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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Communicating With Your School

Even when we love our schools, it’s inevitable that issues will arise. Why? Think back to your own childhood. Schools are full of kids, who are still developing their interpersonal skills, and people with a range of personalities. As kids grow up, there are issues between them. Further, schools are designed to address the needs of the typical, and some of us are blessed with students who have unusual needs, whether they have a diagnosis needing accommodations or services (special needs), a high learning aptitude (gifted), or both (2e). Oftentimes, our kids come home with beefs about their day that they don’t share with their teachers, and they don’t always understand other people’s perspectives on the incidents. 

Golden Rules of Communication with Schools

Kindness. Whatever the situation, people hear us better when we are kind. Remember the “compliment sandwich” for feedback? The theory is that, when people feel appreciated, they can accept constructive criticism. As such, I always recommend starting any communication to your school with a thank you.

Solution Oriented. One of my former mentors told me, offer suggestions, not problems. In other words, if there is a challenge at school, consider some alternatives, keeping kindness in mind. In other words, solutions should minimize work on the teacher and impact on other students.

Simple Requests. For simple requests, a quick email is sufficient if worded kindly. Examples include reminding your kid to eat their lunch, allowing students to leave school early for a doctor’s appointment, or a short extension of a single item of homework. In these scenarios, opening with a thank you and closing with an offer to chat in person or via phone can assure the recipient of an openness to discuss further if they disagree.

Complicated Requests. Like in life, there are some topics better discussed in person, or if necessary, via video conference. Electronic media is famous for worsening rather than resolving conflicts because it does not convey body language or tone of voice. When reading an email about a potentially contentious issue, the recipient can misunderstand the intent, become defensive, or worse. In these scenarios, requesting a meeting is usually the best path.

Example Topics

Student Conflicts. Among the most distressing school issues, is when our kids tell us about arguments at school, even more so when the altercation involved hitting or other physical actions. We all want to keep our children safe. Your first instinct may be to email a request for a student to be removed from school; this is rarely a successful approach. Most schools expect to work with students who have physician impulses, and even private schools will not expel upon first offense unless severe. The best action in these scenarios, is requesting an in-person meeting with both the teacher and, for serious concerns, school leadership.

Academic Challenge. School curriculum typically targets the middle of the bell curve. For students who need extra help or extra challenge, exceptions or alternatives may be required. For example, students struggling with curriculum may need tutoring, help at lunchtime or after school, or specific curriculum that helps them learn the topic. Students who learn quickly may benefit from single-subject acceleration, more difficult curriculum, or small groups with other advanced peers. For extra support or challenge, some parents choose to send curriculum to school (paper or online) or send their children after-school programs (in person or online). Discussions about academic challenge are complicated, so are best in person, broached with an email to sit down with the teacher, and might require approval of school leadership.

Special Education. Children with specific disagnoses are entitled by law to accommodations (504) and/or services (IEP) at public schools. Private schools have a lower obligation to meet special needs but are often happy to provide accommodations to their students with mild conditions. Example accommodations include priority seating, extra time on tests, or typing assignments. Example services include occupational or speech therapy, or teaching methods designed for students with learning disabilities. For simple mild needs, a discussion in person with the school’s disability person can often provide an accommodation list to address their needs. As the needs increase in complexity, a public school IEP/504 may be required, which follows a specific process governed by federal and state law. 

Role of a Consultant 

A consultant can help by reviewing emails, accompanying parents to meetings, and strategizing alternative solutions. Oftentimes, simple distance from the problem can help provide perspective, and experience with advocating for students can further help to maintain or mend relationships with schools. 

For special needs requiring an IEP or 504 at a public school, an IEP Advocate can be extremely helpful with understanding your rights under the law. 

Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. VIP and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.

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