Building Your Child's Education Team

More Ways to Help Your Child's Education

Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

About 12 weeks into the year, schools begin scheduling conferences and sending home progress reports. By now you should understand the teacher's academic and developmental expectations for your child, so the parent-teacher conference should be an opportunity to discuss how your child is meeting those expectations.

These conferences are important, so you should spend some time preparing. Decide what information you want to share and what questions you want to ask ahead of time. Schwartz recommends talking to your child before you go to the conference, because his perspective can help frame the meeting. Ask: What do you like best about school? What is easy for you to do? What is hard for you to do? Try to include your child in the conference by asking if he has any questions for the teacher.

The parent-teacher conference is primarily an opportunity to work collaboratively, to put your heads together. Does the teacher have any advice for you? Do you have any advice for her? If you have anything important to say, lead with that. You don't want to run out of time.

Get Extra Help for Your Child

If you believe your child needs more help than he is getting, make an appointment to share your concerns with his teacher and other school personnel. Teachers can be helpful but so can counselors, school psychologists, the principal, a favorite coach -- anyone who knows your child and has his best interests at heart.

If you think that your child may need special services or accommodations, a professional evaluation may be in order. Local public school districts are legally required to provide a basic evaluation, even if your child is attending a private or parochial school. A typical evaluation package measures intellectual, academic, and emotional functioning, takes a history of the child and his family, and includes a classroom evaluation. Often schools will also perform other specific evaluations if they are indicated; for example, to see whether a child needs speech and language help, occupational therapy, or assistive technology.

School evaluations can be very effective, and in some situations are all that is required to get the ball rolling. But if you aren't satisfied with the results of your school evaluation, or if you want your child evaluated for something not covered by the school's standard assessment, you should seek a private evaluation with a specialist.

Matthew Cruger, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute's Learning and Diagnostics Center, advises telling the school if you plan to have an outside evaluation, and sharing the results with team there. "They might not be able to do everything the specialist recommends, but they generally want to have that information," Dr. Cruger says. "I think a lot of resistance from schools comes from not necessarily knowing why something has been suggested."

Keeping everyone on the same page about a student's strengths and weaknesses will make it easier to agree on how to help him. It also lays the foundation for a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

As with any relationship, be prepared to compromise. Although school districts are motivated to help kids with learning needs, they often have limited resources.

Schools will provide what they (and the law) consider sufficient, but not necessarily the ideal support. This means that parents, school representatives, and other specialists need to work together to come up with the best possible education plan for a child. Dr. Cruger says, "As a psychologist, I think about what are the fewest intrusive interventions that could lead to the maximum gain for a child."

In Dr. Kruger's experience, the best plans are the ones that benefit from everyone's participation -- the entire education team, including the child -- because when everyone is committed and working towards success, suddenly it becomes a lot more attainable.


Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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