09 May 7 tips for meeting with your child’s school
Whether it is the first time you are raising concerns about your child’s achievement, you already have a diagnostic report, or your following up on concerns well into your journey having a child with dyslexia, these 7 tips for meeting with your child’s school can help you make the most of your meetings and get the best results for your child.
Take a look at any reports or scores you have for your child and highlight any important parts, especially those you haven’t read for a while. Print out important emails and write down any questions you have. The more information you review before you go to the meeting, the better you will be able to make decisions about what the teachers are saying. It is well worth spending some time reading up on the best ways to teach children with dyslexia so that you know what to ask for.
Along with the paperwork, you may need to prepare mentally. This is especially true if you have been in disagreement with your child’s school or teachers about the best way forward. While your frustrations may be justified, approaching the meeting from an oppositional stance may not necessarily result in the best outcomes for your child. Set your intentions before you go into the meeting and make sure you arrive in a solutions-based frame of mind. Visualising some potential topics of conversation and what you might say in each scenario may help you remain calm and get across all that you wanted to convey.
2. What to ask
- Will my child be given/is my child currently on an Individual Education Plan (IEP)? Why/why not?
- Has my child had any in-school assessments? May I have a copy, please?
- Has my child had any extra support, including support by a teaching assistant in class? Can you please tell me the details, including how many hours, when this occurs, what takes place in those sessions?
- What is the name of the program(s) you use to support my child? Is it evidence-based? This means the program has solid backing in well-conducted research as being most useful for dyslexic type learners.
- What are the in-class adjustments and accommodations you currently use to support my child?
- What interventions are available to my child within the school?
3. Put everything in writing
The easiest way to do this is to take your laptop with you to the meeting and take notes directly into an email you will then send at the conclusion of the meeting. Ask all participants for their addresses and type those in too, that way you will have them on record and can search them next time you want to make contact, which is more reliable and permanent than writing notes on pieces of paper or in diaries. Write down all the points discussed and action plan outlined. Write down who will be taking responsibility for each step and by when each step will happen. For example, if your child is offered extra learning support, ask for details of when this will take place, how many times per week and who will offer the training. You must also ask what the name of the program is. Ask the school whether this program is evidence-based. This means it is backed by well-founded research using randomised controlled trials. Almost any educational program can be justified using anecdotal, personal experience or small and one-off trials, but it’s important that the approaches used are supported by a body of scientific evidence, not simply the opinions of those using them.
4. Use the time wisely
Meeting time is usually limited, so you want to be sure to make best use of it. You have a right as a parent to understand how your child is being educated, where their current progress stands and where this falls in relation to their peers. Therefore, you have a right to ask as many questions as needed until you understand. I am surprised how many of the parents I work with call me to ask such questions, saying they were afraid to ask them in parent/teacher meetings. You must ask! Prioritise your concerns when planning for the meeting so that you cover the most essential issues for you. Again, stick to solutions-based comments and stay on topic. Most meetings begin with the parent’s views, and this is a good time to dot point the issues you’d like to cover in the meeting so that time is allocated to them. It’s tempting to explain to the teacher the details and difficulties of your journey so far, but this is unlikely to result in actionable steps being agreed upon that will ultimately determine your child’s success. Try, as much as possible, to be future focused. Your prior preparation is key to staying on topic during the meeting. If everything is not satisfactorily covered, it may be possible to arrange to follow up via phone or email if necessary. Ask if there is anything you feel you needed to discuss.
5. Follow up
This is critical. In busy school life, it’s easy for even the best intentions to fall by the wayside. Many parents tell me they’re afraid to ‘waste the teachers’ time’, but if you have a child with special needs, you are entitled to a little more of their time. Make sure you touch base about two weeks after the meeting to check that what was discussed has been put in place. Please do not ask your child! This will not only give them the impression you don’t trust their teachers but will also send the message you are in opposition when it comes to their education plan. Also, kids with memory and organisation difficulties etc are not always totally accurate when reporting on these things! If you want to check up, do it directly with your child’s teacher. It is reasonable to email about once per month to check up on how it’s all going, but don’t expect (or request) lengthy written reports!
6. Leave silent space
This technique is used in many professions. This is where you ask a question or make a statement, and then simply remain silent until the other person feels impelled to fill the silence and let them talk until it’s clear they have nothing left to say. It is an excellent way to gauge what others are thinking and get more information than if you continue to interrupt with questions and opinions. It can also be useful in getting the other person to continue talking until they have found a solution themselves. You might say something like ‘It says in my child’s report they should receive an intensive evidence-based program.’ Then resist the urge to say anything. It will be hard, but so worthwhile! When they stop talking momentarily, try to remain silent a little longer. Often the response will show you how much they know about evidence-based programs and may even lead them into talking around into a solution for how one might be offered.
7. Educate – respectfully
While strong advocacy is sometimes required in seeking the best possible support for your child, you want to be in alliance with your child’s teachers as much as possible. Feel free to take in a few carefully selected pages of information about your child’s needs and useful resources such as websites (no, not whole books/folders filled with stuff!). Hand them to the teacher saying, “I came across these and thought you might find these helpful in understanding how to get the best out of my child.” It is also reasonable to ask the teacher and/or school whether they have had or are going to have training on specific learning difficulties but avoid adversarial approaches that put them on the spot or make them feel attacked. If their knowledge seems limited, you could ask politely if they intend to receive such training, pointing out that there are likely a number of students with similar difficulties to your child (about 10% of children are dyslexic). Teachers don’t always know what they don’t know, but you can rest assured that their days are extremely busy and that most often they are doing the best they can with the knowledge, resources and systems with which they work.
Answer Guide for meeting you with child’s school
Download my FREE answer sheet that includes some notes on recommended best practice for each meeting question. The answer sheet will:
- Keep all your meeting notes in one, typeable template
- Refer to recommendation notes as you go through the meeting so you can better analyse responses
- Know how to identify approaches most useful for dyslexic students