Advocacy Tips: 3-Leave the Emotions At Home

This will be a short item.  The logic of it is simple.  Doing it is harder.  MUCH harder.  When you go to school meetings, whether it is a teacher/parent conference or an IEP meeting, remember that the only thing that helps make progress toward FAPE for your child is facts.  Gathering facts and presenting them in an organized way is the most important thing you can do.

Your credibility is on the line, and it’s nerve-wracking.  Your child is important to you and every moment lost to inappropriate education hurts; denial of services feels like outright betrayal of everything American schools are supposed to stand for.  For your credibility you have to pack all those emotions in a secure place and don’t let them out when meeting with school folks.

People are distracted by the emotions of other people.  Your emotions can sabotage everything you want to achieve for your child if you

1.  blame people,

2.  claim someone (or several) is incompetent,

3.  criticize in a non-constructive way, or

4.  threaten complaints or lawsuits.

Rather than blame someone or point out incompetence, offer to help them find the training they need to know how to serve your child well.  If your child’s disability is a common one, such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, suggest that you’d like to help improve the school’s ability to serve all students with that disability by getting the state Department of Education to help uncover more resources and training.

There are other venues for pointing out incompetence that will be more effective than destroying your credibility in your child’s meetings.

Offer your criticism outside these meetings where the focus can be on improvement of services for your child.  (And again, focus on the facts to be more effective.)

Do not threaten complaints or lawsuits.  If you are going to make a complaint or file a lawsuit, consider it carefully, get an advocate or attorney’s advice, and don’t “poison” your school relationships with threats you may never fulfill.  Be aware that in some cases, if school staff think you are filing formal complaints or lawsuits, their stance becomes defensive, some become bitter and more critical of you and your child, and some may take their frustrations out on your child.  Not all–perhaps one or two…maybe.  But one of those is more than enough, so keep your thoughts of complaints or lawsuits private until you know what you are going to do.  Then your attorney or advocate will advise you how to proceed with that information.  (And just so you know, even in this, the advice is…do it unemotionally so people will focus on the words and ideas, not on the tears, hysteria, tone of voice, level of upset, etc.)

Cooperation and support for school staff are often more effective than blame or criticism because they foster forward progress.  If you can’t make forward progress, you still need the relationship to be as good as it can be so your child doesn’t have to go to school with people who view him and you as a problem larger than just the disability issue.

We may see a lot of emotional outbursts on reality TV…but remember that those shows make their money by attracting viewers however they can get them.  The sensationalism of viewing other people’s emotions often hides a lot of the facts of what is going on–you’ve seen it over and over on reality TV.  But that is the fact.  Emotions often hide reality and make it more difficult to get to the achievement we need.

We need our emotions.  But we don’t need them in our school meetings.  Leave the emotions at home so you can be your most effective self in your advocacy for your child’s FAPE.

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