Create a Teacher Information Packet for Your Child with Special Needs
Worrying about the upcoming school year? Wondering how a new teacher will react to your child? It's natural to want to send in a pile of stickie-noted books and a thick treatise on Everything There Is to Know about your child and your child's disability. But since teachers have, you know, other things to do with their days, you can't really count on all those words being processed.
Instead, take a little of your summer "down time" to fine-tune a packet that delivers useful information without making the teacher work for it. Include these five parts as needed, while keeping that packet as thin and non-threatening as possible. You may also want to have some handouts ready for other school personnel.
1. Positive Student Profile
A Positive Student Profile is like a cheat sheet to your child's strengths and weaknesses—but it leads with strengths, interests, and helpful things to know. It sends a message that your child is a complete little person, not a bundle of test scores and disabilities. Topping your teacher information packet off with a photo and an upbeat presentation gets the message out right from the start that you are advocating for a loved and lovable kid rather than demanding accommodations for a host of problems.
You can find blank templates and examples of Positive Student Profiles from many sources on the Internet, including the following:
• University of North Carolina
• AIM Academy
• Statewide Parent Advocacy Network
• Exceptional Children's Assistance Center
• Indiana Institute on Disability and Community
Use them as-is or adapt the idea in a way that best suits your child, family, and school situation.
2. Successful Strategies
If you're going to write a note to the teacher, think about what would be useful to you if you were taking over a new job. Would you like a list of all the difficult things you have to do, or some hints on how to make the job manageable? Let the new teacher know about strategies that past teachers and therapists have found useful in working with your child — professional to professional advice is always accepted more easily than parent to professional. But you can also share things that you do at home that seem to help your child in educational and behavioral tasks. Express your willingness to meet and brainstorm.
3. Information from the Internet
Obviously, you don't want to bombard the teacher with reams of printouts. But you also can't assume that every teacher knows about every disability that might turn up in a classroom. It's essential for educators to have that information, and the best way to deliver it is with resources that are created especially for them. Again, professional-to-professional advice is always the way to go if you can find it. (Think of how much you like being lectured on how to parent by professionals.)
To find what you're looking for, try doing a Google search for something like "Preparing the school for a child with" and then the name of your child's disability. You'll likely come up with a number of resources designed for the situations that teachers will deal with. (As a bonus, you may also turn up advice useful to you as a parent.) Print one or two, depending on length, and provide a list of other urls to check out.
4. Important IEP Pages
It seems obvious that the teacher would have a copy of your child's IEP. Yet the reality of clerical workflow at schools and school districts often stands in the way of information getting into the hands of those who need it. Teachers of "specials" like gym, art, and music and other regular-education teachers your child works with are especially likely to not have this important information about the school's legal obligations to your child. Provide that information — not necessarily the entire weighty document, but absolutely any pages that apply to that particular class or subject.
5. Behavior Plan
If your child has a behavior plan, every single adult who will come in contact with him or her must have access to it, from the bus aide to the lunch lady to the recess monitor to every grown-up in between. Do not assume this has been done. Make copies. Provide them to those who need them. If you prefer, write a brief summary of the key points of how your child's behavior is to be handled. Offer a full copy if needed.
While this information might eventually be mobilized without your help, you know how much a few bad weeks of out-of-control behavior can mess up a whole class or year. There's a lot about the situation you can't control, but you can make sure the information is delivered. Request a meeting with the teacher as soon as possible to further ensure that it's being taken seriously.