Monday, October 11, 2010

School Meetings: Bringing Your A Game

I know a lot of my readers have to regularly attend school meetings for IEPs and 504 Plans and whatever the heck is the equivalent up in Canada.  Probably a 504-eh.  Maybe that chick from Pregnant Chicken can enlighten us.  Even if you don't have a special needs child, there's parent-teacher conferences in which you will sit in munchkin-sized chairs to discuss everything you're doing wrong areas in which Johnny can improve.

My most recent school meeting was last Friday, to go over the Pork Lo Maniac's possible need for a 504 Plan for her fine motor skill delays.  It turns out, she doesn't need accommodations, at least not for a fine motor skill delay. It wasn't what I expected, but the meeting was supremely positive and successful.

I've compiled a list of suggestions from my readers, and my own tips, to bring you ...

Ten Things to Bring to a School Meeting 

10. Another person. It's great if this other person can be an education consultant or advocate.  I brought a consultant to our IEP meeting for Little Dude, and she was invaluable, not in the least because I felt less stressed.  If bringing an advocate isn't an option, the best person to bring may be your spouse (if you have one), because the sad truth is that sometimes one mom looks like a ranting lunatic, and a mom and dad look like a concerned family.  If your spouse or partner can't make it, or you don't have one, a friend or family member can be just as helpful.

9. A tape recorder.  You'll need to notify the school ahead of time if you plan to tape, because that gives them the opportunity to tape, also.  Now, bringing in a tape recorder kind of implies that you don't really trust everyone at the table, so it's unlikely to be met with the same kind of joy as, say, a plate of brownies.  You might want to say that you know you won't be able to remember everything.  Pro tip: Do not, under any circumstances, refer to the tape as "the evidence."

8. These boots were made for walking ... and also for kicking butt.  I'm normally not much of a shoe person, but I just don't get the same feeling from my Dr. Scholl's flip-flops.  The boots remind me that before I was a mom, I had a job and stood tall in heels every day.  I'm not going to start wearing suits to these meetings, but I feel more confident when I look put-together.

7. My Wonder Woman bracelet.  This silver cuff bracelet makes me feel like I can deflect bullets, red tape, and attacks on my parenting style.  Also, it was a present from a friend in Philadelphia. She's wealthy, smart, gorgeous, and wears cool jeans I've never heard of.  She's also awesome and not snobby.  So the bracelet serves a dual purpose: it makes me feel like a superhero and reminds me to keep an open mind.

6. Red Lipstick. Two readers, Jennifer and Erica, both suggested I wear glossy red lipstick to give me some extra mojo.  However, I have both the makeup collection and the makeup skills of a 12-year-old girl.  The best I could do was this red gloss that pretty much just manages to make me look like I just drank some cherry Kool-Aid.

5. Anything else that boosts your confidence. The boots, the bracelet, and the lipstick all help me feel strong and capable.  There's something about going into a meeting full of professionals that kind of sucks the wind out of me.  And maybe the teachers are used to sitting in eensy-weensy chairs with their knees up by their chins, but I'm not.  It always seems weird.  So anything that reminds me that I'm a competent grown-up is helpful.  Some of the suggestions I received were: a sheriff's badge, chaps, or a lasso (which would complete my Wonder Woman look nicely).  I didn't choose to go with any of those, but you go for yours, girlfriend.

4. Paper and pen.  Because everyone else will have them.  More specifically, I bring a list of questions so I won't forget to ask them, a list of ideas for solutions that might help, and a copy of relevant regulations from the Texas Education Agency printed out from the Internet.  I don't refer to the TEA regs during the meeting, I just put it down in front of me.  And the pen?  It's a stark. raving. mad. mommy. pen with the original logo on it.  It totally reminds me that I am not the only parent out there trying to do the best she can for her child.

3. Snackies.  I didn't bring snacks this time, but next time I am definitely making cookies or something.  It may be seen as an obvious bribe, but on the other hand, I think some chocolate would have helped the whole thing along.  A few people have suggested margaritas would make IEP meetings a lot more fun.  Not actually recommending that, although having one when you get home isn't a bad idea.

2. Respect.  I have tremendous respect for teachers.  The teachers at our school, all of whom are women, and most of whom are moms, work hard and genuinely want to help my children succeed.  I am aware that every time I walk in the door, I'm asking them to take their attention away from other things.  Yes, it's all part of their jobs.  But that's a tough job to do, and they do it well.

1.  An open mind.  I know that my daughter's teachers are seeing a side of her that I don't see at home.  I was blown away when they said they didn't see her struggling with her writing assignments in class, and that she didn't need additional time to complete tests.  After some discussion and a review of her behavior at school and at home, something fresh became clear: she needs to be evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder.

I always thought that if a person could pay attention to something -- anything -- for hours, that they couldn't possibly have an attention deficit issue.  However, ADD is a slippery thing.  She can focus on certain topics but not others.  She can work on a craft project for hours.  But ask her to focus on math, and she's distracted by every little thing.

So, yay, a new thing.  I doubt this is the kind of ADD that requires medication, but hopefully we'll be able to find some teaching and parenting techniques that help her learn how to focus a little better.

In the mean time, Imma get me some granny panties with stars on them, and a boomerang tiara.


  1. Margaritas...hmmmm..That might go over better than the donuts and coffee I brought last year.

  2. I think that may actually be a feature of ADD. It is for my son, anyway. The attention he can give to math, or making a video, is astonishing. Or maybe the autism makes him concentrate, the ADHD makes him not. It's a volatile combo.

  3. Wow! Same thing happening here, well, in reverse...took my 8 year old in for ADD evaluation, found out she has sensory/motor delays! And, get this, these delays are probably the CAUSE of her anxiety issues (which are ridiculous for an 8 year old) and the anxiety she feels contributes to the attention problems! Amazing how it's all related! And makes me extremely glad we didn't just go to the family pediatrician who wouldn't have caught all of that! Good luck with your "one more thing" (which I called "here we go again!")

  4. for one of my IEP's last year, my son's case manager happen to be there...the IEP coordinator-note taker lied to us about his mainstream teacher not being there (they set up the meeting knowing she was on vacation and then tried to tell us that there wasn't enough time to have her write her notes down before she left...come on she went to Greece for goodness sake!! You don't just go there on the spur of the moment without bragging about it and getting the time off from work!) Needless to say it was good to have someone on my side witness this lie and become a stronger advocate for my son. On the downside, I lost all faith in the hem...woman and others in his school and it has made the meetings somewhat tense. On the bright side, I don't have to be overly pleasant and would throw myself on the floor and pitch a fit for my son to get what I want for him. I ain't gonna be bringing no treaties any time soon lol

  5. What an excellent piece! It's all true, and Wonder Woman is an awesome icon to be channeling any time. By all accounts, Lynda Carter is a lovely person in real life, and I appreciate that back in the day, you did not have to have a concave abdomen to be considered hot.

    The one other thing I bring to conferences is a question, comment, or concern that i've solicited from the child. A lot of times, there are things they won't ask in the classroom, but don't mind you bringing up privately (also, it lets them feel included in this mysterious little meeting that mommy is going to.)

    Tape recorder is brilliant. I think maybe I should tape all non-social interactions- dentist, pediatrician, tree guy, etc.

  6. @Anonymous -- Loooove your point about bringing in a question/concern from the child. So important to have them feel somewhat included in the process.

  7. Love this list! My son just started Kindergarten. We're already much better acquainted with the entire office staff and administration than I would care to be. Thanks for the great suggestions and comic relief!

  8. With my guys, the ADHD causes them to bounce off the walls. They can focus FOR HOURS on something desirable or highly motivating. But if it is something they loath, like writing essays, they have attention span of a flea. Seriously.

    Way to go on all of the stuff you've been doing. You're doing a great job.

  9. ADD would be better called a disregulation of attention. A kid with ADD can have the tendency/ability to hyper-focus on some thing. When my ADD kid is hyperfocusing on a book or legos, it is really hard to snap him out of it. Good luck with the eval. If there is med talk, I have lots of experience with those decisions and can recommend LOTS of reading materials.

  10. Pen, paper - check
    List of questions/ concerns -Check
    respect & open mind - check
    Other things I bring:
    List of things I have found that teachers/ admin are doing that are good.
    Smartphone so I can record if need be.
    Technique I find very useful:
    Write on your copy of the IEP, make notes write in changes or new requirements. Ask for them to make a copy and leave your handwritten notes with the head of the IEP committee, ask for the official copy to be mailed with the changes... you walk out with a copy of what the IEP should look like when received. If not you have a reference and know they have one too.
    .. I also like to think that I have Wolverine's ability and that at anytime I had unsheathe my claws...

  11. At the end of my Girl Child's OT eval last week, the therapist recommended a book called, "How Does Your Engine Run?" - apparently it's a program that can help kids identify where their nervous system is and identify some things that help them get to the right level of alertness to fit the situation. (e.g., Bedtime = NOT trying to see if you can swing off the chandelier.)

    Girl Child is being evaluated for ADD also (the inattentive kind) but we have the added fun of trying to figure out if her inability to stay focused is due to unilateral hearing loss or actual ADD. They look similar. (She was born without an ear - called Microtia. She's had 4 surgeries to correct it all PLUS she wears a hearing aid.)

    I had my first meeting with the VOSP's (Village of School Professionals) last week and I'm definitely bringing reinforcements next time. Thank you for this!

  12. What I bring to conferences and IEP meetings is the intro to Neurodiversity, "Your brain is a Rainforest." It helps the others see my children for their talents, not their deficiencies.

  13. I actually had that same red lip gloss when I was about 12 or 13!!!!

  14. I got so frustrated with our school district I gave up, withdrew my daughter and now we homeschool. Maybe if I'd thought to wear "some granny panties with stars on them, and a boomerang tiara" I would have had the strength to fight them.

    Thanks for the laughs, they always make my day easier.

  15. 504 - eh?? Terribly tacky and terribly American. In Canada... each Province has their "thing"... I live in Ontario. Yanno.. the big Province in the middle that if you live in 416/905 area codes, you are the only part of the country that matters?? I don't.... and won't.

    We have IEP's... every child has one, even if it reads "regular curriculum"... most parents don't realize this. They, and in our case, can include subgroups like social, behavioural and communication. They can be accommodated or modified.

    The "legal" document... b/c nobody has to tell you about the IEP and if you don't like what they put on it... guess what... they can put whatever they like on it... Where was I...

    The legal document is the IPRC In one of our cases all it says on it is "strengths, weaknesses and regular classroom". In the other case it has "strengths, weaknesses and self-contained classroom" AKA - special ed. In our case the first severely autistic child to be placed in that classroom in the last 15yrs (how long she's been teaching it)... see we're in a "slow learners, low behavioural, fully verbal room". And we actually don't qualify... although we're not "verbal" (technically), we are grade level in reading and spelling and delayed, but within 2 grades, of everything else. Little boy's actually been pissy according to the teacher that his friends don't read or spell as well as he does... Ooops.

    The IPRC also gets you this little thing called "EQUIPMENT"... Fusion keywriters, sensory toys, "Writing with symbols", laptops, trampolines, cushions, weighted pencils... etc etc etc...

    Now... if it only got us Speech and OT without fighting for it... It would be good.

  16. LOL. I like the Wonderwoman cuffs. ;)

    We just had our first IEP meeting last week. It went a whole lot better than I'd expected. My kiddo also has some distinct ADHD traits, soooo...we shall see how it does...

  17. farmwifetwo sounds like she knows all the terms up here in the great white north so I'd go on her word.
    Seeing as my little dude was old enough for junior kindergarden, I looked into our public school earlier this year and decided that he wasn't quite ready and we'd shoot for senior kindergarden.

    I'm not sure if I went to an IEP, a IPRC but it sure as hell wasn't a byob. I'd remember if it was called a 504 because I would have made a "504 you're such a bore, you dirty whore" poem out of it to remember the numbers.

    Excellent tips! I'm going to wear a Wonder Woman bustier along with the bracelet to further my confidence -- I think it will make quite the impression.

  18. I'm a little on the short side so I actually *prefer* the little kiddie chairs. My feet can touch the floor and makes me feel LESS like a little kid.
    Psychology's weird like that.... :OD

  19. I read a list of things to bring to an IEP meeting once, and the one that I will always remember was, 'a framed picture of your child.' The article said to set the picture up on the table where everyone can see it, and tell them that you brought it to help remind everyone why you are all there. I love that idea! :)

  20. As farmwifetwo said, we do have IEP's in Canada. We do not have 504s, and I don't believe we even have something that would be an equivalent. I guess it is different in Québec then in Ontario, because a child only has an IEP here if they have a diagnosis, such as Autism, but also language disorders, ADD etc. etc. etc. I grew up in Ontario and my mother is still a special education teacher there, and I was under the impression that this was how it worked in Ontario too(and the rest of Canada). Farmwifetwo seems to know her schmidt though.... either way, I find it SO interesting that each province/state/country has such different rules.

    I love this list. And let me tell you, us teachers / special education technicians LOVE it when parents bring in goodies ;) A little sugar never hurt anyone...
    I had a father tape our meeting two weeks ago with his iPhone....I thought it was genius!
    And for the record, we hate those stupid munchkin chairs too....kills our backs and who are we kidding, my a$$ is way to big for those things!!!

    PS - thank you for the respect...we do love your children :)

  21. The timing for this entry couldn't be better! I'm fixing to have a 504 meeting with my 7th grader's school in the next couple of weeks to re-evaluate his plan from last year. We have the joys of Asperger's with adhd and anxiety being all muddled up with the beginning of puberty and hormones raging. Fun fun fun! So, it's time to go back over the plan and see what needs tweaking, what needs adding. Y'all know what I'm talking about.

    I'm going to keep this entry up and re-read it a few times before I go in!

  22. I'm going to disagree with the photo thing. I'm speaking to the child's parents, I'm well aware of who this meeting is about, most of my life everyday revolves around your children bringing a photo is a little bit weird.

    Taping is a nice idea, but consider how you would feel if you were being tape recorded. Think about it honestly and how it speaks to what you think of the persons integrity, etc. I'd save a tape recorder for someone you have a problem with or who hasn't kept their word in the past.

    I'm not coming at this as a parent but as a professional. One person is in charge of 20-30 students and you as the parent are in charge of a lot less, yet seeming to want to hold the teachers accountable for the world.

    Your child focuses on tasks they like and not ones they don't? That seems like a normal kid to me. I can sit on the internet for hours while avoiding my graduate school work. It doesn't mean I have ADD or ADHD.

  23. I think the anonymous poster above is EXACTLY the reason why parents get so frustrated when dealing with 'professionals.'

  24. Heh heh heh.

    Many, many experts recommend bringing a tape recorder, because the information we receive as parents is overwhelming. It's nearly impossible to remember everything that's said.

    Regarding the photos -- sometimes there are people in the meeting who have only met my kid once or twice, so yeah, I can see doing it. I haven't brought in photos, but I can understand why some parents would want to. After all, the child is the entire reason everyone is there.

    Regarding Anonymous' opinion of whether my daughter has ADD or not, well, obviously I'm not looking for a diagnosis here on the Internet. That's something for an actual "professional" to do, in person, and with all the information.

    I do not hold teachers accountable for the world. I do, however, hold teachers accountable for complying with my child's IEP. We're blessed with amazing, wonderful teachers at our school, and again, we haven't had any problems.

    Thanks for reading.

  25. I just posted a link to this hilarious but spot-on advice for school meetings on my {a mom's view of ADHD} blog Facebook fan page (

    I love the idea of making yourself feel confident, grown-up, and competent going into the meeting. It also shows the school staff in attendance (with your child's access to success dangling from their lips) that you respect their time and are prepared for the meeting (and to throw-down if need be).

    Two years ago, when my ADHD son was in 1st grade and just diagnosed, he was evaluated for special ed/an IEP for handwriting, and denied. I was so overwhelmed in that meeting that I signed the paper saying I agreed that he didn't qualify because they told me to.

    Now, in 3rd grade, he's being evaluated again for a written expression disability. His teacher is very behind his inclusion and feisty enough to fight for it. As well, I am 1,000x more educated and prepared this time around. I will NOT sign anything that says he doesn't qualify for or will not receive the services I know he needs.

    I always enter these meetings with two things in mind: (1) we are all there because we want what's best for my child -- the other's judgement may be clouded by understaffing or budget crises but it's their job to give my child the education he deserves; and (2) you catch more flies with honey (you may need to chant this in your sub-conscience) -- if you go in with an adversarial attitude, you will set the tone for a fight.

    On a side note, I tried to subscribe to your email feed but feedburner came up with the message that your feed is not set up for email. I figure this is a mistake since you have a box to subscribe via email right there on your home page and all.

    Oh, I added your badge to my blog as well. Can't wait to read more!


  26. I loved ur list! Like Penny, did not object when they said my Aspie did not need instructional mods. (Doh!) Three weeks later (after a serious panic attack at school, which merited a visit to doctor) I requested another meeting. We brought my hubby's cousin with us this time, the district's curriculum specialist, and i typed up an agenda spelling out all our concerns. As a high school teacher, i know most of us don't take things seriously unless it's in writing. (Imagine that!)I forwarded it to my daughters resource teacher to evaluate and copy, he was impressed and so excited. The final part of my packet to each stakeholder, the loaded gun, was the psychiatrist's letter specifying mods. I went in much more prepared and with my own anxieties calmed and with a smile on my face. I walked out with 3 trainings set up in their calendar specific to my child, mods, counseling, therapy, a social group headed by counselor, and a personal guarantee from the school principal that everything would to be in place by the time i specified. Everything i requested in my agenda. I'm even going to state training! Woo hoo! Your list is awesome, i wish i'd seen it before and saved my baby unnecessary heartache. Please add that requests should be in writing, everything in writing. Leave a paper trail. Correspondence with teachers thru email and CC or BCC administration if necessary. the paper trail indicates u mean business, and that speaks for itself, you don't need to be adversarial. Educators are under legal obligation to do what they can for your child, most will do it based on their own values n common sense. Others need a bit more motivation.

  27. I am laughing b/c I always ALWAYS thought WTF? about the stars granny panties.

    They ARE granny panties...

  28. "My most recent school meeting was last Friday, to go over the Pork Lo Maniac's possible need for a 504 Plan for her fine motor skill delays. It turns out, she doesn't need accommodations, at least not for a fine motor skill delay. It wasn't what I expected" since I want all of my children to be labeled since I'm a Munchausen sufferer.
    Get some help for yourself before you ruin your kids.

    Dr. Weinstein

  29. Dear Dr. Weinstein,

    I don't think the fact that I thought maybe my daughter had a fine motor delay, but the school suggested she had ADHD instead, warrants a diagnosis of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

    But that's an awesome display of professionalism, attempting to diagnose me over the Internet and all.

    Thanks so much for your concern for me and my family! Hope the rest of your day is full of sunshine and rainbows.



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