WHAT not to say is important, as is WHEN not to say anything to your child’s school. We’ve previously talked about when to get involved in school or special education issues, but let’s talk more specifically about what and how to say it when you do have to say something (and a little review about when to say anything at all).
First of all, the “when.” A solid rule about communicating with your child’s teacher, IEP chair, or school staff is only when necessary. If you contact your child’s school too often over this and that, the impact of your communications when it really matters will be negatively affected. In fact, parents who write or call too much (and I mean waaaay too much) may find that they are given a special “contact” at the school who is the only person they are told to communicate with. While I don’t necessarily agree with this practice, the “contact” is likely NOT to be your child’s teacher(s). You don’t want that.
Your level of communication should vary depending on your child’s needs and age– younger children and students with higher needs, more communication. High school junior or seniors who can self-advocate? Almost never (exception: when the high schooler explicitly wants your help, or they have tried unsuccessfully). College student? Never (instead, help guide your adult student). Any student who cannot communicate for themselves? Whenever you need to. If you want my full input on the when, it’s here, and here is another good resource on school advocacy.
Now, what to say and how to say it?
- Be professional. Parents should look at the special education process as a business exchange. Write professional emails.
- No emojis. No “LOLs.” And, sorry, no smiley faces. I see this a lot– you want to be friendly, and that’s a good thing. However, you are exchanging important information (because you wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t important, right?). Just as you conduct yourself professionally at work (and at IEP or other school meetings), emails should be professional.
- Be direct. Review everything you write to see if you can say less.
- Be appreciative of their hard work, and please do thank staff for specific positive efforts, but don’t go overboard. Some parents want to soften hard conversations with smiley faces or overly enthusiastic praise. Don’t– if you are polite and respectful (and say thank you when appropriate), there is no need to soften communications about your child’s needs. More importantly, overly enthusiastic praise may mask the seriousness of your student’s needs or progress. This can be a problem if you later have a conflict with the 504 team, student support team, IEP team or administration.
- Use Email. I do not recommend using any texting app or internal program (Class Dojo, Schoology) to communicate with your child’s school, teacher, or staff. You need an easily accessible record of all of your communications, whether it’s for your own memory or for a more formal record. Use a proper email address.
- No texting.
- If your school insists on calling (not writing) you about important issues, most of the time you will want to follow up with an email repeating everything that was discussed and asking if your understanding of the conversation is accurate. If they repeatedly call you instead of writing, ask yourself why. Are they intentionally avoiding a record about something?
Lastly, and most importantly– back to the when. Be conservative. Pick your battles. Save your communications for important matters. You will be taken more seriously.