Back To School Tip #4

In honor of Andrew’s first day back to school, I thought I would share how I combine what I have learned over the years as a teacher and what I have learned as his mother in order to build good working relationships with the members of his “team.” 

Working With Teachers and Therapists

I am a firm believer in meeting your child where they are developmentally and academically if you want to help them progress. I found that this got a little more tricky when Andrew started school because he wasn’t talking so I couldn’t know what he knew with regards to knowledge typically expressed verbally and he clearly wasn’t developing according to some of the timelines that we were seeing. What was he ready for? Where was he developmentally and academically? What were his strengths? What were his weaknesses? Where do we start?

All of these questions were swirling in our minds with no one able to figure it out, that is until I began doing My Obstacle Course with him and presenting him with opportunities to demonstrate his knowledge and understanding in ways that didn’t require words. As a result of doing these station activities with him, I learned where he was with regards to strengths and weaknesses in developmental and academic skills. This was so helpful because I had specific examples to share with his teachers and therapists without it just being “I think he can do this because one time he did it a few months back.” (Yes, I’m sure those exact words have come out of my mouth while sitting in one of the early intervention meetings years ago.) The information I could provide to a teacher or therapist was going to help him and would make such a difference in how they worked with him.

First Day of School 2009

Building The Team

When I work with other parents many of them ask me how his teachers took it when I told them what to do. “Weren’t they mad/offended/insulted?” The thing is that I DID NOT tell his teachers what to do, I told them what Andrew could or could not do. It was up to them how they proceeded with incorporating that knowledge into their teaching. I want to work with them, let them know I am going to do all that I can to support his education and growth and part of that involves giving the information that I had access to so they could use it in planning lessons/sessions to meet his needs.

With his teachers, I did this at the beginning of the year so there wasn’t any time wasted trying to figure out where they should start and what he needed to work on. Since I was a teacher, I know how much time is spent trying to figure out where the students are in all of the different areas. Throw in some learning differences and developmental delays and they may not get the whole picture of what a child can do, especially if the areas of weakness are more noticeable (like being non-verbal) and the areas of strength more subtle (like being able to read before talking). I feel that sharing information is so important in order to have everyone working towards similar goals.

I consider everyone who is part of Andrew’s life, part of his “team” and want to make sure everyone is on the same page. I am sharing my child with them and I want them to know that he is my baby, he has people who love him, who care for him and who have very high hopes for him. No, I’m not the irritating mother who thinks her child is perfect and can do no wrong so I also want them to know that we know he is not perfect, that he can be annoying (ask anyone who works with him how they feel about ceiling fans :)!), that we acknowledge the challenging days that they may experience but that we are doing the best that we can. Conveying that message to his teachers and therapists has always been so important to me and I think it is key to having a good relationship with the members of his team.

First Day of School 2010

What I Share:

When I go in for a parent meeting at the beginning of the school year (you can schedule these with your child’s teachers, you don’t have to wait for conferences!), I share with his teachers where he is in the following areas:

  • fine motor
  • gross motor
  • social
  • literacy
  • math
  • sensory
  • play skills

Some other helpful tidbits to pass on:

How does your child learn best?

Are they visual and have to see things? Do they have to hear it to remember it? Or do they have to touch and manipulate it in order to make sense of it?

Are there any modifications that have worked in the past?

Timers, visual schedules, checklists, fine motor tools, specific room placement (front, end, away from distracting window, etc.), proximity to teacher, less visual distractions in the classroom, squishy seat or exercise ball instead of a chair, fidget toy in desk to keep hands busy, quiet/safe spot/time out (in a good way) space for them to go when they get overwhelmed

How are they motivated?

Positive words, rewards to work for, sticker charts, etc. Andrew is particularly motivated by knowing how many times he’ll have to do something or how much he has to do and so I’ve seen therapists use a set of items that get taken away as he does what he is supposed to do (Ex. 5 coins are set out. Each time he says a speech word or sound 10 times accurately, a coin goes in the bank. This provides him with all modalities of learning – visual, auditory and kinesthetic, while also creating purpose.)

What are things they really enjoy and feel good about?

Giving teachers some insight into what your child likes to do can really help them connect with them. Sharing about a specific hobby or interest is like a “fast pass” to building relationships with students. I’ve had students who were crazy about horses, African Gray Parrots, Okapi’s, planets, presidents, baseball stats, and maps. As I am writing this, I can picture each of those children and how they lit up whenever we would talk about those things. Right now Andrew is into ceiling fans so he may act like he cannot hear you, mention that you have a ceiling fan in your house and the questions will come pouring out faster than you can answer. Plus, he’ll probably want to come over and video tape them 🙂 .

What are things that cause them frustration or anxiety?

This is also so helpful for a teacher to know up front so they can be prepared with some extra motivators or they can make the decision to approach something in a different way to see if that helps ease the frustration a bit.

As for anxiety, this is something that we have dealt with a lot and it has helped his teachers to know what our routine is at home during a situation that may cause anxiety, such as seeing insects inside or when there is a thunderstorm. Ex. If there is a thunderstorm at school he has noise canceling headphones, moves to a location where the lightning cannot be seen – even if that means under a blanket, and soothing music on an I Touch. Sharing the strategies that have worked for us helps him because there is consistency and also comfort in knowing that the teachers respond right away in a calm manner instead of trying to figure out after the fact why he is physically shaking and trying to run away.

First Day of School 2011

I hope that this helps gives you some ideas for how to approach building and working with your child’s “team” in a way that is most productive and helpful for your child’s learning and development.

Engage, Encourage and Empower!

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