The holidays are coming, which means school has been in full swing for a few months. After the honeymoon ends, if you were lucky enough to have one, things can get a little rocky. You may be getting phone calls from Luisa’s teacher or social worker reporting every [insignificant] incident that occurs. Or you might be struggling to get Andre to complete his homework each afternoon. These circumstances may warrant a team meeting.
A team meeting is an informal gathering of your child’s support staff in school, including her teacher(s), social worker, psychologist, aide, and anyone else who plays a role in her day. It also includes you, of course, and any in-home or community service providers you have. You may even work with a parent or educational advocate in preparation. It’s beneficial to have as many relevant perspectives on your kiddo as you can.
Let me give you an example of how a team meeting might be beneficial:
Let’s say you’ve been getting a few calls a week from Andre’s teacher because he just sits in class and “doesn’t pay attention.” She reports that he doesn’t take out a notebook or pen, looks around the room, and doesn’t participate in class. It’s clear this is affecting his academic performance, as he is struggling to pass, and these calls have been coming for the past two months. So, you request a team meeting.
At the team meeting, we have the full staff of support people in Andre’s school life, as well as you and a case manager who works with your family through the state. First, you’ll ask for each support person’s perspective on how Andre has been doing at school. There’s a reason for this – hear them out so you have a full understanding of where “the school” is coming from before you share your perspective. If they’re take is in line with yours, you can piggyback on it and highlight how you’re in agreement. If it’s not, you’ll have to gently shift their mindsets.
As you listen to the staff’s perspectives, do your best to validate their experience, whether or not you agree with it. It’s important for everyone to feel heard in order to reduce defensiveness. Once they’ve finished sharing, you can speak to your child’s skills, abilities, and struggles. In Andre’s case, it may look something like this:
So, I’m hearing that you’re all very concerned about my son and his academic success, which I am so appreciative of. I thought it might be helpful for us to sit together today and discuss how to help him. What you may not know about my son is that he has a history of abuse and neglect with his birth parents. Although this happened long ago, it still affects him. It can be hard for Andre to concentrate because he is in a near constant state of fight-or-flight and anxiety. He is always looking around the room in anticipation of something bad coming his way.
He has a hard time organizing himself and remembering to bring his notebook and pen to class because his brain developed in a highly stressful environment. Andre benefits from knowing what is expected from him and having gentle reminders to take out his notebook and pen. It may even be helpful to put a list on his desk of things he needs to do upon arriving to class. If we try this and it doesn’t work, I hope we can make arrangements for someone to help him be prepared until he is able to do it independently.
By giving school staff a better understanding of why Andre does what he does, you can build empathy for him and his struggles and help them learn how to better support him in school. If you have a case manager or other in-home support person, have them speak to your child’s experience from a clinical perspective. It will only support everything you’ve stated.
At the end of the meeting, make sure everything is summarized and take notes on what is agreed upon. You can mention to get together again in a month or two to assess how effective these plans have been.
Have you had a successful (or not-so-successful) team meeting with your child’s school staff? What happened? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to get back to you.