What kind of meeting is this?
So, my Soul-Sista called the other day about “Isaac.” Although she had sent a written request for an IEP evaluation to his classroom teacher and guidance counselor, they had to have another meeting. My friend thought it was going to be an IEP meeting, or at least a ten-minute meeting to sign the Consent to Evaluate paperwork. It turned out to be anything but. I am so thankful that she invited me to attend, because — WOWZA — it was intense. Let’s review what happened, what probably should have happened, and what happens next. If you don’t have an advocate attending school meetings with you, chances are you might get railroaded by what the educators call “friendly meetings to discuss your child.”
Soul- Sista and I met a few minutes to review “Isaac’s” progress. He ended last year on reading Level 6. He should have been on reading Level 10. He is still on Level 6 — although the teacher has said he has made “great improvements.”
After reviewing teacher notes, progress reports, and report cards we headed into the school. (By the way, bring the school secretary something nice when you attend these meetings. She works so hard and can really be a good ally for you.) We walked into the meeting. It was supposed to be a friendly Consent to Evaluate meeting and there were seven — YES SEVEN — people there waiting to greet us. They did not expect me to attend. It would have been one Soul-Sista and seven for team school. Yikes.
In attendance were: The Principal (who, I will admit, was awesome in this case), The Teacher, The Guidance Counselor, The Exceptional Children’s (EC) Teacher, The TSS Coordinator (what in the world is a TSS Coordinator??), The School Psychologist, and some awesome lady that was taking notes (still have no idea what her official role was, or title).
My first thought was “Soul Sista is going to get eaten alive.”
A TSS Coordinator, I Googled, is a Teacher Support Specialist who is there to help with a teacher who is possibly new and needed a mentor or support. I will tell you, this is an abnormal amount of people to attend a meeting. “Isaac” is a special case. He has struggled with a few behavior issues this year. Wait, a kid with ADHD having behavior issues in the classroom? Never!
[Tweet “It was supposed to be a friendly school meeting, and there were 7 of them.”]
Get your mind right
Now listen, I know you want to go in and kick some butt — but there has to be discretion, decorum, and humility on all sides. If your child’s teacher is doing something good, compliment him or her! Stay focused on your goal for your child.
If the goal of the meeting is to get the team to rally for an IEP assessment, bring the topic up every chance you get. For example, if the teacher says, “He’s just not paying attention in class. Every time I look he is drawing something, or fidgeting while I am teaching.” Your response should be, “I believe you and that does sound frustrating from a teaching standpoint. I can’t wait to see the results of the WISC to see what kind of a learner he is, that will better assist you in utilizing your direct instructional time.”
Or, if the teacher says, “He refuses to do the classroom work and I can’t seem to get him to sit still during class,” your response could be, “I wonder if there is a discrepancy between where he is functioning and his IQ level. I can’t wait to see the WCJ to get the best picture of where exactly he is performing.”
Constantly bring it back to these two assessments specifically — the Woodcock Johnson 4 and the WISC (Weschlers Intelligence Scale for Children). The Woodcock Johnson gives a NON- BIASED assessment of where your child is performing against the “norm.” The WISC is an intelligence test. This one is VERY important because it shows your child’s IQ. If your child has an IQ of 140 and the teacher complains that he is not completing his math work, chances are he could be bored. If your child has an IQ of 75 and isn’t completing his work, he may be avoiding completion because it is too challenging and he doesn’t know the right way to ask for help.
The ‘big picture’ is key
The thing is, if you were to ONLY go by the teacher evaluations and nine-week assessment, you miss the bigger picture. These are the only assessment this particular team wanted to use. If this were the case, “Isaac” would not qualify for Special Education services and an IEP. He has made some academic progress in the past few months. Unfortunately, “Isaac’s” behavior, at times, can impede his own education.
Back to the meeting: I asked the classroom teacher a question, after she told the team about “Isaac’s” lack of eye contact during direct instruction time. She shared how he likes to doodle or draw during her lecture and how very distracting this can be. My question was a simple one, but one that seemed to draw a little bit of a blank: “What kind of learner is Isaac?” If he is a kinesthetic learner or an auditory learner, then fidgeting and non-eye contact would actually demonstrate that he is, for all intents and purposes, acquiring knowledge. With kids that don’t fit inside the box, you have to teach outside of the box, not force them in. An elephant won’t fit into a dog crate no matter how hard you try. You have to give them room to roam. To be who they are meant to be.
There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with your child
Here’s what it really boils down to, and something that my Soul-Sista and I prayed about together before we went into the meeting; there’s nothing wrong with “Isaac.” “Isaac” is exactly who he is meant to be — he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Just as he is.
When you are in school meetings, don’t fall into the trap of hearing only the negative. The Principal in this meeting was excellent at keeping the focus on “Isaac’s” positive qualities. Before you go into these meetings, understand that yes, your child may have some pretty severe learning difficulties and differences. But (repeat after me), “There is nothing wrong with my child.” Each of us have a purpose in life, a gift and power to make a difference. It’s up to us to help unlock each child’s potential. That is what this Educational Team is supposed to do — help unlock potential, not focus on all that a student does wrong.
How did the meeting end? It ended after an hour with the team declaring that we needed to have “everybody” present to choose the assessments for the IEP. I was curious as to who else needed to be there… the lunch lady perhaps?
We came up with some very good strategies to implement in the next two weeks, and also revoked any options for silent lunches and delayed recess. I gently reminded them that the clock was ticking for the assessment to placement. We were to have heard back from them within two days. Thus far, nothing. So, we shall see what happens, but, don’t worry, I’m on it.