When your child has learning differences, informal meetings at school can be a good opportunity to discuss educational services for your child. Here are some essential tips on how to successfully negotiate in such meetings:
- Remember – everyone genuinely wants to support the child.
The vast majority of teachers and other school personnel truly love and want the best for children. Keeping this in mind can help you establish a collaborative atmosphere in any meeting. Try to give the school the benefit of a doubt and to begin any negotiations with the assumption that the goal is to agree on how to support the child. Starting with a positive mindset and positive expectations can set the tone for all communications.
- Be prepared.
The more prepared you are for the meeting, the better you can negotiate. Have some goals in mind before you begin the meeting. Think through what you know about your child’s learning profile (the child’s cognitive, academic, attentional, and memory strengths and weaknesses) and what helps your child thrive. Take some notes ahead of the meeting outlining your goals and important points you’d like to make. This shows the school that you are prepared and want to use everyone’s time efficiently.
- Try to understand the school’s perspective.
Sometimes the school doesn’t have the staff or training necessary to help your child. In an informal meeting, try to understand the school’s interests and limitations. Sometimes the school can provide what your child needs, but only in a certain location or with a certain program. Whenever possible, try to be open to these ideas and open to the individual school’s limitations.
- Make sure the school understands your perspective.
It is crucially important to make clear to the school how you want to help your child. If you want your child’s behavior to improve, tell the school. If you’re concerned about your child’s reading skills, say so. A school that understands the specifics of what you want is more likely to focus on specific solutions.
- Be respectful but firm.
It can be incredibly frustrating if you feel like your child is struggling and the school doesn’t seem to be helping. Even so, try to be polite and respectful with school personnel. At the same time, be firm about your goals, your rights, and your child’s needs.
- Keep a collaborative, problem solving mindset.
Meetings can break down and be ineffective when schools or parents become focused on “winning,” rather than focused on the best interests of the child. Try to set up the discussion around the idea of problem solving. Work with the school to identify the issue and then focus the discussion on how everyone involved can work together to solve it. If the school proposes a solution that is unacceptable to you, state how the idea doesn’t solve the issue and redirect back to the idea of mutual problem solving.
- Support your positions with data.
If you’re asking the school to provide a particular service or program, you’re more likely to succeed if you support your request with data. Can you provide data about other students (with similar scores or learning profiles) improving with the requested service or intervention? Has your child responded to a trial of the service? Providing this data makes it harder for the school to say no.
- Consider following up the meeting with a letter.
After a meeting, send a brief, polite letter or email describing what was agreed on. Make it a thank you note, by first expressing appreciation and then detailing your understanding of what was accomplished at the meeting. Even well-negotiated agreements can fall apart if you and the school later disagree on what was accomplished at the meeting. Even if no agreement was reached, it is still a good idea to make a record of how you are working with the school to find a solution and next steps.
Paige Fegan, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist