In my opinion parents and school districts can’t collaborate because they have different agendas. School Districts are businesses that are limited by school budgets and costs. Their business is educating the masses of children in the most cost effective method possible. Parents on the other hand are only interested in educating and raising their children. Parents want the best for their children while School Districts want the cheapest cost. While I don’t believe School Districts and Parents can collaborate the good news is, I do believe Parents and School Personnel (individuals) can collaborate. Believing in collaboration between individuals is one thing, but how do you actually foster collaboration?
1. Build trust and create relationships;
The most important ingredient in any relationship is trust and to build trust takes time. This means team members will need to communicate with each other more often than once a year in an IEP meeting. To the extent that team members can make time, face to face communication and/or phone conversations work the best. But if our lives are too busy for this form of communication, in this age of technology, there are many other forms of communication that can help build relationships. Some of these might include, texting, e-mail, facebook, twitter, and google plus. Building trust and creating relationships means more than communicating the negative so to create a meaningful bond remember that communication should also be about the positives.
2. Everyone is equal put aside ego;
Everyone on the team adds value and it is only through the collective knowledge and experience of everyone on the team that an effective IEP will be written. As I have written in the past: “School District employees should never assume they know what will work for the child just because they spent a few hours administering a standardized test or spent a few days doing informal observations. The parents have raised this child since birth and have valuable insight. Parents, the school district professionals are trained and knowledgeable and most likely understand many different learning strategies and methodologies.”
3. Share a goal;
There should only be one goal and that is to ensure that the child has available to them “a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.” (IDEA) Sharing this goal means coordinating activities and services at home and in the school environment. Educating the child is the responsibility of every member of the team and must be consistent in every environment the child encounters.
4. Share accountability;
If educating the child and preparing them for life is the goal and every team member shares that responsibility then they must also share the accountability. I’m a big believer in the fact that the IEP is only as good as the team that implements it. Thus, if the IEP isn’t working it is irrelevant whether the fault lays with the parents, the teachers, the curriculum, the administration or the student. What matters is how and what needs to be reviewed and modified to provide the desired results. The Team is held accountable rather than an individual member of the team. This is not survivor there is no need to vote anyone off the island.
5. Become an active listener;
Wikipedia defines active listening as “a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what (s)he hears. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.” Active listening requires the individual’s full attention taking into account not only what the other person is saying but also the emotion they are conveying.
6. Make communication easy;
Communication is about conveying information and requires the intended recipient to not only hear the message but understand it. This cannot happen if communication is muddied through intimidation, argument or ego. When communication is easy and non-judgmental collaboration is the most likely outcome.
7. Be open to other team members ideas;
Don’t be afraid to change your position when presented with a good idea, data or information from other team members. If the team has one goal and the team is held accountable for any failures then individual ideas will come more freely.
8. Know the teams strengths and limitations;
If new team members are needed to achieve the goal don’t be afraid to invite others with specialized knowledge to join the team. Acknowledging a team’s limitations is not a sign of defeat and will actually strengthen the camaraderie of the team members.
9. Use creative and critical thinking; and
This requires the team to be able to come up with multiple methods to achieve an outcome through creative thinking but also to analyze and judge those methods through critical thinking. Through the use of both creative and critical thinking communication and collaboration will follow.
10. Stop making offers and make group decisions
The School is responsible to make an offer of services to the Parents. In my opinion it is impossible to foster collaboration if services are offered to the Parents and not the byproduct of a group decision.
As you can see fostering IEP Team Collaboration takes a lot of work but it is also the best way to create an effective IEP. As you try to decide whether to put in the hard work to foster collaboration I will leave you to ponder the following proverbs:
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” (Japanese Proverb); and
“It is amazing how much people get done if they don't worry about who gets the credit” (Swahili Proverb)