How To Know What’s Happening At School

How To Know What’s Happening At School

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​​​​​​​How To Know What’s Happening At School

What kind of response do you get when you ask your child how school was that day?
Do you get a shrug of the shoulders, a mumbled answer, or no response at all?
Last week on our The Art of Advocacy live show,  Dr. Julie Causton gave tips for parents about including their child in general education classrooms. One of the tips Julie gave was to know what’s happening at school. Here is the link for last week’s video.
We’re going to focus on 3 strategies today to help you know what’s happening at school:
1. How to find clues at school.
2. Improving what’s written in Progress Reports and how often you get them.
3. How to use effective home/school communication tools.

Let’s look at the first strategy:  How to find clues at school.
I recently talked to a mother that said her son was included in specials, lunch and recess with his general education classroom.  I said, “Oh, you mean he’s a visitor.”  She went on to say that she was at his school during lunch time and decided to go by and say Hi to him.  She was surprised to see him sitting at a separate table with a paraprofessional and one other student from the special education class.  When the mother said she thought he was supposed to eat lunch with his general education classmates, the para said this is where he chooses to sit.
Now, this doesn’t surprise me, given the fact that he doesn’t spend much time with the students in the general education class, he probably hasn’t developed any friendships with those kids and doesn’t feel like he’s apart of their class.  Helping students to develop friendships will need to be a topic for a future Facebook live show.
One of the best ways to know what’s happening at school is to actually spend some time at school – you can volunteer to help in the classroom, set up a time to eat lunch with your child, and/or spend some time observing you child in the classroom.
What do you think you can find out when you spend some time at school?  Here are some of my ideas.
Some clues at school can help you:
  • See where your child is getting his instruction
  • Who your child is getting instruction from
  • What kinds of work is your child doing
  • Who are some of his/her friends
  • What does your child like to do at recess
  • Who does your child sit next to at lunch
  • How easily does he/she seem to be doing their schoolwork
  • Does your child seem happy at school
Now, you might say, “My child doesn’t have an IEP goal to be happy at school.  I thought we were talking about making sure my child’s IEP is being implemented at school.”  Chances are, not many children, if any, have a measurable IEP goal to be happy at school.  But, if you know your child isn’t happy that is a huge clue that things are not going well.  And that needs to be brought up to your child’s teacher and probably the IEP team.
Even if you can be at school, only occasionally, that is a wonderful way to get some inside information about what is happening at school.
How many of you get Progress Reports for your child’s IEP goals that only say something like: In progress, or maybe just a #2 and you find out that means Satisfactory.
Do you get Progress Reports only a couple times a year, or maybe not at all?
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our second strategy is to improve what’s written in Progress Reports and consider asking for more frequent Progress Reports. 
Progress Reports are supposed to help parents and staff know how much progress your child is making on each of their IEP goals.  Unfortunately, in many cases, it has just become some paperwork teachers have to fill out and it doesn’t really help us know how well our child is doing at school. 
Progress reports should also help the teachers know if they need to make any adjustments in their teaching style or instructional strategies. Well written Progress Reports help teachers and parents.  I have a free two-page handout about Progress Reports.  Click here to download it.
If a mere, In Progress or a #2 is not enough for you to really know if his/her IEP is being implemented with fidelity at school, discuss that at an IEP meeting.  If you don’t have an IEP meeting coming up soon, ask for one.  The content and frequency of Progress Reports can be individualized and written in the IEP.
Teachers should be collecting data on a regular basis; that may be weekly, every other week, or monthly.  If you’re not sure how often data is supposed to be collected, check the IEP, it should be written by each goal, as to how often they’re collecting information to show your child’s progress.  Teachers can summarize the data collected, when they write the Progress Report for each of your child’s IEP goals. It’s also very helpful if teachers can write a narrative, explaining in more detail the type of work your child is doing now and the new skills he/she has learned to do.
Now, let’s look at how often your receiving Progress Reports.  A suggestion in the federal IDEA regulations is that Progress Reports can be sent home whenever Report Cards are sent home for all the students.  Somehow, most districts have interpreted this to mean they only need to send home Progress Reports when Report cards go home.  In my opinion as an advocate, this just isn’t so.  Just like everything else in your child’s IEP needs to be individualized, the content and frequency of Progress Reports can be individualized.
Some schools are on a trimester system and students only get a Progress Report 3 times a year.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want 12 weeks, 3 months, going by before I know how well my son is doing at school.  That would be too little, too late.  Some parents ask for monthly Progress Reports. As you probably know, when you ask for something different than what schools typically offer, you’ll most likely get some push back.
At a recent IEP meeting, the parent requested monthly Progress Reports and instead the staff offered monthly reports to update the parents, and still doing quarterly Progress Reports.  This was fine, we defined what information would be given in the monthly reports and so far that has been working great.
Another parent wanted more frequent reports and what that team decided was to have 30 minute monthly meetings with the teachers and the parents.  Like so many situations, when the IEP team thinks outside of the IEP boxes you can come up with some ideas that help you know more about what is really happening at school.

Let’s switch gears and look at our 3rd Strategy:  home-school communication tools.
A common complaint I hear from parents is the information given on communication logs is pretty much useless.  It’s important to figure out what you want to know about your child’s learning or other parts of his/her day.  You can easily create a checklist with what your child’s IEP goals are and have the teacher and/or therapist describe what activities they did in the different areas.  But you may also need to know what your child ate at lunch, how many times he went to the bathroom, how many sensory breaks he needed, etc.
So, once again, the communication log needs to be individualized to what is important for you to know.  It’s also very helpful if parents have a space to write down important information they want the staff to know, like if your child slept well the night before, if you’re concerned he/she might be getting sick, or if there was something else that went on in the morning that the school needs to be aware of.
Sometimes, the trick to using home-school communication tools is to find the right balance for everyone – if parents are requesting detailed narrative reports every day, that probably is going to be challenging for a teacher to do.  As much as possible if you can have some things be a simple check off that will be a time saver – but you can still get the information you need.  For instance, the staff can write down the times your child was taken to the bathroom and check off if your child went or not.  But then maybe, each therapist writes a few sentences in the log explaining what your child worked on.
Technology can be helpful – some parents prefer getting an email or text from the teacher.  The thing I suggest if you rely on texting is to also have an app that allows you to download and print out the texts so you have a paper trail of what has been shared.  With cell phones, some teachers are taking photos of a student’s work, or emailing a short video of the student doing some tasks and use that as a way to share with parents.
As your child gets older, they can participate in giving different types of summaries of what they liked doing that day and maybe one thing that was challenging.  Having a student reflect on their day is a great skill for them to learn.
There is an awesome article I can share with you that gives wonderful examples of home-school communication toolsClick here to download it.
Thank you for being with us, either live, or watching this replay.  Keep doing the awesome job you’re doing because you are not only making a difference for your child, but for all the other children to come.​​​​​​​
As an advocate my goal is to have you accept what is right for your child. I’m here to help you have that happen!
If you have questions about the support your child is getting or not getting at school, hit Reply to this email and ask.  I read all my emails and will respond to you. And as always, I’m also available for free 30 minute phone consultation.  Just email me at we’ll set up a time to talk.


Take care,

P.S. Next Thursday, May 11th I’m going to be in a cabin with my family for a long Mother’s Day break and won’t have reliable wi-fi.  Instead, of having a live show on the 11th, I will be posting an encore edition of my interview with Kathie Snow, public speaker and author of Disability is Natural.  So, please like my Facebook page, Visions and Voices Together in order to get notified when I’m broadcasting live and so we can stay connected throughout the week. 

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