Main content

Alert message

Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Karen Whitty, Parent, Bee Caves, TX

Abstract: A parent shares her team meeting strategies to build collaborative communication between her family and school personnel. The positive environment creates opportunities for creative problem-solving and leads to more meaningful and effective IEP meetings.

Keywords: Family Wisdom, parent–school collaboration, visual impairment, team meeting, IEP, special education

When asked to write an article on our personal experiences with team meetings, I was not only up for the challenge, but excited. We’ve had positive experiences with this particular type of meeting regarding our son’s development. Team meetings are a time for everyone who is involved in our child’s continual progress to get together and brainstorm on areas where he needs improvement, and how to help him achieve his goals without the constraints of an ARD hanging over us.

The parents typically request a team meeting. Anyone who is involved in our child’s development meets to share successes, concerns and how to work out any issues that have come up since the last ARD. When we have our team meetings, we only use this time to express concerns towards our child’s progress. It is important for us to leave any concerns that we may have with individuals working with our son on a more private level and not at the team meeting. We never want to put a team member on the spot or make them feel uncomfortable during the meeting, which would draw their focus away from our child and cause embarrassment.

Our son’s team meetings are comprised of a wide range of persons who work directly with him. We invite his regular ed. teachers, resource teachers, therapists, VI and O&M instructors, aides, his brother and yes, grandparents too. If our dog could talk and offer useful suggestions we would bring him as well. As the old saying goes, “The more the merrier!” We have not asked our son to attend these meetings as of yet. However, in the next academic school year, we intend to start involving him for part of the meetings, as it is time for him to start taking ownership in his own development and progress. Scary to think that our sweet boy will be out there one day without us, but that is the purpose of all these meetings isn’t it?

One of the things that we like most about having such a variety of persons at these meetings is that everyone has input and ideas in problem-solving that are invaluable. There have been times when a therapist has made a suggestion regarding our son that has helped the aide or a teacher. There have also been times when the grandparents have offered suggestions that help the teachers. We have all heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, the person that came up with that saying must have had a child with challenges. When I look around the room at one of my son’s team meetings, I see a village of people coming together for the common good of our child.

We typically like to have two team meetings per academic school year, one in the fall and one in spring. At first, I felt personally guilty for calling these meetings, but as time went on, we found out that everyone involved enjoyed the time we spent discussing our son, and that we were making a big difference in his development. The fall team meetings are generally held in October when everyone has had a chance to get acclimated to the new school year. This is a great opportunity for new teachers to meet one another along with any family members or private therapists. We have found that the majority of teachers working with our son in regular ed. classrooms have never worked with a visually impaired child before. The fall team meetings provide a great time to address their questions regarding methods of his instruction. Some of these questions can not only be answered by his resource teacher, but also by his therapist, VI instructor, O&M and yes, Mom and Dad.

We usually call the spring team meeting a few weeks before his annual ARD. We like this meeting because we are able to prepare for his ARD without any formalities, reducing the stress of the ARD. It’s a great time to discuss what annual goals our son has and has not achieved over the last academic year, and allows us to think over any goals that he should be able to attain during the upcoming school year.

This discussion also prompts new ideas developed between the team meeting and ARD. We are always excited to get an e-mail or phone call from a therapist or teacher who has a new IEP modification as a result of this meeting. There have even been times that we, as parents, have had items added to his our son’s IEP at an ARD simply because we had time to think about topics that were discussed at the team meeting. Think of it as a scrimmage where strategies are put together for the big game. Overall, these team meetings allow for more efficient use of everyone’s time, simply because we do not have to go back and make constant changes to his IEP.

Having realistic expectations for our child and for his team members is important. We often have to ask ourselves if a goal is something that our child can do at this time, or if we should address it in the future. In the past, we have had to postpone one goal in order to prioritize another. One of our philosophies is to use our child’s strengths to build upon his weaknesses. We never say “never.” In some cases during these meetings, we’ve had to strongly state what we believe our son can accomplish, and we have experimented with his IEP. Some experiments have been clearly successful, but others have not. Once, in a team meeting, the VI teacher said that she felt like we failed because our child was not able achieve one of these IEP goals. My response to her was that the real failure would have been if we had not tried at all.

One thing that is important to us is the environment of the meeting. We try to keep it positive and focused on our child. We often bring food to these meetings, whether it be an afternoon coffee, lunch or even breakfast. Breakfast tacos have always been a huge hit.

It is also important to consider the time of year. We never hold our fall team meetings at the beginning of the year. We believe that everyone needs time to get acclimated to each other and to the new school year schedule. It is also important to consider if it is ARD season within the school district. Our particular school district has their ARD season in the Spring. I would rather not call a “meeting of the minds” for my son when everyone is overwhelmed by upcoming ARDs. Let’s face it, when you have a lot on your plate it is hard to stay focused.

The overall benefits of team meetings have been invaluable to us as a family. We have learned so much from these professionals who work with our son. Most of all, the team meetings have opened the door to a much higher level of communication between teachers, therapists, aides and family members. It gives a greater understanding of how everyone is working with our son to become independent and successful.