Advocating For Your Child: Back to School Tips

Tip #1: Communicate with teachers early!If things have been going smoothly for your child, you may be lulled into complacency and think that speaking with teachers during the first week of school is unnecessary or even overkill. Don’t fall into that trap! Be proactive, so that when* your child faces classroom challenges later in the year, a positive foundation and partnership has been set. Don’t wait for crisis! (*Since your child is constantly maturing/evolving, and the demands of the curriculum also evolve as the year progresses, expect that the need for you to touch base with the teacher mid-year to fine-tune things will be more the rule than the exception.)

1. Request to meet with teachers in early September. The purpose of this meeting is to review your child’s needs and the interventions and supports that have been put in place. The meeting can include you; your child’s new teachers (you can request that art, computer, librarian, and gym teachers be included, too); the school nurse; the school psychologist; student advisor; you may include any other professional involved with your child, such as a therapist, OT, consultant, etc. Call in August to schedule this meeting and be specific about who you would like to have attend.

Scheduling so many people to be in one room is challenging. If the meeting can’t take place until later in September, skip to step 3 below in the interim.

2. During the meeting, give teachers an overview of your child’s weakness and strengths (don’t forget the strengths). Then focus on what practical strategies have worked for your child in the past, and which ones haven’t. If your child has an IEP or other accommodations, talk about the top 5 helpful classroom accommodations/modifications. Don’t forget to also mention some strategies you will provide at home (such as checking a daily planner, providing a computer for homework, etc.). This lets teachers know you are there to work with them as their partner, not to tell them how to run their classroom. Establish a mode of communication—does the teacher prefer phone, email, notes in the child’s backpack?

3. Provide teachers a short, concise handout with no more than 5 bullets summarizing the most helpful classroom strategies. You may want to put it in a clear laminated pocket or folder so the teacher is more likely to keep it for future reference. They may have only just recently reviewed your child’s and several other children’s IEP’s or accommodation plans. This handout will be an easy memory refresher as they get into the school routine with your child.

Tip #2. Follow up with a communication about one month later. Don’t assume the teacher will call if there’s a problem, and don’t wait for Parent-Teacher conference. Just check in that things are going smoothly and inquire if the accommodations and classroom strategies discussed are working. September is a busy overwhelming month for teachers; the phone call or email will help you stay on their radar. Note this phone call on your calendar or to-do list as well.

Tip #3. Communicate with the Bus Driver, too. Help your child start the day on the right foot. Will your child have trouble attending to/hearing the driver’s instructions on a noisy bus? Tend to get riled up/overstimulated in crowds? Offer the driver some helpful hints too, e.g. seating preference, how to best calm your child, etc. and let the driver know you’d like him or her to keep you posted on how things are going. Remember to check in with the driver after a few weeks.

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