Communications and Letter Writing
A. The problem with school/Parent communications (see below)
The problem with school/Parent communications
Poor communication is one of the most remarkable aspects of the large majority of cases that come into my office. Usually, both sides are at fault. Too often, school district personnel see communication with parents as an annoying, useless obligation; they have not bought into the concept of collaborative educational planning.
This causes them to communicate with parents from a superior position. Instead of engaging in true communicative dialogue, educators too often “talk past” parents. They speak and write in clichéd educational jargon, which instead of communicating or striving for comprehension, clouds meaning and angers. School communications with parents tend to be reactive and unresponsive to the parents’ concerns and issues.
Parents on the other hand have difficulty expressing themselves to the school district. There are a number of causes for this problem. Parents often know that there is an educational problem, but have difficulty expressing what is wrong. It is a frequent school district complaint that they do not know exactly what the parent is concerned about or wants. Granted, many times the school personnel will hide behind a complaint that the parent has not made his or her issues or desires clear. Either way, it can be an excuse for inaction or unresponsiveness on the part of the school district.
As parents become frustrated with their inability to address their child’s educational needs, they often become very angry. The strength of their growing emotions too often causes them to lose focus. This causes them to fixate upon the district’s faults and failings, rather than upon the priority of seeking positive educational change.
On some level I feel that too often schools intentionally ignore the parents’ escalating anger and even provoke it from behind a wall of their educational procedures and jargon. Unfocused angry parents are more easily outmaneuvered and manipulated. Their angry demands are easier to characterize as irrational or exaggerated. Their efforts to seek remedies through state complaint or administrative hearing are more easily turned aside.
The advocate’s role is vital and powerful in taking control of communications and turning them to the advantage of the child with disabilities. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the most important skill sets which an advocate brings to educational planning. A capable advocate can aide the parent to organize their issues and separate out the emotions and past offenses which tend to cloud communications. The advocate’s clear, direct, concise communications can push the school district toward clearer, more useful communications. Skillful communications can create an educational record, which obligates school districts to respond directly and clearly to a child’s educational needs. This section provides some basic communication tips. We will also work at adding sample letters to help advocates develop their own communication skills.