10 Ways to Nurture a Positive Relationship with the School Team
Last week I received an e-mail from my son’s school social worker: “I am so glad that you’re on our team!”
I haven’t always received positive feedback from my son’s school team like that. When he was a toddler in early intervention, his team leader actually thanked me for my silence during therapy sessions that were not proceeding in a productive manner. Sometimes during those un-therapeutic therapy sessions, I thought I would have to have my tongue surgically re-attached after biting it so much.
Why did I keep my mouth shut? Because it wasn’t about me…or the team. I was busy trying to think of a way to salvage the situation in my son’s best interest, which turned out to be a move to a different county with a more supportive environment for special education. In the years since then, I’ve been slowly learning how to nurture a healthy relationship with the school team through ups and downs on both sides, which in turn enriches my son’s educational experience.
Here are the ten ideals that I attempt to incorporate into my communication with the team.
1. Think of 1 positive thing to say first
Most of the time, this is easy. But on a few occasions I’ve had to dig deep to find something positive to say to certain team members. I try to think about how my son views his team, and phrase things from his point of view:
- “Louie loves to see your smile every morning at school.”
- “Louie really appreciates the daily schedule that you make for him.”
- “Louie enjoys all of the books that you share with him.”
2. Ask open-ended questions
Instead of jumping to conclusions or prioritizing my own point of view, I try to ask questions that allow my son’s teachers to give thoughtful responses:
- “What type of support is my son now receiving, and what type do you think he will need in the future?”
- “Can you recommend any extracurricular activities, either in school or in the community?”
- “How can I support my child’s needs at home?”
- “What is the best way for me to support the work you are doing with my child?”
3. Avoid over-sharing
My husband and I become emotional whenever we reflect on the extraordinary work that the school team has done with our son over the years. When these intense emotions get involved, it may become difficult to keep the team relationship professional. Re-consider those long e-mails and unnecessary personal details in conversation.
4. Take time to think through your response
Remember the old saying about counting to ten when we’re angry? Sometimes we need to count to 100. Or 1000. It all goes back to acting in the best interest of our loved ones.
5. Provide background info
Sometimes it is very necessary to share personal details such as motivations for specific behaviors, or the circumstances in which a behavior started. These details actually support the work being done at school, and help teachers develop a more trusting and effective relationship with their students.
6. Be upfront with expectations
Before every IEP, I send out a list of my questions, concerns and expectations to the school team. The whole team literally starts on the same page. Again, I state things from my son’s perspective:
- “Louie has requested…”
- “Louie has done well with…and now he needs…”
- “Louie has an interest in…and he would like to learn how to…”
During the school year, I often bring problems to the team’s attention. At the same time, I suggest possible solutions and ask for help in finding other possible solutions. I often discover that the team was aware of the problem but didn’t know how to approach it, so creative brainstorming becomes a positive team effort.
8. Offer specific help
Parents of students with special needs are usually limited in the type of help they can offer at school. But there are dozens of small gestures that can demonstrate goodwill and make a big difference in any classroom:
- Donating a box of tissues and a bottle of hand sanitizer
- Offering to decorate a bulletin board
- Loaning a favorite educational DVD for movie day
- Setting up the faculty lunch room on staff appreciation day
9. Due Process
In some situations, there is no positive resolution. I have seen parents who go up the chain of command, demanding better services all the way up to the district superintendent and board of education, and requesting the same checklist at every school meeting and in every e-mail contact.
Persistence does not necessarily pay off – it may burn bridges and create a negative outcome for the student with special needs. In this situation, a special education advocate or attorney can help navigate the mediation process and follow the legal steps to make sure that the student’s civil rights are being honored.
10. Say thank you
Gratitude opens doors. My husband and I have known all along that we can’t do this alone – it’s not about “us” or “them.” We share a job: to help our son become an independent adult and productive citizen. So we say, “Thank you for being on Louie’s team!”
How do you develop and maintain a positive relationship with your team?