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Tips from a Teacher

Educating a child is no small task. Schools are so familiar because we all experienced it ourselves, but returning as a parent is a totally different game. This is especially true when you have an exceptional child. Over my years, I have worked with many families navigating the IEP, 504 and even RTI processes and here are some of the things I find myself telling parents most often:

1. School is not the most important thing: I know it can be intense and feel like it, but it is not the most important when you are thinking about your child. Yes, we need to work together to make sure that school is the most productive, positive and rich time of their young lives, but when you think about what you want for your child it goes far beyond High School and College. I will often ask parents, what type of adult do you want your kiddo to be? Where do you see them in their 20s? It’s good to look beyond school. There are kiddos who are never going to excel in reading and math, let’s find ways to capitalize on who they are and what they are good at as a way to learn what they need to in the 4 walls of a school.

2. Work on one thing at a time: When I have worked with families outside of the school setting they often talk about how overwhelming IEP meetings and parent teacher conferences can be. They hear all about the things that need to be worked on. All about the deficits. It is hard. I encourage you to ask your team what the one thing that you can all be working on together is for that season. There are so many things that we can target, but if we all work towards one major goal we are more likely to get there. This is especially true when we are talking about kiddos with behavioral challenges. Let’s focus on one thing at a time rather than everything. It may not be the most significant thing but we need to make sure the child and the team are experiencing change and success in a positive way. Maybe the best choice is to tackle the big issue after you have some success and momentum under your belt.

3. Listen to Each Other: This is so important for the whole team to remember (parents, teachers and support staff). A student who is loud and gregarious at home may be quiet and calm in school. Listen to each other. Some students act out more at school because the expectation are so different and the rigor is super challenging, while at home they are fun-loving and playful. This goes for anxious students too. They may communicate anxiety at home but they thrive in the routines and consistency at school so they present very differently. I have worked with many kiddos who struggle to get in the doors but once they are in their classroom you would never know. We need to listen to one another and trust one another. Communication is key.

Erin Adelsman is a special education teacher and behavior specialist. She has Master's Degree in Special Education from Loyola University Chicago and has been working with students, Early Childhood through 8th grade, for 10 years in the western suburbs.

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