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Building Relationships with Special Ed Teachers & Schools

shutterstock_88269286As we are beginning our school year, I’m thinking back to previous years and what our family and most especially our kids have endured. A life-saving transplant for our daughter and days/weeks missed from school for medical testing and recovery and a mental breakdown for our son that culminated in his hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital.

Our public school, who already knew us well because of 6 years of education for our kids, readily supported us through it all. From administration to teachers, they all took an active part in our family’s recovery from the kidney transplant and subsequent mental illness diagnosis and treatment.

I’m often asked about our relationship with our school and special ed department and I am the first one to sing their praises. They are a dedicated, caring group of people with whom we would have likely not done as well as a family in crisis (or two) without their support.

The relationships are built out of mutual respect; their respect for me as the kids’ parent and mine for them as experienced educators. My relationship with them has grown and changed and I’m proud of how well we work together for the kids.

There’s nothing mystical about how well we work together. Like I said, mutual respect for each other.

But it’s not been without planning, tenacity, communication, and giving.

What I have done and what do I do to keep our relationship going in the right direction?

– I respect their knowledge. I have not taught children or children with challenges in the classroom. And in fact, could not, so I am not silent about that fact. I often give them sincere kudos for what they do and what they know.

– If I have a concern I put it in writing and if I feel we need a meeting, I ask for one with the parties that should be involved. I try to have a list of items I’d like to address and I try to send those ahead so they can prepare. I also will bring a list of questions and concerns with me.

-If I have a concern about a certain aspect of learning (we recently asked the school system to do psychological testing for Gage because it had never been done and since he was hospitalized I wanted to see how they could better help him learn) I ask them for options and I am usually prepared for what is available (but not always!).

– I try to make it convenient  on them for meetings. I try my best to be flexible, even if that means I have to be there at 7:15am (if you know me, you know I don’t like early morning meetings!).

– I tell the administration about the good work the teachers are doing. I send notes thanking teachers after successes. I have also sent thank you notes after discussions for changes in IEPs and for their willingness to try anything (the number of changes they’ve made for Gage would amaze you.) that might help my kids learn. I thank them a lot for being open to ideas!

– I give thoughtful gifts. I don’t spend a fortune. I might make something or buy something small, or include a gift card but it is always accompanied by a heartfelt note from me expressing how grateful I am and sometimes a picture from one of the kids.

– I’m involved in school. There are many ways I could be involved with school but I choose to handle Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a week long thank you of trinkets and gifts and lunch and I spend a lot of time planning and executing it (with a co-chair, thank goodness). And even though it’s for all the teachers and staff, I often think of it as my personal way to show out team my appreciation. And my work there doesn’t go unnoticed. It means something to them that I am involved. I am not saying everyone needs to run a week long event, but there are many small things you can do all year long for the school…make copies for the classes, distribute mail, cover the front office phones once a week during lunch, just to name a few. Me being up there and visible makes it easy for quick conversations. It shows I’m engaged.

I do not have an adversarial relationship with anyone at the school. Have I hit it off completely with everyone? Not necessarily. Have I rubbed people the wrong way? Um, yes. But if I follow my rule for treating them with respect that usually gets us through and we come out better in the long run working together.

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