During a recent interview (Starts at 12:45), on Rogers TV with Jameelah Gamble – A Voice for all, I was asked what advice I would give to parents whose children with special needs are transitioning between grades, schools, and systems (elementary to secondary). I don’t recall my exact answer, and I know I did not have the opportunity to say all I could have said given the time constraints. I can tell you it centered around one word – partnership.

I have learned a great deal about partnership over the years, both personally and professionally. I have learned through experience what it is, what it looks like, what it feels like and unfortunately, through some negative experiences, what partnership is not. Partnership doesn’t just happen. It takes a commitment.

What is partnership?
Partnership requires at least two people, but can be involve an entire organization who haveĀ a genuine commitment to one another to achieve an end goal.

What does partnership look like?
– shared ideas and agendas
– mutual respect
– negotiation is evident
– mutual acknowledgement
– non-competitive
– effective communication
– joint leadership

What does partnership feel like?
– energetic
– inspiring
– enlightening
– empowering
– valuable
– equitable
– strength based

What partnership is not?
– jealous
– spiteful
– competitive
– one sided
– vulnerable
– dishonest

Partnership in K-12
With many ugly stories that parents hear about the education system, and more specifically special education, how can a parent not feel apprehensive about a transition from grade to grade, school to school, elementary to secondary or even secondary to college? Let’s face it. There are some troubling stories out there and unfortunately we do tend to focus on the negative despite the fact there are good news stories. With a transition on the horizon, it is important to remember that both parents and educators have a responsibility to prepare for next year and to start the new school year off on the right foot.

Here are some tips to help set the stage for partnership between you, your student’s education team and your child.

1. Start early – If you know who your child’s teacher will be next year – introduce or re-introduce yourself.
2. Think positively – tell the teacher/s that you are looking forward to working together next year
3. Accept that change isn’t necessarily bad. Each teacher is different just as each student is different. Change builds resilience and there just might be a better way to do things.
4. Talk positively in front of your child about the change and the people involved.
5. Check your own biases at the door – we all come to new situations with past experiences, both positive and negative.
6. Assume the best of your teacher before you jump to conclusions of the worst.
7. The 24-hour rule is a rule for a reason. It does help.
8. Inform yourself.
9. Attend all meetings. If one isn’t initiated, initiate one yourself.
10. Freely share information.
11. Ask, ask, ask questions. Don’t stew. Clarify!
12. Acknowledge your teacher’s effort – the big and the small.

1. Believe that parents do know their children and have valuable things to contribute to discussions.
2. Read your student’s files and I.E.P.
3. Don’t make assumptions – ask questions.
4. Return messages and phone calls promptly.
5. If you don’t know an answer to a parent’s question – no problem. Ask someone and follow-up. Don’t guess.
6. Remember there is no room for judgement in partnership. Once judgment is past, partnership is eroded (trust me).
7. Model a growth mindset in students and parents.
8. Compromise – your solution may not always be the only solution (or even the right solution).
9. Reach out – communicate in as many ways as possible.
10. Respect confidentiality.
11. Use people first language.
12. Acknowledge the student’s effort. Acknowledge the parents contributions.
13. Learn something else about the student that is non-academic focused on show an interest in communicating about that topic from time to time.

Partnership, even among the most committed pairs, groups and teams can bring about challenges. However a partnership that starts out on shaky ground, and/or isn’t genuine, is quite likely destined to breakdown. Building relationships is key to building partnership and we don’t build relationships by tearing each other down. Helen Keller once said “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” The key – master the art of partnership.
Originally posted on the P.A.L.S. Network Blog on June 9, 2015