Managing disagreements and ineffective interactions is a core skill of professional special education advocacy. We must choose whether we want conflict or peace. Learning peace comes from getting out of the inner conflict of attack and grievance maintenance which means getting out of the ego side of the conflict.
Parents come to us with an inner war that is going on already that they are outwardly expressing. We do not want to stoke it. That war deprives them of peace, communication, and effective outcome-based advocacy. We need to model for parents how to refuse to let conflict have power over them and us. At NSEAI we model these communication and conflict resolution behaviors during our Education Advocacy Board Certification training so that Special Education Advocates can see them in action.
If we do not start with the assumption that the IEP team is our opponent, there can usually be positive effects on our peaceful communication and child-focused outcomes.
Frequently, advocates look at the team as opponents to be attacked rather than as part of the solution. By attacking the team, you give up your peace and effectiveness. Being a bully does not achieve effective long-term results. We know this because of our training in behaviors.
We don't achieve goal-focused solutions if we use negative reinforcement with an IEP team. All we really get to do is feed off each other's fears and place the focus on attack and protection instead of a child-focused approach. This leads parents and advocates to get caught up in non-child-focused communication that has the goal of :
Parents arrive at an advocate’s office shaken, despondent, unseen, and feeling dark and depressed. They want to protect their child and feel that their story is often unheard. Parents need a place where they can feel safe and seen. Parents of special education students just want to feel normal, have agency, and hope.
There are many fearful minds at the IEP table. Their problems seem so big and out of control. Parents realize there is something serious going on and want to save their child from whatever negative impact they perceive is occurring. As a result
Parents are looking for guidance and a voice. They want to go where they can find hope, kindness, and empathy. This is why it is essential that a professional special education advocate does not remain neutral but remain child and outcome focused.
(This is much easier said than done for sure!)
There are ways to turn the meetings into child-focused ones:
Special Note: Parents are NOT there to entertain at this business meeting which is an IEP meeting. Do not feel obligated to bring snacks. They set you up as looking like an outsider coming into the group trying to make a good impression and wanting to be liked vs being a valued legitimate team member! HONEST! Think about other business meetings with our lawyers or accountants. Do we bring snacks? Parents are the client here at the school.
KNOW THAT THE BAD DON'T WIN
NO MATTER HOW LOUD THEY ARE.
If you are not getting the results you want, are you willing to question the effectiveness of your approach? Analyze how your approach works.
We all must remember that we are involved in an educational revolution. You must embrace who you are, and your unique gifts, and be patient in finding your voice and the parent’s voice.
Just because you work cooperatively with the IEP team and the school district does not mean that you don't feel the rage about injustice or that you are complacent about injustice
The goal of the advocate is to teach a curriculum to the whole team. It is a process and a curriculum that says that it is possible to look at this child in a limitless way and support learning and access to their education. This takes a lot of maturity and requires that the advocate’s behavior be supportive of and maintain focus on the child’s educational needs.
Not getting what you want is not being a failure. Getting back up, reassessing, and keep doing the advocacy is important. We need to reinforce that parents do have control, agency, and a voice. They need to tap into the truth about their child. Parents may not get the exact answers right away, which is frustrating. They need to be educated and develop skills and information to effectively allow their story and requests to be heard. An IEP is about informed consent. Start with what you can control and reinforce to the parents what they do have control of and what their rights are.
For a parent to feel that they have agency means that they feel capable of influencing their actions and coping with the resulting events. We must teach parents the four operations necessary for them to exercise their agency related to IEP development, implementation, and monitoring.
This includes action plans and strategies related to realizing their goal. This requires the advocate to review the student’s information and present an IEP development plan of action for consideration.
This includes setting goals and anticipating the likely outcomes of their actions, as a guide and motivation. This can only happen if the advocate educates the parent.
The ability to understand and manage their behavior and reactions to feelings and events that happening around the IEP development.
The self-examination related to the soundness and efficiency of their thoughts and actions. This also includes their ability to make corrective adjustments if necessary. This requires informed consent related to an IEP.
A behavioral reassessment must occur at each IEP. We need to reach out across the table. And sometimes be very perseverative until we have a Common Understanding that creates Common Ground to work from, versus being locked in the prisons of our minds with attacks, acts of vengeance, upset, distraught feelings, and isolation.
Effective IEP development, which is child-focused, outcome, and data-driven, requires that “common communication” occur. Most of the time we are talking AT EACH OTHER, and thus only partial and ineffective communication occurs at the IEP table. It takes work to build communication and correct the inaccurate information that parents and staff get from social media, listservs, other team members, and schools.
For parents to communicate effectively advocates need to:
Education Advocacy takes its toll on our energy and spirit unless we remember to take care of ourselves. Advocates need to create a table of friends and colleagues, or we will burn out. As you grow as an advocate some of these friends will not make the cut to stay at your table. Some won't understand your life as you progress professionally. This group of colleagues should rejuvenate you and help you keep your head on straight. They will ground you and allow you to stay open to new contacts and growth.
Sometimes parents are never satisfied. All you can do is share your tools with the parent. They may never understand you or your mission, how valuable you are, or that your wisdom is priceless. We are often met with people who comment about things they know nothing about. Ignore them and continue being strategic.
NSEAI's online courses efficiently lead parents and professionals to an expert level of education advocacy in just 12 days of on-demand courses that you can do at your convenience.
OUR CHILDREN DO NOT HAVE TIME TO WASTE.
CHANGE THE LEGALLY SUFFICIENT IEP TO A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE IEP
Marie Lewis is an author, consultant, and national speaker on best practices in education advocacy. She is a parent of 3 children and a Disability Case Manager, Board Certified Education Advocate, and Behavior Specialist Consultant. She has assisted in the development of thousands of IEPs nationally and consults on developing appropriately individualized IEPs that are outcome-based vs legally sufficient. She brings a great depth of expertise, practical experience, and compassion to her work as well as expert insight, vision, and systemic thinking. She is passionate and funny and she always inspires and informs.
MJ Gore has an MEd in counseling and a degree in elementary education and natural sciences. She worked as a life-skills and learning support teacher. Honored as the recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. She is the Director and on the faculty at the National Special Education Advocacy Institute. Her passion is social justice, especially in the area of education. She is a Board Certified Education Advocate who teaches professional advocates, educators, and clinicians the best practices in education advocacy.
Subscribe for free to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.