDelete