Happy back to school! If this is your child’s first year with an Individualized Education Plan, you are probably still recovering from the evaluation process, goal setting, and the writing of the plan. Even if it’s not your child’s first year with an Individualized Education Plan, it is totally normal to get nervous and concerned about a new beginning. New teachers, new challenges, and the never-ending task of following up, adjusting, changing, and keeping track of your child’s academic and social advances.
Where to start?
- It seems very logical but many times is underestimated: Attend your child’s school’s open-house. Get to meet your child’s teacher. Take a look around the classroom. Picture your child sitting at his desk. Analyze the environment and take notes about possible environmental accommodations that could help him achieve his goals.
- Be positive. Introduce yourself briefly and let your child do the same. The school open house is probably not the ideal time for discussing concerns or expectations but it’s the perfect time to express your interest in setting up an informal meeting with the teachers to go over the IEP goals, offer your support, and provide input. Get the teachers email address and shoot them a courteous email reassuring them that you want to be in constant communication and you’re always ready to collaborate and discuss your child’s plan.
- Review your child’s IEP one more time. Involve your child as much as possible and have their goals clear. Request information about services for this school year: when are they going to be provided, how are they going to be provided, who is going to be providing them, etc. If there are new members or professionals providing services to your child, be sure to introduce yourself and invite them to meet with you at their earliest convenience.
- Do you have your communication keeper ready? This can be a binder where you collect all communication with the school, or it can be a Google folder in which you upload copies of emails, reports, pictures of your child’s homework and projects, even videos to support your concerns and show your team what is going on with your child at home. Don’t forget about the importance of doing this. All communication should always be in writing. This is the best way to follow up, keep track effectively, and document your concerns in a smart and professional way. Phone calls are easier and maybe more personal but if a disagreement occurs, there is no way to prove that conversation ever existed.
- Talk to the teachers about benchmarks. How is your child going to achieve the yearly goals? How are these goals going to be broken into smaller pieces, and most importantly, how can you help from home? In my opinion, the best way to get commitment from others is to commit yourself. Therefore, always use the magic question: What else can I do for you? Volunteer, get involved, show up at your child’s school often, and don’t forget that as important as it is to voice your concerns regarding the things that are not going well or as expected, it is just as important to express your gratitude for what is working well.
And last but not least:
- Enjoy the ride.
- Don’t let emotions interfere and blur your judgment.
- When things get tough, walk away and come back when you are ready.
- And remember, the best way to build a solid case to assure your child’s right to receive quality free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment is to view this job as your most important one. Be professional at all times, listen, document, research, and never stop learning.
May this be a great year for your child!