This is the third and final principle in this series on parent advocacy. Some of this comes from my past 25 years in education and some from interviews with parents that I have met through work, conferences, parent meetings, day care, and my sons school. I have been honored with the pleasure of meeting some wonderful parent advocates and our principle this time is one that I have observed being practiced by these folks more than ever being spoken.
Principle Three: Being a Contributor to the Process.
What is a contributor?
A contributor is someone who adds to the efforts of others towards a common goal. I see parents who expect all the effort to come from a school team to meet educational goals and criticize them if they are not met. If a parent is a contributor to the process, they are doing many things. Here are some examples I have seen through the actions of successful parent advocates:
- Volunteering to spend time in the classroom as a helper once a week.
- Attending team meetings and being available to be in the loop on decisions that happen at school.
- Looking for grant and foundation money to obtain equipment and software needed in the classroom that support modifications of the curriculum for their child.
- Looking for ways to contribute in the exploration of answers for treatment and special needs issues rather than criticize decisions that have been made without their input.
- Demanding excellence but being willing to share ideas, time, and some personal expense if possible to see it attained.
- A realization that they, as parents, are experts on their children’s needs and behaviors at home, but also respecting the fact that needs and behaviors can be different at school and the staff and specialists may have different reports that are still accurate.
The wonderful thing about advocating in this way is that through their efforts, these parents have earned the right to share in the processes at their schools. They have the right to be in the process anyway, whether they know it or not, but might be permitted by the school begrudgingly because of poor interpersonal relationships. If done right, the relationships at school can blossom so that the parent is seen as a positive influence in the process and their opinions are respected.
Think about these questions:
How do you think you are perceived by the staff at your child’s school?
Are you an antagonist and an interrogator when it comes to what is happening at school for your child’s services?
What could you do to improve the situation?
What actions of successful advocates listed above do you do well?
What areas could you possibly improve in?
Now I know there are those of you out there that are saying, “Yes, this might be true, but you don’t know what I go through. I have to deal with a principal that doesn’t get it when it comes to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the rights of disabled and special needs children.”
You might say, “The staff at my child’s school always get their defenses up when I come around and I can’t get through to them.” You could also be one saying, “I have been dealing with incompetency throughout the whole school career of my child’s life. I have been patient but I am about to the point where all I know to do is use the “S” word…sue.”
I am not an attorney and I am not about to start giving legal advice. I realize there are situations where being nice isn’t enough. Still…I would encourage you to take a deep breath and look at the principles above. Compare them to your relationship with your school. Look at where you do well and where you could do better. Putting some effort into these principles can go a long way to bring positive results that will be a win/win situation for everyone.