Advocacy Skills: 4-Don’t Make It Personal

Hello, Parents!

Today’s issue is about making a bureaucratic system a bit too personal for comfort.  It’s too easy to blame the individual who does a job in a system for things the system controls or limits.  It’s not the person’s fault that a system rolls like a wagon with square wheels.  Even if it is the person’s fault, we can’t get that person’s cooperation while we’re trying to stick a finger in his eye–because that’s too personal.

We have tons of emotions invested in our children and their success.  When their education encounters obstacles that can be traced to human sources, our natural inclination seems to be to blame someone for something/everything.  Before we point the finger, though, we need to stop and think.  Is there anything to be gained by blaming someone?  Really, what do you hope to gain by starting arguments, increasing your “opponent” resistance and defensiveness, and reducing that opponent’s desire to help you or your child?  Those are the results of blaming games.  Blame is personal–we want someone to take responsibility for lack of progress, for a failing grade, for an unfortunate event, etc.  If no one steps up to take blame, do we have to find a blame-dummy to sacrifice?

No.  We don’t.  Repeat after me, “Making it personal by blaming people for anything is not going to help my child.”

So holster that blame-finger.  If someone needs training, offer to ask around for resources.  If someone isn’t doing the full job, request a monitor be assigned to assure compliance.  If your child is being harmed, write a Gebser Letter that states exactly what is going on and send it to the superintendent of your school district with copies to everyone in your school’s line of services for your child.  In a face-to-face meeting, talk about progress or lack of it in factual ways.  When you’re nose-to-nose with school staff, mention that services have not been complete or have been ineffective or inappropriate and leave it at that without blaming anyone.  They know who is to blame, believe me.  You merely let them know you are aware of deficits, and then they can find out through official actions and channels that you know how to use the school system itself to get what your child needs.  And that you are doing it.

There are two really great things about leaving blame out of your discussions.  If your “blame-ee” suddenly becomes educated by what you say factually in these meetings, you still have a decent relationship to work with.  If your “blame-ee” is convinced by what you say, you leave room for him/her to turn around and join you in your efforts because you have not burned all the bridges, slammed all the doors, locked all the locks.  You have left room for trust to develop in the future.

So do your child a favor.  When in IEP meetings, 504 Plan meetings, staff/parent meetings, simple schoolyard conversations…don’t make things personal.  Be open and friendly, share information that will help improve your child’s services, and work with the team.  Most of the time team efforts will overpower those of the individual who makes mistakes.  Make yourself the valuable member of the team who can’t see blame and can only see roads to progress.  Push to take the team down those roads, emphasize for others their strengths that will aid that journey.  That is the most personal you should ever get.  You can be personal with praise.  But keep that personalizing blame-finger in the holster where it can’t do any harm.

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