Advocating for your child at school
In a follow-up to our “Tips from a Principal” webinar, educator and principal Nancy Lerner shares her experience when it comes to advocating for your child at school.
As parents, we never stop advocating for our children, no matter what their age. Advocacy in schools is very helpful as it allows principals, teachers and other school personnel to fully understand what each student needs. “Advocacy”, though, must not become a word that describes unpleasant or aggressive interactions.
The Ontario Ministry of Education takes a “holistic” approach with a focus on the value of a parent’s role in student achievement and well-being. New teacher training programs are providing new teachers with methodology about how to include and also value parent advocacy. The parent role is supported and appreciated, not just for “reasonable complaints or concerns”, but is an opportunity for parents to learn skills to better engage with the school.
Tips when approaching your principal as your child’s advocate:
- If you are a non-English parent, ask your school secretary, vice-principal or principal to provide you with a translator. Most Ministry and school documents can be provided in different languages. Come to school to learn!
- If possible, familiarize yourself with the Ministry, Boards and independent school’s policies and procedures around safety, special education, parent engagement.
- Help the school know your child. It is strongly recommended that you provide the school principal with copies of any reports, other documents that can help the principal and teachers’ best understand the needs and strengths of your child.
Trust your Principal!
Remember that individuals become principals to affect positive change in their school communities for children, parents and teachers. Appreciate that every principal has their unique personality and style of leadership. Principals want to meet with parents in order to better understand every students’ needs, strengths and personalities.
Keep it Positive!
Before you meet with your principal, think about how you can reach out in a positive, friendly way – the goal is to build a partnership! Offer to volunteer in the school, classroom or become part of your school’s parent council. Take a moment to email or call your principal and teacher to thank them for their efforts, even for small things. Remember, it is much easier to discuss challenging topics once a positive relationship has been established!
Tips for Talking to Teachers
- If you have a concern to share with the teacher, please start with an open mind. While it may be difficult, the teacher will have the adult and “whole class” perspective.
- Start with something positive.
- Let the teacher know what you want to work as a team to help your child be happy and successful.
- Keep the focus on your own child, and what you feel she/he needs from the teacher.
- At the end of the meeting, summarize what you have discussed, as well as next steps, including a timeline.
When it comes to special education, it is strongly recommended to meet with your principal before your child starts at the school, to share as much information as possible about learning exceptionalities, family, medical or emotional issues. By providing this important information, the teacher and principal can start putting together an educational plan that will meet your child’s needs at school. IEP’s, school support team meetings and IPRC requests can then follow.
How do I handle a situation where my child is unhappy at school
Nobody knows your child as well as you do. No matter what the age, if your child is unhappy, talk to your child’s teacher first. As part of your child’s team, allow the teacher to respond to your concerns. It is reasonable for the teacher to ask to explore the issue further and get back to you. Ask for a definite time to talk again.
When your child is in grade 4 and higher, bring your child with you to share their concerns, first hand. This allows your child to see that you are all on the same team and that the teacher is a safe and caring person. Take notes, and ask for a follow-up meeting in a week. If you are still concerned, make an appointment to see the principal.
About Nancy Lerner
Nancy Lerner holds a Master’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Learning Disabilities from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Toronto. Her background has allowed her to train with a multitude of professional organizations and specialists in all areas of education including: early childhood development, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities, Giftedness, behavioral challenges, ADHD/ADD, family changes and issues, developmental challenges, adoption, and relocation.
As a school principal, educational leader, special education consultant, and teacher mentor, Nancy has supported and coached students and their parents from JK through grade 12. Using this vast experience, she understands the potential of each child and offers families the tools, support and programs to develop greater self-confidence, resiliency, and academic success.
- ‘Advocating for your child’ – a video with Ann Douglas and Morneau Shepell
- Download our Parent advocacy guidebook here as well.
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