10 Tips to navigate your child’s school
As a parent, you are the number one advocate for your child’s well-being. Parents are responsible for ensuring their children are safe, protected, and cared for in all environments. You may see this role come into play at some point during your child’s education. I know how challenging this can be, and so I’ve written a list of 10 tips to navigate your child’s school.
Get to know how the school works
One of the many challenges that parents face in raising their children is navigating the school systems management of their education- whether it’s a public, charter, or private institution. From an early age, children are raised under the leadership of teachers and administrators. Schools are primarily responsible for your children’s education; however, this particular social environment also greatly influences the development of their identity, personality, relationships, emotions, problem solving, and social skills. Their growth and maturity are dependent upon the quality and level of support received in and outside the classroom.
Know who you are working with
In order to avoid this downfall, you need to take the lead with introducing yourself and staying connected to your child’s teachers, administrators, and support staff. Get to know them, their roles, and the services they provide. Teachers can be reached the best via email and usually are more than willing to answer questions and concerns about your child. For example, some other important positions within schools that may be helpful are counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
- School counselors are responsible for monitoring student’s academic progress, linking them to resources if they are struggling academically or emotionally, designing their class schedule, preparing them for college readiness, and caring for their emotional well-being.
- School psychologists provide social, emotional, and cognitive testing; and fulfill social, emotional, and executive functioning needs as outlined on Individual Education Plans*.
- School social workers link students to community resources (e.g., mental health, food, shelter, etc.), collaborate with other community providers to ensure student’s needs are being met (e.g., therapists, case managers, etc.), write 504 Plans** or IEPs, provide social and emotional services required by IEP’s, and provide a wide range of services for general education student’s.
Ask questions about how your child is doing
Ask your child’s teacher questions about their progress and behavior. Far too often, parents are left in the dark about their children struggling either academically and/or emotionally. Administrators and educators may be quick to communicate about their children’s behavior problems, but unfortunately, sometimes these other areas get neglected or overlooked, which may be the root cause. That’s not always the case, but occasionally it happens.
Initiate communication with your child’s teacher
Depending on the size of the school, your child is one of hundreds or thousands in the building, thus making it quite the task for you to rely on them to initiate conversation with you. All forms of communication are helpful- emailing, phone calls, and meeting in person. However, one of the best ways to start conversation is emailing them to introduce yourself and request a follow up if they notice any concerns with your child. This also is a good time to bring up anything related to your child that may help them to better understand and offer support. For example, a past IEP or 504 Plan, history of bullying, mental health, or issues at home. Unfortunately, these records can fall through the cracks with school transfers, administration changes, and moving to a new grade level each year.
Attend parent teacher conferences
Parent teacher conferences happen at most school’s a couple times a year, but usually they are several weeks after the academic year has begun or towards the end. Of course, attending and participating in these meetings is strongly encouraged, however, you can’t wait until they happen to begin a dialogue with them about your child.
Utilize your school’s online ‘portal’
Since we live in an advanced technological age, most schools have both parent and student online portals where you can monitor your child’s attendance, behavior, grades, class schedule, and important school announcements. School websites are not always up-to-date and can’t be relied on to deliver pertinent information. You must become familiar with these outlets and utilize them regularly to stay informed about how your child is doing.
Talk to your child’s teacher about changes in their mood
If you’re noticing a change in your child’s behavior and/or mood, it’s best to directly communicate those observations that you’re witnessing at home. Sometimes they’re different than what your child may be presenting at school. Either way, the more proactive approach of bringing this to their attention is highly recommended. If your child is guarded from sharing updates or providing little to no information, you can outreach as well. As you know the familiar saying, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” They can meet with you and your child together or alone with either of you. This can be to discuss academic, behavioral, emotional, social, or mental health concerns. Your school staff are prepared to do any formal assessments needed, wanted, or required.
Know your child’s rights
You’ll either want to request a 504 Plan or Individual Education Plan (IEP). The 504 Plan is a legal document that ensures accommodations are provided for your child, whom has been identified with a disability after meeting. The process for approving and implementing a 504 Plan is much quicker than the IEP. The IEP is a legal document that becomes approved following an intensive evaluation process where your child has been identified as having a cognitive, emotional, learning, and/or physical disability, which allows them to receive additional support for these needs. For additional information, check out the Colorado Department of Education website. Your school staff will be able to help determine which one is best for your child.
And advocate for them!
I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to request an IEP as soon as possible. Whatever you do- PLEASE don’t wait another day, week, or month to take action. You may do this verbally, however, it is best to have it in writing for your school to action. Schools are under no formal obligation to respond through verbal communication. Even though you may have discussed this during a meeting, on the phone, or in person with school staff, it needs to be in writing. I would recommend submitting a hard copy to the school and via email to the appropriate staff in order to have an electronic receipt on file. It is my understanding that schools have approximately 60 days to respond to this request. They are legally mandated to go through the formal processes to see if your child is eligible for an IEP if you request it. Remember, don’t wait for them to bring it up! You know your child best and time is not on your side. The process involves collecting data for 6 to 18 weeks, which is the reason why it needs to happen right away when you suspect concern that’s impacting your child’s academic and/or emotional well-being. Once the IEP gets approved, those modifications can be implemented.
Don’t give up!
It’s important to remember that no matter how feel during this process, your voice is equally as valid as administrators and teachers within your child’s school. You have the right to request the services needed for your child. It is up to your child’s school to work together with you to determine the appropriate services required to support your child.
Grace Counseling is here to support you as parents during this process and the needs facing your child. We have a number of clinicians that specialize in working with both children and teens. We are willing to not only support and provide resources for your family during this process, but advocate as well. You can utilize our clinicians for individual and/or family therapy and psychological testing, too. We offer appointments in mornings, afternoons, and evenings on weekdays and on Saturday’s as well for limited hours.
Stephanie Ratner, LCSW works specifically with teens and young adults, and her experience working on a local school campus gives her a special insight into the unique issues and challenges facing today’s teens. She is passionate about connecting with her clients and helping them through difficult times and navigating the changing culture we are facing today.