The Importance of Good Communication Skills: Strategies for Team Building (page 2)

— State: Arizona Department of Education
Updated on May 5, 2014

Resolving Differences

Building a strong collaborative relationship with your school, knowing your rights, and learning to be assertive will all help to ensure that your child gets the services he or she needs. Sometimes, however, despite the best intentions and efforts of staff members and parents, the team cannot reach agreement regarding the appropriate educational supports for your child. At such times, it is important to understand due process. Due process protects the rights of all participants—the student, the parent, and the school system. Just as parents can invoke due process when they feel the school system is not meeting the special education needs of their child, the school system can also use due process when staff members feel they cannot meet the needs of a student because of a lack of agreement on the part of the parents. Remember that you have the right to challenge the decisions relating to evaluation, eligibility, and placements. Examples may include:

• The local screening committee’s decision not to evaluate your child.

• Your belief that the evaluation is not a true picture of your child.

• The decision to find your child not eligible for special education and related services.

• An IEP that you believe does not meet your child’s needs.

• A recommendation for a placement that you believe does not meet your child’s needs.

Should you fail to reach agreement with school staff members, it may be helpful to use the following techniques at your next meeting. These techniques come from the literature on mediation, negotiation, and problem solving.

Accept the feelings of others about the issue. Realize that even though you may disagree with another person’s opinion or feelings, he or she has a right to have his or her own beliefs.

Identify what is important or valued; focus on your child’s needs and your concerns, not your position. When you meet with school staff members, present your concerns, expressing what you feel your child’s needs are, and work with the school to find a mutually acceptable solution. Collaborating on a solution is more likely to result in all team members being invested in it, as opposed to you or a staff member deciding on a solution unilaterally and expecting others to accept it.

Realize that peoples’ perceptions differ. You and the school see your child in different settings, and his or her behavior may vary depending upon the setting. You have the advantage of seeking your child in more settings, perhaps with siblings or friends, but the school has the advantage of seeing dozens of children the same age and may have a different perspective of typical expectations and performance.

Accept that some people have emotional commitments to their position. People realize that parents have a strong commitment to their child(ren), but parents may not realize that teachers, too, usually have very strong feelings toward the students with whom they work and, like parents, want what is best for them.

Realize that people may come to a meeting with different expectations of what the outcome will be. Keep an open mind and be willing to listen to and consider ideas of others.

Know that some people may lack complete knowledge about the issue. Be prepared to share information from outside sources, private evaluations, etc. As a parent, you may want to do additional research on your own about special education programs and services that may be available for children with disabilities. This may help increase your understanding of your own child’s needs and better prepare you for your meeting with school staff members.

Understand the procedures and limitations of the system. It is important to know your rights according to IDEA 2004 and other laws governing the education of students who need special education services. However, it is also important for you to realize that IDEA 2004 may not specifically mandate some services and/or rights you might feel are important. For example, you may express your preference for a specific teacher to your school principal or assistant principal, but assigning teachers is ultimately the decision of the principal for all students in the school, including those who receive special education services. Recognize, too, that school systems do not have to offer the optimal program. The school must provide a program that is reasonably designed to offer educational benefit.

When it appears that you cannot reach agreement about an issue or concern:

Agree on a problem statement.

Brainstorm possible solutions. Express your ideas, even if they sound implausible or far-fetched. The goal of brainstorming is to feel free to generate a lot of ideas without having anyone criticize them. It may be that an idea that sounds far-fetched can later be modified into a plan that is reasonable. It is at this point that you can bring up ideas that you have, but be careful not to be critical of, or angry at, suggestions offered by staff members.

Clarify and discuss each possible solution. After brainstorming a complete list, go back over each idea and discuss its good and bad points, trying not to let the criticism reflect personally on the participants.

Brainstorm possible consequences for each of the more probable and discuss why they may or may not work.

Clarify and discuss each of the possible consequences. Think about what might happen if an idea does not work. Sometimes you would only need to move on to another possible solution while, in other instances, the consequences of choosing the wrong solution will be serious.

Develop a plan and implement it. Go over it so everyone understands the plan and his or her role in it. Make sure that it is in writing and that each participant has a copy.

Establish a plan to evaluate progress and revise the plan if necessary. State a date to meet to review the plan with all the participants.

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