As a parent of a student with executive function challenges, it’s easy to get frustrated with “the school” if you feel your student’s needs aren’t being met. “The school” consists of teachers and the administration, and it can be exasperating to feel like you’re not all on the same page. We want to help prepare our students and parents for productive conversations with the school if any shifts need to be made in your student’s academic experience.
The Mutual Goals
Parents, teachers, school administration, mentors, etc. all have the same goals: for students to receive the best education possible and to succeed. Approaching all communication with this mindset will usually result in positive outcomes. Parents that approach their student’s teachers and school administration with respect while advocating for their student’s needs will have the most effective conversations.
Many schools believe it is the student’s job to advocate for themselves as soon as middle school begins. If a parent contacts the teachers without the student reaching out first, frustration from the school ensues. We recommend that our students self-advocate, and we want to help them prepare accordingly. Many issues can be resolved when students communicate openly with their teachers, although there are occasionally instances where parent involvement is needed.
Help Your Student Practice Self-Advocating
We can’t assume that students know how to advocate for themselves. We take this skill for granted but it needs to be practiced before students speak up. Here are a few student situations to role-play with your student:
- You weren’t able to finish your science lab in class and class is almost over. What do you do? Ask for additional time when the teacher is available. This way, it shows that you care AND you can ask for assistance and get a good one-on-one understanding of the material.
- You have a baseball tournament all weekend and you know that you will not be able to finish your English essay due Monday. What do you do? Let the teacher know about the conflict as soon as possible, ideally before you leave for the tournament. Many students talk to their teachers after they return from their athletic events, but teachers are much more likely to grant extensions or provide other assistance if you’re proactive.
- Your teacher reprimands you during class for not doing your work. However, you were working but looking up while thinking at the time that the teacher looked over. What do you do? This is such a common issue, and it’s best handled right after class so a one-on-one conversation can take place and neither party involved leaves frustrated. The possibility of confrontation is reduced and shows maturity if you approach your teacher and explain to them what you were doing, show the work you accomplished, and make commitments moving forward if necessary. For example: if a student says, “Sometimes I need to look up from my paper to mentally summarize what I just read so I retain it better” or a teacher says, “I understand you need to look up, but next time can you stay facing forward in your seat,” communicate to reach a mutual, respectful understanding.
- You fail a test. What do you do? This happens to even the best students. Review the problems you missed on the test, then ask the teacher about possible review sessions and retake/correction options. The goal is to show the teacher that you care and want to take responsibility for your learning.
Document All Communication
If we reach a point where relationships and communication break down between a parent and the school, all forms of communication should be documented. We often get questions like, “My student’s teacher and case manager won’t email or call me back. What should I do?” Contact the school’s administration once there have been multiple failed communication attempts. However, parents frequently contact the school’s administration without having documented the times they’ve tried to reach the teacher. The administration will be substantially more responsive if you can provide evidence of attempted communication and student advocacy. Evidence can include:
- Unanswered emails
- Accommodations used and/or denied
- Extra help sessions attended
Having this data will significantly increase the action taken while also demonstrating to the school that the parent is educated about their student’s rights.
If you have specific questions/scenarios and you’re contemplating reaching out to school administration, contact your mentor and create a plan of action.