From Frustration to Triumph: Strategies for Parents Advocating for Their Child's Education | Lisa Stewart

Issue 18: From Frustration to Triumph: Strategies for Parents Advocating for Their Child's Education | Lisa Stewart

Lisa Stewart offers a comprehensive guide for parents navigating the education system, particularly when advocating for children with special needs, empowering them to foster success and happiness in their child's educational journey.

Lisa Stewart
Lisa Stewart
This article was published in Dystinct Magazine Issue 18 November 2023.
Lisa Stewart is a Special Education Advocate and IEP Coach []

As parents, we want nothing more than to see our children succeed, thrive, and be happy in all aspects of life. When my family moved from overseas 5 years ago, we entered into the US Special Education system with no IEP in place. I was appalled at how long it took for my child with CLEAR disabilities to get services through the school. We call that year "the lost year" because services had been in place for roughly 7 weeks before COVID hit. It was a nightmare for him, his teachers, his school, and our family.

Since then, the tools in my advocacy toolbox have grown so much that I had to get a new toolbox. In this article, we'll explore practical strategies and resources that can make a positive difference when advocating in your child's educational journey.

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Create a Plan

Create a Plan

When your child is struggling, setting up a meeting with your child's teacher, case manager, or administrator is the first crucial step. Engage in an open and constructive conversation to gain a deeper understanding of the specific challenges your child is facing and the areas in which they need support. Encourage your child's involvement in these discussions to empower them and foster self-advocacy. Develop a plan with the teacher tailored to your child's needs. Following the meeting, send a follow-up email (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP) to ensure everyone is on the same page and to maintain an ongoing dialogue.

Proactive Communication and Gratitude

Proactive Communication and Gratitude

Once a plan is in place, it's essential to remain proactive in maintaining communication with the teacher or case manager. Teachers are busy, so don't wait for them to email you. Most teachers work on the "No news is good news" mentality. I recommend emailing at least once a week to set the tone of regular communication. Start the email acknowledging their commitment and time dedicated to your child. You can use this email to update them on your child's progress at home, sharing both improvements and setbacks. By doing this, you are setting the expectation of actively partnering with the teacher in your child's journey.

In this communication, you could ask about specific accommodations and services that are being provided to your child. How are they being provided? Is additional help needed to make sure they are provided consistently and with accuracy? Ask about your child's behavior. Even if your child does not have a "behavior problem" withdrawal, and limited participation is a behavior that will impact learning.

Additionally, expressing gratitude for the teacher's support and efforts can make a meaningful impact. Appreciation fosters a positive relationship, keeps the goals you created at the forefront of the teacher's mind, and could lead to additional attention for your child because the communication is fresh in their mind.

My child's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) called for support in one of his classes. After many, many emails back and forth with the teacher, I believed the IEP was being implemented more or less, but he was still failing one of his favorite subjects.

I took the emails to the administrator and requested he go in and observe the class and see what on earth was causing the struggle. The answer? A poor instructional match. The teacher supporting him was demanding and unkind. My kid did not take well to demanding and unkind and refused to work; he just shut down or left the class. So, what do we do? I asked. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that an aide would be placed in the class to support him. Continued communication revealed that the remainder of the year went well.

This communication was vital in providing the documentation necessary to request additional information and support from the school.

Stay Informed

Stay Informed

We know how valuable it is to stay informed about our child's progress in school. Checking electronic grade books can provide us with essential information, such as recent test scores, missing assignments, and upcoming assignments. I set a weekly reminder to review this

information so I can address any concerns promptly. I do this with my child so he knows he is accountable for his work, and it encourages more frequent communication from him because "Hey, mom, I tried really hard but still got a D+ on my Civics test" is better than "Dude, a D+, what happened?"

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