We live in a world of shrinking budgets, reduced staff and limited resources for Public Schools. Schools are fighting to survive let alone trying to educate our children. Add in the fact that 13% of the entire student age population has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and it’s no wonder that Special Education has once again become the scapegoat of the week. While eligibility, services and placement under an IEP are supposed to be based on need, and not money, that is not always the case. So the ability to motivate a School is one of the most important skills a parent can possess. Let’s start by defining what motivating a school in special education means. It means the ability to get the School on your side so that the IEP Team can tailor an IEP that meets your child’s unique needs and provides a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
While many parents are fierce advocates for their children, they don’t possess the skill to motivate the School. We have all seen articles on how to motivate the student or how to motivate your employees but in this new world order motivating your school is just as important. The following are eight ways I have learned to motivate a School other than money or fear of due process:
Organize – Create a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) or similar special education group at your School. The voice of one is not nearly as persuasive as the voice of many. According to the Parent Leadership Association:There is strength and power in numbers. 1 parent = A fruitcake 2 parents = A fruitcake and a friend 3 parents = Troublemakers 5 parents = “Let’s have a meeting” 10 parents = “We’d better listen” 25 parents = “Our dear friends”
50 parents = A powerful organization
Understand the Schools needs – Like it or not Schools are evaluated based on standardized test scores. Yes, I hate them too but they seem to be here to stay. Create a win/win situation by writing IEP’s that provide FAPE and embrace the Schools goal of increasing test scores. My son’s State Test Scores went up 140 points last year from below basic to almost proficient in both English Language and Math. We are building on that this year by incorporating a test taking strategy goal into his IEP.
Make your ideas….theirs – I have written in the past about, The Art of Asking Questions in an IEP, this art can be used in all aspects of your interaction with the School. Instead of constantly telling the School what you want use questions to lead them to your answer. Remember, we are all adults and nobody likes to be told what to do.
Never Criticize – The only thing Schools hate more than being told what to do, is being told what they have done wrong. The quickest way to turn the School against you is to constantly criticize them and tell them what they have done wrong. Instead of blaming the School for failures in education, have conversations with them on ways to improve in a meaningful productive manner.
Tip the Emotional Scale – “Our strongest memories of people come from how they tipped our emotional scale, whether positively or negatively,” by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke of Social Thinking. Your actions speak volumes and how you are perceived by those actions can be the difference between the School wanting to help you or not. The Schools decision for wanting to help you might be completely subconscious based on how you have tipped their emotional scale in the past. The emotional scale cannot be tipped positively overnight and requires constant respect and recognition.
Consistency & Involvement – Advocacy for your child is a full-time never ending job. When the School see’s you are consistent in your advocacy, your respect, your involvement and your approach they will be more willing to help you. See how you can get involved in helping the School in and out of the classroom. Also, make sure you form relationships with the School, you don’t want your only interactions to occur at IEP meeting or when your child got in trouble.
Reciprocate - When the School has a service performed for them, they are more likely to want to reciprocate the favor. Talk to the Principal about how you can get involved and how you can support the school. The more you support the School the more likely the School will support your child.
Let your child do their thing – Sometimes you just need to let your child be themselves. Those of you that have children with special needs know exactly what I’m talking about. The School keeps saying no to your request for help and then one bad day………and BANG!!! An incident happens that they can no longer ignore and they jump on board. Sometimes the best motivator and advocate for your child is your child!!!!