Meeting tips 1: Raising and investigating the problem

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Starting discussion of an issue, face-to-face, can be daunting. Here are some tips on getting your message across and investigating the underlying issues.

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 Communicate clearly – preparation helps

Be clear about what you are asking for. Your child’s teacher or others involved will find it easier to respond if they clearly understand your message, and what outcome you are trying to achieve. It is really worth spending time thinking this over before you meet. Writing things down and talking them over with others first can help a lot.

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Offer positive feedback when you can

Often, people will be more open to making changes when they feel that the good things they are doing are recognised. Think about what is working well for your child, and praise the teachers and the school when appropriate. Try to do this in your day-to-day interactions with staff, and re-emphasise the positives in your meeting – perhaps before bringing up your concerns.

Education staff are generally very dedicated professionals, and want to show that they care about their students. Recognising their efforts will show your respect for their work, and will help you and the staff to build trust and mutual goodwill – a sense that you are ‘on the same side’. Even if you do not personally like or warm to a particular teacher or staff member, try to show respect for their position, and appreciation for the work they do.

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Be calm and respectful

Consider how best to get your message across. Many of us vent our frustrations to our partners, friends or support people in strong terms – that’s natural. But when it comes time to convey your concern to your child’s teachers, strive to be open, calm and respectful. If staff feel blamed or accused – even if that was not your intention – they might shut down and be defensive, and less willing to work constructively with you to find a solution and move forward.

Try not to make assumptions about what the school’s response might be. If you can raise a concern respectfully, and with the aim of resolving it together – the school might surprise you by being open to change and grateful that you have raised the issue, for example, before the problem got bigger.

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Focus on one issue at a time – and on moving forwards

Try to focus on one issue as a time, and to be as specific as you can about what the issue is for your child and for you. Examples are very helpful – talk to your child and others to gather this information.

If there’s a problem, it’s important to raise that openly and clearly. But once you have explained your issue and the school has understood it, it’s a good idea to focus discussion less on past mistakes than on the present situation, and what will help in future. This approach is most likely to help you achieve a positive outcome for your child.

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Ask lots of questions

School staff and other professionals are doing this work every day. They can sometimes forget what it is like to come from outside, and not know the system or the ‘lingo’ so well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – to ask staff to clarify what they mean, to explain who does what, or to explain school or funding processes, technical terms, acronyms or jargon. If you don’t understand an answer, ask them to explain further until the information is clear to you.

Asking questions is also a great way to show respect for other people’s ideas and perspectives, to show your respect for their expertise and to demonstrate your openness to working as a team to support your child. So for example you can ask, “Are you aware of a problem?”, “What do you think the issue might be?”, “What do you think might help?” – or after you make a request or suggestion – “What do you think of the idea?”

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Investigate the problem

Sometimes you will have a clear understanding of the problem and what is causing it, and sometimes you won’t. If you can, talk to your child, and gather information in other ways so that you understand the problem as clearly as possible. However, sometimes you will just know that things aren’t going so well – but not why. That’s okay.

The first step in this situation is to ask your child’s teachers what they think: “She has not been happy about school lately, and seems to be struggling with the work. Are you aware of any particular problem?” If the ensuring discussion does not clarify things, don’t despair. This just means that the problem needs further investigation.

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Expert input can help take things forward

Seeking expert input is often helpful to move things forward that feel ‘stuck’, or if the usual strategies have been unsuccessful. Every child or young person is an individual, and although a teacher might have worked successfully with other students with a similar diagnosis, that doesn’t mean that the same approaches will work for your child. Therapists and other specialists can observe your child in class, and offer insights and often quite straightforward suggestions that can make a world of difference.

Sometimes you will enter a discussion with specific requests or ideas for improvement. At other times, you might not know what will help. Again, begin by asking for the staff’s ideas on what might work, and consider seeking expert input. Approached in the right way, expert input can help staff feel supported in their work, and can deepen their skills, knowledge and confidence about supporting your child and other students with additional needs.

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