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Apr 29, 2020

The most important skill you need as a parent of a child with a disability is communication. Communication with your child, communication with outside providers, and communication with your school!

Today we talk about essential components of your communications and how to make them as transparent, efficient, and successful as possible! Good communication skill are of tremendous value for us in the world of special education parenting and advocacy. When the conversation is over, the parties are able to maintain a strong professional relationship, not a strained resentful one.

When you are communicating with the team of people working with your child, maintaining a good relationship is paramount. Unless your child is soon to be exited from special education, you plan to privately educate your child, or you plan to move, you will be dealing with your school district for the foreseeable future. Some of the ways in which the communication style we discuss can help preserve these relationships are as follows: * The parties become partners, NOT adversaries. Together they are finding a solution, not competing with one another. * The parties develop joint interests. Together they find common ground and work towards specific goals. * Multiple options are explored. Together the parties consider multiple approaches. * Fair standards are developed. Together the parties set boundaries that are reasonable and acceptable to all. When the conversation ends, both parties feel they worked together with integrity to find a solution that fits the need at hand. That is why AFTER the conversation ends you can continue to conduct a healthy professional relationship based on respect.

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school district, child, parents, communication, position, talk, options, teacher, problem, interests, emotions, parties, communicate, objective criteria, understand, school, agreement, emotional, goal, good

Dana Jonson

Hello, and welcome to Need to know with Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson and I'm here to give you the information you need to know to best advocate for your child. I'm a special education attorney in private practice, a former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IEPs. And I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I've approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your schools obligations, information from other professionals on many topics, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So if there's anything you want to hear, comment on, join our Facebook group, it's aptly named need to know Dana Jonson, or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. Okay, let's get started. Today, we're going to talk about one of the most important skills that parents need. And that is communication, especially today, during these COVID 19. closures. And all parents are home with their kids trying to be the teachers and the parents. And I'm sure that you're having tons of communication back and forth with your school district, as many of us are doing. And even when we don't have school closures, I am sure that you communicate with your school district way more frequently than parents of children without disabilities, you may have weekly logs or monthly logs, you probably communicate with your child's teachers about how things are going at home Tips and Tricks back and forth. Or perhaps they're things that you want to see in their program or that you want to see happen. And you're making requests to the school district either to the teacher or to the team or to a specific service provider. And now that you're home, and all of these services are upside down and backwards. And all districts are handling this differently. And you want to make sure that when you come out of this, you've documented everything you need to document in the proper way that you need to document it. And whether it's today during closures or whether it's during a typical school day, when you communicate with your school district, it is so important to make sure that that communication is being heard properly, and that you are hearing them properly. So many times families come into my office and things broke down all over communication. And there are a lot of different reasons for that. And we're gonna go through several of them. And I'm gonna give you some ideas and thoughts on how to, you know, communicate, speak with make requests to your school district, it is really the most critical piece, I believe in your advocacy for your child. If you're not somebody who can communicate well, for whatever reason, you're going to have an extra challenge in advocating for your child. So what do I mean by communication, there are different styles of communication that people utilize, and some are more successful than others. So let me talk a little bit about two that are not typically very successful in this situation. The first one, our 30 was as altruistic, somebody whose goal is to have agreement above and beyond everything else. So it's more important that everyone gets along and agrees, then other things. And so what ends up happening when you do that, when you communicate like that, and you're worried about maintaining that agreement over everything else, then you tend to make concessions just to cultivate the relationship. And so you're more apt to give in than maybe you should be, you can be overly soft on the person. If there's a problem on the table and your goal is agreement. And it's really important that parties come to an agreement, then you're more likely to go soft on some of the people in order to come to that agreement. You may also change your positions frequently make offers that lessen your position or accept one sided agreements. And if your goal is to get to an agreement, you're more apt to leave with an agreement whether you want it or not. Now going to the other extreme, we can talk about the individualistic or competitive communication. And when people are competitive or individualistic in their communications, their goal is to win. Their goal is to win whatever is happening. Whatever is on the table, to demand concessions as a condition to be hard. on both the people and the problem, this is a horrible problem. And you're a horrible person because you're part of it. They dig into their positions. Nope, my position is right, I'm going the right way. And everyone must come with me. They may make threats, demand things of their school district that maybe they're not actually entitled to and insist that things be done their way. Now, neither of these are good for parents. When people come to me, and they have been handling their matter in the altruistic way. What I ended up having a difficult time with is things are not properly documented. Because if the parents are trying to get along, if that's the priority, I'm not saying you shouldn't get along with your team, absolutely, you should get along with your team, we want you to get along with your team. That's why we're talking about communication, so that you can get along with your team better. But if that's the priority over everything else, then what ends up happening is there isn't a very good document trail, the disputes that happened even the minor ones, they don't look as strong. Or perhaps the school district wasn't even aware of how upset the parents were becoming an or feeling completely blindsided. So that's one challenge. On the flip side, for my individualistic and more competitive clients, when that comes to me, I have a different problem, because perhaps they've made threats that they can't maintain, and you lose credibility with that. Or if you've insisted on doing things one way, and there's only one way to do something, then my ability to come to a compromise or to resolve the matter for you becomes more difficult. So we're looking for something that's a bit of a hybrid of both. I want your goal to be an outcome that is reached efficiently and amicably. So let's talk about how to do that one of the pitfalls that parents find themselves falling into is arguing over their position. So when people get stuck in their position, and they start arguing over them, egos get bruised, it's inefficient, it creates unbalanced outcomes. And it really does endanger relationships. When people are arguing over their positions, my position is right, your position is wrong. People get locked into those positions, and their egos become attached to them. And their focus on them becomes way more hyper focused, then addressing the underlying concerns or issues that you're talking about. Especially if you and your school district are really far apart to start with, if you're already having an issue with them, then, you know, taking an extreme position, refusing to budge, and just maintaining minor minor concessions just to keep the conversation going, that takes so much time and effort, it becomes a contest of wills, and it will strain or shatter any relationship. And it makes moving forward so much more difficult. Now, if you're not in agreement with your school district, and you're discussing something with them, that you need, or you want for your child, there's really only four possible endings to that, right. So either you in and they lose, or you lose and they win, or you both lose, or you both win. Naturally, we want everybody to win. That would be ideal. But why is that ideal? Why do you care if both parties walk out winners, right? You're thinking I'm advocating for my child, that's the only winner here is my child? Well, that's not really true. Because if you're dealing with your school district, it's not just a one off conversation, you're going to be dealing with that school for as long as your child is of school age. So unless you plan to privately educate your child, which you always have the right to do, or move, you have to get used to the idea that you're going to be dealing with your school district for quite some time. So that relationship is really important. And you want to do your best to cultivate it. So what is optimal communication? Well, first, you're going to have to do some analysis. You're going to figure out what yours and the school districts interests are and perceptions and what are the existing options. And then you have to plan rather than worry about how to respond plan ways to respond to situations so that when they come up, you are already prepared and discuss the problem. Find solutions talk it through in optimal communication. The parties can become partners, not adversaries, and you'll be finding solutions together. And that can be Eating against each other, you want to be able to develop joint interests for your child with your school district. And you can set those boundaries and make sure that you're all in agreement in the goals for your child's future. And you want multiple options, right, you don't just want to come to the table, and you have one thing to say, or they have one thing to say, you want to be able to explore lots of options, and come to an optimal decision. So there are four basic points to this optimal communication that I'm talking about. There's the people, and you want to separate the people from the problem. So for example, you don't like the teacher, you don't want to bring that into the conversation with you. And that's got to be one of the hardest things to do. But you want to be able to separate the person from the problem, because if you conflate the two things, your message will not come across. Second point is interests, you want to focus on interests, not positions. So maybe your focus is the child getting social skills, but maybe not exactly how maybe that is where we can be a little more flexible, but focusing on that interest of the social skills and not your position on exactly how it should be implemented. Third point is options, you want to make sure there are lots of options, have you been able to generate as many options as possible? Have you discussed them Have they all been on the table, there is not only one way. And then finally, your final point is going to be criteria, you want to make sure that the results of what you are asking for are objective. And we talked about that a lot in special education, because we have goals and objectives that have to be written in a specific way that are measurable. And they have specific criteria. Well, that can be applied to our conversations as well and our communications. So let's get back to the people, separating the people from the problem, you have an ongoing relationship with your school system, and the staff that you deal with on a daily basis. So in some situations is ongoing relationship is more important than the outcome, that is not the case here. So you want to make sure that you're separating the people from the problem, right. And what we tend to do sometimes is we take the problem, we take the person and we combine them into the same thing. So when the problem gets bigger, you're more upset with the person. Or if you're more upset with the person, you feel the problem has gotten bigger. And this is where egos get involved. And it really pushes parties apart from each other. So when you're communicating with your school district, try your best to recognize your feelings for the person versus the problem that you're trying to address. Because the flip side of that is true as well, which is when parents really, really like a teacher, sometimes that can allow you to let things go, that maybe you really shouldn't. And the reason you shouldn't, is because your child won't have that teacher forever. And that's a really hard position to be in. So when you have a teacher you really like and you want to make sure that that relationship maintains that is important that relationship is important. But is it more important than the problem at hand. So another issue that we run into when we're dealing with the people component of things are perceptions. And two people can look at the same situation and see two different things. And so we're all looking at the same situation. But we're all seeing different outcomes. And that is because we bring with us to the table, our background and experiences and our background and experiences are all different. So in communication, when there are different perspectives, or the parties are coming from different places, like you and your school district may not have the exact same goals, we would like it to be always just the child. But I think in reality, there are lots of other things we need to take into consideration. So put yourself in their position. It's easy to blame somebody else for something you are upset about. So try to put yourself in their position, how are they hearing the words that are coming out of your mouth, you want to share your position, but how you share that position is really, really important. And if you can help to update or change their perspective and their perceptions, then that's going to help you so identifying that they have a different perspective, or identifying their different perceptions of your child is important for you so that you can better educate them. If you recognize that the teacher or service provider can That's your child they're seeing the same child you are, then you don't have to spend a lot of time educating them on that, if it is clear that the staff you're dealing with is not seeing the same problem or the same child, then you want to find a way to update their thoughts on that or update their position. So for example, the parent may say, you know, my teacher does not give me data and unless I asked for it, and then the teacher turns around and says, I give the parent the data whenever she asked for it. Or a parent may say, you know, that teacher, she's cold and distant, she never asked how we're doing. And my child has a lot going on. And then you go to the teacher, and their perspective is, but I'm being very considerate. I'm a considerate person, I would never intrude on a parent's privacy. I know they have a lot going on. And I'm not going to be the one to bother them. I've heard parents say, you know, they come to me and say, Well, I've been volunteering in the classroom all the time, because I know they need support, and they're short staffed, and I want to help. And I don't understand why the teacher isn't more appreciative of my time and efforts. And then we go to the teacher in their perspective is that that parent is always in my classroom, they're constantly looking over my shoulder, I feel like I'm being grilled all the time. So in all of those examples, we're in agreement on the facts, we're agreeing that all of the facts are the same, but we're disagreeing on the preferred outcome. So we need to be able to see the situation as the other side sees it, if you can understand their point of view. And understanding their point of view is not the same as agreeing with it. You may, however, modify your own view once you understand their perspective and their position. But you're not going to do that, if you don't understand it. So what else do we have to deal with when we're dealing with people? Emotions, special education is very emotional, this is your child, this is their future. There is nothing that is not emotional about this, this can also be difficult and emotional for the staff as well. So you want to understand what is their emotion and what is yours. You also don't want to make conclusions about their intentions based on your own emotional state. So if you're worried and you're upset, and you're scared for your child, you may be more apt to assign intentions to their actions or words. So especially in IEP meetings, emotions are running high from the start, especially if the parties know that there's something that you're going to disagree with. And if any party is overly emotional, it can create an impasse between them. So it's really critical to recognize your own emotions as well as theirs, you do not want to treat the staff like they don't have emotions. If they make an emotional outburst, you don't want to respond to that. You want to be able to keep yourself cool and not respond. And you don't want to stop them from expressing their emotions, and you don't want to dismiss their emotions. So there's a lot you don't want to do with their emotions, what you do want to do is you want to make the emotions explicit, acknowledge them, as legitimate, recognize their emotions, recognize yours, continue listening, even when the other side is letting off steam and venting. Let it go, let them get it out. And you know, what make an apology if it's warranted. A strategy for working with people is to have several phrases in your pocket that you can pull out any time to help you get things back on track. So if you're having a discussion with a teacher, or you're in your IEP meeting, I'm just throwing these out there, you can make up your own. But this is the idea of starting with, please correct me if I'm wrong, and then summarize what you think they're saying, please correct me if I'm wrong. I think what I'm hearing you say is you don't want my child in the cafeteria. Because if that's what you're hearing, then you need to say that because that might not be what they were trying to get across to you. But things like please correct me if I'm wrong. But could you explain or is this correct? Could I ask you a few questions to see whether my facts are right, let me just tell you where I'm coming from. And what is the reason behind that? So let's talk about interests. When people are paying attention to their positions and not the interests, then they're not paying attention to the concern. And so you're not going to come up with a good solution or and results when you're arguing over your positions, it gets more emotional and it damages relationships. So what do you want to do you want to focus on the interests. Now, the shared interests may not always be obvious, but you want to find them because they're opportunities to build on. So for example, you have a parent who wants their child to eat in the school psychologists office. And the school district is saying, no, they have to be in the cafeteria. And it turns out that the parent was very concerned about their child's ability to navigate the cafeteria. And the school was thinking about the child's socialization and didn't want the child missing the opportunity to socialize during lunch. So the common interest that everybody had there was the child's social skills. But what they were fighting over was, how to implement it or where to start. And they weren't getting those positions across clearly. And so it was just a fight over the school psychologists office or the cafeteria, and no one was getting down to the reasons. Another area where interest gets derailed is when parties can't stop focusing on what happened in the past. So how did we get to where we are today? I know for me, as a parent, that's really hard thing to do, to let that go, especially when you're sitting at a team and no one is agreeing, or no one's agreeing with you, I should say that it's very hard to let go how we got to where we are now. But if we can keep that focus on where we're going, if we can keep that focus on the next step, then that's going to help the conversation along and it's going to move that communication in a positive direction. Because you're not communicating over the negative component of the past, you're only focusing on moving forward. To that end, you may want to bring some options to the table. So that brings us to our third point options, one of the things you want to do is separate the act of inventing the options from the act of judging them. So this is a fun activity I do with my children, and myself. And you can do it as well is when we're coming up with a list of options for something, we eliminate any judgment of them. So I could ask grandmother to drive you to the school, well, grandmother doesn't have a car, so that's not going to work. Okay, but let's put that down, because that was the first option. Now, when you say that's not going to work, because she doesn't have a car, well, you've eliminated a variety of other options. Maybe somebody can lend her a car, maybe that's not the issue, maybe she can walk there, who knows. But when you are judging options, as you're coming up with them, you are losing the opportunity to explore them. So when you have that discussion, and you go back to the options, so you list your options first. And then after all of the options are listed, go back then, and do your pros and cons. And at that point, write your list of why it would work or why it would not. And then come from there. And the more options you have, the more flexible you will present. And the more options you're providing for your district. And you're making it easier for them. You're saying I have a problem. But I've also got a couple solutions. I'm not coming to you with the solution. And you don't have to do it my way. But here are the options that I have looked into and I have investigated to make your life easier. And if you can't agree on the substance of something, well, then maybe you can agree on the procedure. So okay, maybe the school district doesn't agree with you, they're not seeing the same thing. Okay, well, maybe we can agree on a procedure to determine what the child needs. And I'm not talking about like a full evaluation, I'm talking about other things that are, you know, more day to day, come up with a more objective way to look at it and make that an option. And that brings us to the final point, which is objective criteria. And if you are a parent of a child with disabilities who is in special education, then I certainly hope you know what that means both objective and criteria. And what that means is that you are basing your results on an objective standard. It takes the issue out of people's hands, there's no blame, there's no guilt. You have a way by which you will determine if something is successful or not. And that can be done in many ways. Your standardized full assessments is one way to do it, getting a third party consultant to weigh in maybe an outside service provider or a consultant within the district or out of the district, there are plenty of educational consultants out there. And there are a lot that school districts will agree to that parents also like. So that's often an option for resolving issues. And then are those criteria legitimate and practical. So maybe you say, you're going to get a third person, but you're identifying such specific qualifications for who that third party person is going to be, you may not be able to find them. So you want to make sure that whatever that objective criteria is, it is legit and practical. So now you've got all these tips in your pocket. We talked about people and perceptions and emotions. We talked about having some stock phrases in your pocket that you can pull out when you're not sure what to say, or to get your point across. And we talked about relationships, we talked about separating your position from your interests, and creating options and objective criteria. So now you've got all your tips. What are you going to do when they assert forcefully and unequivocally whatever their position is that you don't agree to try not to fight back. And I don't mean not fight back at all. I mean, try not to fight back in the moment, assume that they have a valid reason for their position, and you need to go figure that out and figure it out for yourself. ask clarifying questions, ask curiosity questions, if they are coming at you like a spider monkey, you do not want to fight back, there's nothing good that's going to come of that discussion. When two people or two parties are heated and upset. Nothing productive is going to come from that. So try not to fight back, try to let it go and maybe come back and address it later. What do you do when school districts attack your position? You don't know what you're talking about, you're not a professional? Well, you could turn that negative attack back into an opportunity to hone your ideas, and invite criticism and advice from the school from the professionals who are considering what you're asking for, turn that attack around, use it as an opportunity to deepen the conversation. So what are you going to do when they attack you personally, that's one of my personal favorites. Again, this is an emotional area, and families are often emotional. And I see too often school districts trying to hold that against parents and stating that, that they're overly emotional or that they are unreasonable. And I think that's very unfair, but they do do it. So what are you gonna do when they attack you personally, try and take that energy, and channel it into the discussion of the underlying issues that you're talking about. Take the issue that you brought up, or that is on the table, repeat it back to them, and ensure you understand what they are saying. Because if you don't understand what they're saying, you're certainly not going to get them to understand what you are saying. So paraphrase. Take their information, and repeat it back to them and make sure that you understand, and then again, come back and make sure they understand you. So what are you going to do when they make unreasonable demands? Ask a Question and pause. Sometimes staying silent for a little bit, makes its point all by itself. And sometimes if you ask a question, and you just pause, it may become more apparent to them how ridiculous it is, especially now that I know parents are dealing with trying to teach subjects that they didn't teach before. And they're being asked to do things that just some don't make sense. So ask say, you know, what experience and qualifications do you think I have to do that? And then be silent for a second? It's a good question. My favorite saying is you cannot use logic to talk someone out of a position they did not use logic to get into. So you also have to recognize when the conversation is over. Sometimes you will never convince them of anything because it wasn't logic they used to make that decision. Very often the people you are dealing with on a day to day basis are not the people making the ultimate decisions. And those decisions are about where resources are allocated. And sometimes staff working with your children are not any part of that. So know when to get help. Know when you've banged your head against the wall enough. Remember that you're not going to talk them into your way of seeing things, you can try to educate them to it. But then you also have to listen to their way of seeing things, it's a very difficult thing to do. And it will serve you well, it will be worth your time when thinking about your communications with your child's teachers or their team. You also want to take into consideration timing factors. First, you want to avoid spontaneous, unprepared communications. So we want to minimize those to the absolute maximum as funny, we want to minimize them to the maximum amount possible. I don't know if that works. But you want to minimize spontaneous, unprepared communications. And what I mean by that is when you get stopped in the hallway, and asked a quick question, and you're flustered and you don't understand or you don't know, or you know, you have a problem with it, this isn't the time to bring it up, I'll have to get back to you is a very reasonable response, I'll have to get back to you. If they call if they are talking to you in the hallway. Now with email, you can always take a break, and you don't have to respond immediately. But actually, that's a really good point. You don't have to respond to email or texts immediately. It's not mandatory, it is a habit that we all have, but it is not mandatory. So if you get a communication from your school, and you're not sure how to respond, then don't take the time, make sure that you are prepared, you know what it is that you want to say, and you know what you're asking for, or what you are discussing. In the same vein, don't grab your child's teacher during dismissal or bus duty, and try to review your child's program with them. That is not a good time, you're not going to get a good response. And you're not going to get the answers that you want. So you as well have to look at how am I asking this? Is this the right time to do that. And if it's not, figure out when would be or set a time slot, make an appointment with your your child's teacher, take time to develop relationships with everyone working with your child, that is not easy, either. And you do not have to become best friends with them. But taking that time can be really helpful. And knowing when to close, knowing when to end the conversation, or when to end the negotiations, whichever it is, know when it's over. At a certain point, how many times do you have to repeat yourself to understand that they've heard it, and they get it. And they don't agree. So in all of your communications with your school district, you want to utilize active listening techniques and you want to fully engage and listen to what they're saying. You want to make sure that you understand what they are saying to you, and that they understand what you are saying to them speak with the intention to be understood. Be intentional, be prepared, try not to just fly off the cuff and try to focus your talk on you and your child, not on them. So, for example, you didn't teach my child to read is a lot different than I'm concerned my child's significantly below grade level, you can also ask open ended questions that helps to allow them to elaborate so that you can hear make sure that you understand what they're talking about. And when you're actively listening, what a great tool is to paraphrase, paraphrase what they said and repeat it back to them and make sure that you're understanding and that they're understanding and that you're not just listening to them, you're hearing them. Think before you speak. Easier said than done. But again, speak with purpose. Every time you communicate with your school district. You need to be purposeful. Don't blame them for the problems, no name calling, Don't raise your voice. Don't use crappy body language. I sat through an entire PPT where the husband had his back to the other attorney. It was intriguing, a little awkward. But I don't recommend it. Maybe if your attorney sitting next to you, but even then maybe not. A good way to present things also would be to use the terms what if, what if we tried this or what if we did this first and if that's the result We'll do something else, breaking things down. And finally, know your own hot buttons, understand what sets you off, because the only way to guard against your own triggers is to know what they are. So if you know that a particular topic really sets you off, then do your best to avoid it or be cognizant of that when it's brought up knowing things is half the battle. So those are some of my tips for communicating with your school district. Separate the people from the problem. Consider their perceptions and their perspective and their positions. Take into consideration emotions. Don't forget that those are there and they run high and be aware of them and do your best to keep them in check, focus on interests, not positions and generate a lot of options. So when you come to the table, you have a lot to discuss. Thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you get notifications when new episodes come out. And I want to know what you want to know. So join our Facebook group also named need to know with Dana Jonson or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. But definitely reach out with your comments and questions and I'll see you next time here on need to know with Dana Jonson Have a fabulous day