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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Welcome to the Wonderful and Challenging World of My Child

Preparing for

A new school year begins very soon and some children and (parents) can’t wait to begin. Many however are not so enthusiastic. If the previous year, or years, have not been ideal the idea of another tough year can put a dampener on the preparations. 
Like most things a good beginning can make all the difference to how things turn out. This is an ideal time to be proactive and help set up a positive year.

Teachers are busy; they have a classroom full of children. At the beginning of the year, it is classroom full of new faces. Finding a way for your child’s face to stand out from the crowd can make a difference to how the year unfolds. If you are like I was, you probably hold your breath the first day or two of the school year as you wait to see how things turn out because you know that this can set the tone for what the year will hold. Putting together this document can make a big difference.

Even if your child is recognised as having ‘special needs’ of some sort, or is registered as a Student at Educational Risk (SAER), don’t assume a teacher knows all they need to about your child. Some teachers will make the effort to read a student’s file, some will not. Even for those who do, it may only be a cursory look. Reading student files is not always easy to do. Sometimes they are kept in a central location meaning a teacher can’t check on details as they needed and they may not be able to remove a file to read it at a time they can concentrate on the details. The information in student files are not always organised in a fashion that makes it easy to find key points. This is your chance to communicate information that they might not pick up, while also letting them know you are willing to work as a team for the best outcomes.

By putting together a short document with the key points in an easy to read format, you are not only doing what you can to ensure the year starts well for your child, you are also helping the teacher by giving them the best chance of positive start. Ideally it should only be 2 pages, a cover sheet and a single sheet with dot points outlining key points.

When you have put this together, try to make a time to speak to the teacher before the school year begins. Teachers have many duties in the days leading up to the start of school so try to keep the meeting fairly short. If you need to, organise another time you can sit down with them once they have met your child to go through a few key things in more detail. By keeping that first meeting fairly short you let them know it is important, but that you recognise they are busy. They may also have some questions for you by the time you meet again.

If there is more information that you want the teacher to read, perhaps reports from other professionals or previous intervention or support plans, put copies (never the originals) of these in an envelope. Give this to the teacher when you have finished your chat about the summary sheet, for them to read and digest later on.

Here is the format for a summary that I have found works well. Feel free to tweak it to suit your needs if you prefer.

Cover page
  • Set up a cover page for your document with the heading ‘Welcome to the Wonderful and Challenging World of (insert child’s name)’. You might choose slightly different wording, but the idea is to make your child sound appealing but also acknowledge that there are a few challenges that come with falling outside the norm.
  • Include a photograph of your child on the cover. Look for one that is a head shot, or head and body and where they look relaxed and happy. The idea is to insert the positive image into the teacher’s mind, so that when they look out across a classroom full of faces, your child’s face (and the info you include in the rest of the document) comes to mind.
Inside the document 
Include a couple of dot points about each of the following:
  • Information about intellectual potential if you have it (or your best indication if you don't. You might find the Ruf Estimates helpful in working out level of giftedness)
  • Any diagnoses or information about disabilities or different learning needs. You many have information from professionals to draw on here. Keep it short and to the point.
  • Strengths – things your child does well. It could include information about how they learn best, what they are good at, what they enjoy, or personal characteristics (helpfulness, taking things literally etc). 
  • Weaknesses – any identified weaknesses. These might be in learning, self-management, coping, socialisation, deliberate under-performance or another area.
  • What works – what actions or interventions allow your child to function at their best. It may include strategies teachers have used in the past, or recommendations from professionals who have assessed your child.
  • What doesn’t work - what pushes the child’s buttons, or what limits their ability to function optimally. This might include insights from previous years where teachers insisted on actions or behaviours that didn’t work well for your child. As a parent you probably know well what doesn’t work.
  • A statement about working as a team for the best outcomes for everyone

My children are beyond the school years now but I have done this in the past, and found it can make a big difference, not only to how the teacher responds to your child, but also to your relationship with the teacher. And that is an important element in seeing your child thrive.

You might like to give it a try.
All the best for a wonderful year.

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