10 Tips for a Successful School Year


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10 Tips for a Successful School Year
by Pat Howey, Advocate
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Question: Help! School is starting. I want to make sure I have done my homework so this year is better than last year.

Answer: You need to view your role as your child’s “case manager.” (Learn more about "The Parent as Project Manager" in Chapter 3 of Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy).

You must be watchful, even when things appear to be going well.

Here are ten tips to help you get off to a good start at the beginning of the new school year.

1. Help Your Child Deal with Transitions.
Is your child making the transition from preschool to kindergarten, from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school? Plan to take your child to visit the new school or classroom before the first day of school.

2. Reread your child’s IEP.
Do you understand what the school agreed to provide? Do your child's teachers understand what they are to provide?

Is your child's IEP SMART? (specific, measurable, action words, realistic, and time-specific)? (Review Chapter 12 about SMART IEPs from Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy).

3. Meet with your child’s teacher(s) to discuss your child’s special needs.
Take a picture of your child to the meeting. Teachers are more likely to take a personal interest in your child and remember your child’s special needs if s/he has seen a picture of your child.

4. Take extra copies of your child’s IEP to the meeting with the teacher(s).
Never assume that teachers have had time to read your child’s IEP before school begins. Teachers have many things to do as they prepare for the first day of school. The teacher may not understand how important the IEP is to your child’s success. Leave a copy of your child's IEP with each teacher.

5. Make a List of Important Things About Your Child .
Make a list of the five most important things that the teacher(s) need to know about your child. Explain why these things are vital to your child’s success. Leave a copy of the list with each teacher.

6. Prepare to Deal with Potential Problems Early.
If your child is in general education classes, prepare for the teacher(s) who wants to see how your child “gets along” before making any changes in the way they run their classrooms.

Teachers often take this position because they want to give their students a fresh start. You may need to explain why your child may fail unless the teacher understands his/her unique needs and provides the necessary services, accommodations and supports.

7. Resolve Old Concerns and Issues.
If you have concerns or issues that were not resolved during the last IEP meeting, request another IEP meeting immediately. Try to resolve these issues and concerns before your child begins to have problems this year.

8. Get a New Assessment. Consider getting your child's skills tested very early in the school year. Where are your child's skills on standardized educational achievement tests? Use these scores as baseline data. You can compare these scores with scores obtained at the end of the year to measure your child’s progress. (See Chapter 8, Your Child's Evaluations, in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy).

9. Go to your school’s Open House. In addition to giving you another chance to meet with your child's teachers (and make a good impression), teachers often explain their classroom rules during Open House. When you attend, you have a chance to see if your child may have trouble understanding the teachers' rules. You will also be in a better position to explain these rules to your child.

10. Get a bound notebook. Use the notebook as a “contact log” to send messages to the teachers. Write a sentence of two to the teacher(s) every day. Do not make your child the bearer of messages about problems at school. Make an extra copy of your log often in case the notebook is lost.

Have a great school year!