I have to say that blogging is a brand new experience. I have followed many blogs of my friends and interesting topics for a few years but never had the nerve to do it on my own. I wondered who would ever want to read my ravings. However, I must say that I am excited about this and hope it continues. It will be nice to talk about the things that I get out of the book rather than answer the same questions as everyone else and trying to find a way to be fresh within the parameters of a discussion board. Anyway, that all being said to start off, here I go….
–If I remember only one thing from my reading about the parent-professional partnership and the dance metaphor, it is….“Don’t take it personal”. I remember one time when I actually got hives over my arms and chest and face and neck for about 10 days before a meeting that I was dreading with parents. The parents had already stated to several people that they blamed me for not teaching their son enough to go to a general education classroom by 1st grade. We were able to talk some things through and I let them say what they felt they needed to say and we were able to at least begin a conversation. My hives went away within minutes of the meeting ending. I remind myself frequently that I should not take anything the parents or relatives say about me or my classroom because they are coming to terms with the fact that their child is not completely perfect and needs special classrooms with special teachers. I teach Pre-K through 2nd grade so most of the parents I start with are new to this whole process. It is not me, they would feel that same way about any teacher their child had at that point.
-If I remember only one thing from my reading about the phase of “Colliding and Campaigning,” it is…resist the urge to debate. I know that I like to be right most of the time and can argue or debate about it. My work as a teacher of children with special needs and their families is the wrong place to try to be right about everything. I can make or break the relationship with the family at that first meeting based on how I respond and react. I do my best to stay quiet and listen to the parents so that I can make decisions that reflect what they want for their child.
-If I remember only one thing from my reading about Cooperating and Compromising, it is…that the unofficial pre-meeting before the actual meeting is so important and helpful in helping the family to feel that they have been heard and that their thoughts and hopes and feelings will be taken into consideration. I have found this to be extremely helpful in working the parents of my students. It gives me a chance to prepare them and help them understand what is going to happen and why the team is considering the actions or plans that will be discussed.
-If I rememver only one things from my reading about Creative Partnering and Collaborating, it is… Don’t be afraid to be creative in finding solutions and be willing to use blended ideas and concepts. In doing these things, the families can feel that we are listening to them and considering their ideas as well as implementing them in conjunction with our ideas and plans as professionals.
–What can be done or said to ease this awkwardness, ambivalence, or initial uncertainty? I believe this often depends on the parents as much as myself. I try to let the family know that I am there to help them and their child. I explain that I want to be a team with them for the next several years so that together we can create a solid foundation for their child as he/she continues through the school system. Since I will be their child’s teacher for at minimum 2 or 3 years, we will be working together for a while. I often start my conversations with families by asking them what their hopes and dreams are for their child and how they think we can get there. I ask what things they have learned at home that work with their child so we can have some continuity and a place for me to start. want them to know that I care about them and their feelings. I try to let them know that we really are a team working together for the benefit of their child.
-Think about a time in your own personal life when you felt strongly about a situation. Describe the circumstances. What did you want to have happen? What was underlying that desire- what values, dreams, past history, and expectations? What did you want the other person to understand about your perspective? It is hard for me to pick a single incident that I felt strongly about something. I tend to feel strongly about a lot of things. My principal jokes about how passionate I am about everything, even the laminator. I do have one that is related to teaching. In my first year as a teacher, coming from an alternative certification program, and working on my internship year, I had an issue or incident, if you will. I was a co-teacher in a preschool classroom. I was the special education teacher along with a general education teacher and a single teacher’s aide. The teacher and aide had been working in that classroom together for several years but had a different special education teacher each year. I began to notice that even though we were supposed to be a team and teach “our” students, that when anything needed to be done for the “specials” it was up to me to leave my teacher table and handle it. Regardless of what it was, a diaper, a cry, a fit, aggressive behavior, or even something good like controlling themselves, it was up to me. They would actually tell me that so-and-so needed me or that “she’s throwing another fit” or something and wait for me to go take care of it, even if the child was sitting at their table or center across the room. They expected to me to pitch in and help with the “normal” students just like they did. I called a room meeting and tried to discuss my feelings with them but got nowhere. I felt my students were at a disadvantage. We had 12 general education students and 6 special education students. I got upset and told them they could not continue to just ignore the special ed kids. They got offended. It continued to boil and steam for a few weeks and finally the principal got involved. As a first year teacher, I was questioned and grilled about what I was doing and reminded that they both had years of experience so I was probably not understanding my job or expectations. Almost no one came to observe and when they did, the other were quick to jump up and respond when my students needed anything. That is how I was sure I was not misunderstanding anything. Finally it came time for my annual 45 minute observation. During the course of my observation, the ignoring and failure to respond happened. They actually told me I needed to deal with my student because she was being too loud. The tension and stress continued for several days after that and I was called in to the office to discuss my attitude and failure to work as a team. There were persons from administration there as well as all the principals and my “team”. They wanted to get everything out in the open and get it cleared up and make sure I understood what my responsibilities were. During the course of meeting, the other teacher and aide both said they would never ignore a student and always are willing to step in and help take care of anything. They said it was important that we work as a team. They said it was “our class and our students” and they never considered whether a student was general or special education. I was in tears. When they each repeated themselves to say that they have never ignored a child nor called me away from the students I was working small group with to deal with the special education students, the newest intern, assistant principal, cleared her throat from the back of the room and asked if she could say something. Of course they wanted to hear what she had to say. She then pulled out the paperwork from my observation and read her notes. Her notes detailed how I was called away from my lesson at small group during my observation to take care of a special education student who was throwing a fit. She was able to say how long the fit was going on and how they each had observed it and looked away and observed her and looked pointedly at me and finally after 8 minutes, the other teacher actually called across the room and told me I really needed to take care of that because it was disturbing her small group lesson. Keep in mind I was in the middle of my annual observation. Both the teacher and the aide immediate denied that and said it never happened because they would have remember and the head principal asked if that had really happened. The intern/assistant principal reiterated that she actually witnessed these actions. Finally , I was vindicated, at least I thought that. So not true. Nothing happened to me or them or anyone. The meeting just ended. I was devastated. I had a headache that was so bad I was unable to be there the following day. When the year came to a close, the head principal did not sign my certificate stating that she felt I needed more training and observations before I became a teacher. I got moved to another classroom at another campus and had to redo my internship year. That was 4 years ago and I am still in my classroom at the same school and have had many successes over the last 3 years. I realize this was not a moment in my personal life but my personal life is a completely different story. I just wanted to know that all of the students were treated the same and I wanted the other teachers to realize that the special education students were just as important to all of us as the others. I wanted them to realize that even with struggles, they could be great students who worked hard and learned much.
-Describe three feelings that the parents are experiencing and three feelings that he professionals are experiencing. Identify some of the interests and values influencing or shaping the two different opinions about where Josie should be next year-both from the parents’ and the professionals’ perspectives. I believe Josie’s parents felt disappointed, unsupported, and that no one was willing to listen to what they thought was best for their daughter. These are all genuine and normal feelings at a time like this. I also wonder if they felt like the professionals had teamed up against them. The professionals, on the other hand, may have been feeling superior, judgmental, and misunderstood. I also wonder if the professionals felt sympathetic towards the family. All of these feelings of both parties have at their core, the best interest of Josie. The professionals understand what her weaknesses are and what her potential may be based on her disabilities. The parents may not understand the difference between a special classroom and a general education classroom. The parents want their child to be the best she can be and they believe the best she can be is normal, learning with her normal peers. The professionals recognize that while Josie is successful in the special classroom, that is because it is a special classroom and not a general education classroom. I will say that as a special education teacher, Josie may be better off in the special classroom at the new school where she may be able to reach her full potential. However, depending on how well Josie functions and her young age, it might be possible to attempt a general education setting with lots of support and pull out time for remediation lessons for at least a semester. That would allow the parents to see and understand that Josie needs a different setting with different concepts of rigor in order for her to be fully successful. This is a situation where nobody wins. Someone will come out disappointed and regardless of where Josie is placed, someone will feel it is not the right place.
-Now that you’ve reviewed the list of possible next “dance steps,” take 10 minutes to write a dialogue – a conversation between the parent and the school psychologist. Free-write what each might say. Follow up with one suggestion you’d make to both the parent and professional for the next steps in working through this impasse. This conversation is the one that happens after the professional has given the testing scores, results and diagnosis to the parents. The child has autism as well as a cognitive disability. Dr – Now that you’ve had a few minutes to think about this, I would like to tell you what the district feels is the best placement for your son at this time. We feel that he will have the best chance at success in a special classroom where the teachers are trained to help him learn to handle and live with his condition as well as teach him at a level where he can understand and retain the information. Parent – What do you mean by a special classroom? Are you telling me that my son is stupid? Dr – No, not at all. His test scores indicate that he learns at a slower rate and needs more repetition before he can retain the lesson. This does not mean that he is stupid. It means that he needs a slower pace with more repetition in order for him to be successful in learning. Parent – so why can’t a regular classroom do that for him? Why does he have to be special ed? How long until he can go back to the regular classroom? Dr – Our goal is always to bring the student up so that he can spend at least part of his day in a general education classroom and be successful. We believe that putting him in a classroom that moves on too quickly to the next lesson would not be beneficial to your son. He will continue to fall further and further behind. Parent – that is not what we want. WE want him to be in the normal classroom. He will grow out of this phase and be alright. If you put him in a special class, he won’t be challenged enough to try to get better. Dr – this is not about getting better, there is improvement and there is progress and there is success. This is not a disease or something that can be cured. This is the way your son’s brain is wired, the way he thinks and experiences his world. We want to help him and give him the skills and knowledge so he can deal with the world around him. We want him to be successful. Parent – We demand that you put him in a regular classroom. He is a tough kid and will get through this. He just needs to learn some discipline and self-control and he will be fine. Dr – This is not about getting through, this is about learning to cope and being able to deliver the education in a way that your son can process and have enough time to be able to learn and succeed. Parent –Put him in a regular class and we will help him at home so he can pass. —I would recommend to both parties that they stop and listen to each other. Maybe even wait a day or so before they meet to discuss placement again. That way the parents can have some time to process the information as well as deal with their own feelings about their son and the changes to their hopes and dreams. The Doctor can gather more information to present to the parents about the special class and make arrangements for the parents to see what he is talking about so they can make a more information decision.