How to advocate for your child at school

Wonderful things happen when parents, educators and child welfare professionals are all on the same page about developing a unified, realistic and therapeutic plan of action for the benefit of a child. Children are most likely to learn and grow when the adults in their lives are working towards common goals with relationships grounded in trust, respect and good communication.

Given that children spend so much time at school and that their academic achievement and the social skills they develop there will have lifelong impact, it’s important for parents to invite educators onto “Team Kid” and to foster a partnership that removes barriers to learning.

The following tips will help you advocate for your child and enhance school success:

Be assertive. Make sure the school understands your child’s academic, social and emotional challenges and takes appropriate action. Do so without being aggressive, angry, and alienating school personnel.

Provide information. Give the teacher enough information about your child’s background so he or she understands the special needs and challenges. Regarding confidentiality, the details of past events are less important than how your child is affected.

Foster relationships. Build a relationship with your child’s teacher and do this soon, rather than to wait for a problem or a crisis. Get to know school personnel (including the principal, special education, art, music or gym teachers, librarian, cafeteria workers and bus driver). Volunteer to help; attend school meetings, especially the individualized education program review.

Communicate regularly. Talk frequently with your child’s teacher about both positives and negatives; your child can bring home a daily journal where you and the teacher communicate about issues and progress. Discuss discipline with the teacher — consistent, firm, caring and consequence-driven approaches work best.

Promote understanding. Help the teacher understand that your child’s learning difficulties may be associated with lack of stability and security — such as moves, losses, grief and uncertainties about the future. His or her struggles are not necessarily learning disabilities or lack of intelligence. Increase awareness about your child’s school history; some children are stereotyped, and do not receive support and services because they are seen as transient.

Accentuate success. Help the teacher encourage your child’s success in areas of competence. For example, giving your child responsibility for feeding the classroom pet or handing out supplies can provide positive attention and boost self-esteem.

Provide resources. Share books, websites, educational opportunities and activities, and other resources to help the teacher and others learn about attachment, foster care, adoption and related issues. You are the “quarterback” of Team Kid. Make sure your child receives the understanding, support and services required for success.

Be respectful. Teachers and other school personnel may feel challenged by a highly involved parent. Be respectful of the teacher’s position, many responsibilities, and other children in the class with special needs. Help the teacher see you as a resource who offers to help, not someone who is demanding.

Know your role. Leave the teaching and learning assignments to the teacher and child. You are an advocate for your child — but not a “police officer” regarding homework and grades. Provide a regular place and time for homework, and offer assistance when requested. The consequence for school-related problems, such as misbehavior in class and incomplete assignments, should be dealt with at school.

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