First, understand that your role as a parent is unique. No one knows and loves your child the way that you do. You are the expert on your child. And, while you may not have all the answers, you want your child to be successful in school and in life. Your passion, as a parent, can help you communicate brilliantly, and sometimes, it can overtake you.
If you expect to have difficulty when meeting with school personnel, your mind and body will be primed for battle. How can you communicate successfully if you are on the verge of overflowing in anguish and outrage? Don’t let your mind go there. Keep thoughts of past (or present) problems at school, worst fears, and other negatives from creeping into your mind. Focus positively on your goals and the view that the school wants to do their best for your child. Keep telling yourself that you and your child will succeed.
What’s the most important thing that needs to be accomplished for your child? Make a list of these issues, questions and possible solutions. Rank them. Decide if there are any you can pass and which one(s) must be addressed. Plan how you are willing to give and take in order to achieve a higher goal. Map out what you need to say and practice, if that helps:
Referring to these few notes, with key phrases jotted down, can help keep you and the meeting on track.
If you don’t understand what someone is saying, tell him or her. Be direct:
Keep asking and wait for responses until you do fully understand. Resist any temptation to answer your own questions or put words into someone else’s mouth.
Paraphrase, or restate so that you and others are clear in your understanding.
To be understood:
So that you understand:
Often, the process of clarifying one’s understanding provides an opportunity to clear up a misconception or correct misinformation that could be critical to finding a satisfactory solution for your child.
So, don’t overlook the value of this technique.
As a parent, you’re in a good position to present alternative solutions that might not occur to those who work for the school system. (Along the lines of the old adage, ”Sometimes you just can’t see the forest for all the trees.”):
And, if you’ve done some research, information gathering, or obtained any formal recommendations:
It’s also important to make sure that the focus stays on your child and meeting his or her needs. Sometimes, words like the following can help tighten everyone’s focus:
If someone has been particularly helpful, acknowledge their efforts. Sometimes, especially when frustrations rise, acknowledging what has gone well, and how hard everyone has worked, sweetens the air a bit and makes it possible for everyone to feel better and push towards the finish line!
If, by chance, you make a mistake, or cause offense, say you’re sorry. Making an apology says that you’re only human and helps to humanize what is often a formal process and sends the message that you can be forgiving of others’ mistakes. “Please and thank you” also go a long way in keeping conversations civil, and not surprisingly, helps everyone say “yes.”
As you communicate and negotiate, you will uncover areas where you and the school are in agreement. You may agree on the issue that must be addressed, but not be in full agreement on how to address it. This is when it can be especially helpful to restate and discuss options in a problem solving way. This means presenting and fully analyzing proposed solutions on their own merits. It also means asking some direct, yet polite, questions such as:
Additionally, words that recognize the desires and the difficulties for schools to meet every child’s needs, while refocusing on your child, can lead to a greater willingness to put forth extra effort and think more creatively about ways to say “yes” to and for your child:
So, in a nutshell, when talking with staff and administrators at your child’s school, you’re likely to be successful if you can: