Politics & jobs: Why schools don’t want “parents as partners”

A few days ago, I read a column in the Toronto Sun by Moira MacDonald titled “Schools won’t let parents in” (H/T Catherine). It was about so-called “parent partnerships” and the frustrations many well-educated and experienced parents have when they are invited to be a parent-partner and then expected to do little more than peripheral activities. For example, in talking about parent Uzma Shakir’s experiences, MacDonald writes that even though she has several degrees, including one in English literature, her kids’ school only asked her to bake cookies.

So, why is that attitude so prevalent? For two reasons: politics and jobs based on the assumption that only graduates of teachers college can understand the learning needs of students, a belief that must be maintained if the teachers unions are to ensure parents do not take jobs that should go to teachers.

For example, read what MacDonald writes about Charles Ungerlieder, a former deputy minister of education in the B.C. government and currently Dean in the University of B.C. Teacher Education program. She quotes him as saying that the “parents as partners” is a silly slogan because parents aren’t partners at school and shouldn’t be.  Why not?  Because parents are not trained teachers, and therefore sometimes don’t know what their children’s needs or best interests are — something that should be up to”the professionals to decide.”

Now, how offensive is that? Let’s say your child is being taught by a new, or fairly new, teacher education graduate. They are in their mid twenties and have never had children of their own. Yet, they know what your child’s needs and best interests are? Hogwash! Parents like Shakir have far more education than most teachers and they know their own children better than anyone.I mean, prior to attending school, they somehow managed to teach them to sit up, to walk, to talk and to get along with others. They also likely taught them their numbers and part of the alphabet, if not the whole alphabet. And, once in school, it is they who help their children with their homework.

So, what exactly defines the difference between Shakir’s education and parenting experience against a newly trained teacher?  The difference is the equivalent of a single eight month teacher education program. Yes, I know, some provinces require three and four-year degrees, but when you separate out the courses specifically geared to teaching, it amounts to introductory and survey courses on teaching methods, basic curriculum planning and classroom management, plus ten – sixteen weeks in a classroom under the supervision of a practising teacher.

Now, why do I say “introductory” and “survey” courses?  Because, that is all it is. Everything I know about curriculum I did not learn in teacher’s college. All you learn there is basic unit and day planning. No, what I learned in order to teach pre-service students about curriculum required master’s and doctoral degrees.

So, could parents learn the basics? Absolutely, if the will was there. Why isn’t the will there? Well, imagine the following scenario — how politics influences all this.

New curriculum guidelines for Grade 12 English have just been released. What is the likelihood of a high school teacher going before a microphone to tell the public what they don’t like about the themes in the document? Not likely at all. Now, what might happen if a parent had access to the same document and he or she didn’t like the themes? They would likely have no problem going before a microphone to complain loud and clear. Meaning, that is the political reason the parent as partners is not made workable.

Then, as I also mentioned at the start of this article, there is the issue of teaching jobs. What do parents have to do with that? Well, paranoia aside, if Shakir is qualified to teach Shakespeare, chances are she could teach a whole course. Meaning that hypothetically, if the school board wanted to save money, they could use her to do so. Thus the reason the teachers’ unions will no longer allow that kind of parent partnership. And, that’s a shame because years ago, when I was still teaching at the elementary or secondary levels, parents with specialized skills would frequently spend time in our classrooms and share their knowledge and skills.

So, there you have it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s stop fooling the general voting public into thinking that the governments or school boards really want to have parents as partners. They don’t. And, neither do the teachers’ unions. And, as far as that wall of professionalism separating teachers from parents goes, I have been on both sides of it and most certainly did not like being on the parent side.

Could that “we are the professionals” wall  be torn down? Yes, in a minute if there was the political will to do so. All it would take is providing parents with some seminars or courses on the same subjects pre-service students study.

Will some parent organization take on the role of fighting for real parent-school partnerships? I certainly hope so. Which is why I have risked the political fallout from former colleagues and those currently in my profession by writing this article. My bet, however, is that most teachers would agree with me, at least those who are parents themselves.

Special Education Web Links

Since I have taken down my header pages to concentrate on political issues, be they related to Ottawa, the provincial capitals or education in any way, here are some special needs resources that can be found online. Originally published on February 21, 2008, see also disclaimer at the bottom of the main page.

Applied Behavioural Analysis or ABA Treatment(Link) (Link)

Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities — (Link)

Autism Treatment Centre of America — Autism development treatment program called “Son-Rise.” (Link)

Autism Society Canada — (Link)

Canadian Association for Community Living — Advocacy for individuals with intellectual/developmental disability (Link)

Canadian Association for Independent Living — Information, programs and services for individuals needing assistance with daily living (Link)

Gifted Canada — (Link)

L’arche — International movement of people with developmental disabilities (Link)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada — (Link)

Learning & Reading Disabilities — A site about the importance of phonics and other techniques to improve and enhance reading (Link)

Our Kids.net — Lists schools children that are focused on accommodating attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities (Link) (Link)

Son-Rise — The Autism Canada Foundations explains Son-Rise (Link)

Disclaimer: The Internet organizations and web links listed on this page are for information only. They are not affiliated with this weblog or its owner, nor are they endorsed in any way. As such, it is up to each and every visitor to determine whether to use them or to conduct further research or inquiries.

Is McGuinty gov’t “inclusive” with parent advocacy stakeholders?

On the main Government of Ontario web page for the full-day kindergarten, now referred to as the Early Learning Program (ELP for short), you will find the following “principles” listed.

  1. Early development launches children’s trajectories for learning
  2. Partnerships with parents and communities are essential
  3. Respect for diversity, equity and inclusion are prerequisites
  4. A planned program supports early learning
  5. Play is the means to early learning
  6. Knowledgeable and responsive educators are essential

Regarding Item (2) “partnerships with parents and communities are essential,” I would like feedback from Ontario parents and parent advocacy groups to find out if Ontario’s governing Liberal Party practices what it preaches when it comes to “inclusiveness.” Or, is it only inclusive about parents on paper or with those organizations who agree with everything their Cabinet and Minister of Education suggests?  

For example, which parent groups are considered stakeholder groups and asked for advice and which are not? If there is supposed to be respect for communities regarding the ELP, shouldn’t that include all parent advocacy groups? 

Specifically, I frequently read that Annie Kidder of People for Education (P4E) is invited to participate in just about every manner of Ontario education-oriented consultation there is even though P4E clearly is a private, not-for-profit advocacy/lobby type of organization. Moreover, P4E seems to hold a special status, given that they are listed at the bottom of this Ontario government page, in the same category as the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education and the Ontario Federation of Home and Home and School Association.

Yet, apparently, from what I understand, neither Doretta Wilson, the Executive Director of the Society for Quality Education (SQE), also a parent advocacy not-for-profit organization, or its Board Chair, Malkin Dare, have ever been invited to any sort of meaningful consultation regarding Ontario Ministry of Education issues — which seems to me is hardly fair or inclusive.

Perhaps Ms. Kidder from P4E and Ms. Wilson from SQE could start a dialogue here, or members of their respective boards and supporters. I can assure those who do decide to participate here will be treated with respect by me and other commenters, although we may agree to disagree sometimes. However,  I honestly want to know how the current Ontario government makes the decision as to which parent advocacy group can be considered a stakeholder and which can’t — and why they can’t. (H/T Catherine)

While I plan to send an e-mail invitation with this URL via both P4E and SQE’s websites, visitors could also leave a comment on their respective blogs as well.

Parent advocacy special education guidelines

Here are 15 special education guidelines  from this H. Margolis and G. Brannigan website.  Republished with their permission nearly a year ago on January 15th, 2010, I thought they should be published again now.

Remember, in each province in Canada or state in the U.S., there are different policies and legislation (although in the U.S., some laws are federal, particularly when it comes to special education), but the guidelines are general enough that they can be adapted. The point being, that the guidelines can be used as a blueprint for parent advocacy. Note that my comments are italicized.

  1. Have your child evaluated by experts who can identify your child’s needs. In Ontario, that can be done by either the school board or the parents can arrange testing privately.
  2. Make sure you understand his needs before you meet with school personnel to discuss his needs and possible interventions.
  3. Make specific requests (in writing) for meeting his needs; support your requests with reports from well-credentialed experts, experts whom the school respects. Relates to the first point.
  4. Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with them, even if they reject your requests.
  5. Keep looking for ways to solve problems; remember that the school’s suggestions for solving your child’s problems may be as good as yours. Avoid the trap of advocating for a specific reading method, especially one that has a weak research base (e.g., Wilson, Fast Forward, Orton-Gillingham); instead, focus on goals, objectives, frequent monitoring of progress, and frequent meeting to adjust your child’s program. In Ontario, it is the IPRC who makes recommendations that the parent must approve. If they disagree, they have to initiate an appeal, first with the Board, in writing, or following that, with a provincial tribunal.
  6. Continue reading “Parent advocacy special education guidelines”

Help for parents to advocate on behalf of their kids

There is so much to do and keep track of when a parent is advocating for their own children, particularly at this time of the academic year as final report cards are being completed and schools are making plans for September. This is especially true if a school district wants to promote a child to the next grade who is clearly not ready to move ahead.

So, parents need a carefully prepared time line, a plan and a strategy about who to see, when they should see them and what they should expect, depending on legislation and regulations in the province or state they live in.

Just how do parents go about developing a plan and strategy to advocate on behalf of their kids? Well, to begin with, I would recommend they check out the various links on the Header Page — tips and guidelines that can help them move forward. And, no matter how alienated a parent may feel, they need to remember that, while they are not the professionals, they do know their children better than anyone else.

Endnote: For more information about the importance of parents being their child’s advocate, check out the side bar topic on “Dave Rutherford Show” where I was recently a guest regarding the “no fail/social promotion” issues.

A parent’s “to do” list prior to school interviews

This “what to do to be your child’s advocate” list was originally published in December 2008. However, I have decided to post it again as parents are now in the position of preparing for school interviews regarding decisions that must be made about the next school year. 

The list was taken from one of my earlier posts that was also updated based on recommendations from readers. It is certainly not a definitive list but it will give parents an idea of what to do when they know their kids need help.

(#1.) Visit your family doctor or pediatrician.

He or she can rule out disease, infection and/or any genetic or other physiological abnormalities. He or she can also prescribe medication as a last resort if that is necessary.  However, if the physician simply tells you not to worry, be firm. Have the specifics at your finger tips. Don’t take no or wait for an answer. For example, if a infant or toddler is not developing according to regular guidelines, keep a record and share that information — such as when a baby sits, rolls over, crawls (if at all), stands and speaks. Or does the toddler scream or shake their hands at the least bit of provocation? In other words, be prepared and expect answers.

(#2.) If your child is school-aged, visit his or her school.

This section was added after posting. As both Mac and Northern Ontario said in comments, sometimes a classroom teacher and/or a school resource teacher can offer helpful advice. When that happens, everyone can benefit. However, since the school system has a different agenda and is under financial constraints, parents need to be aware that there may be a conflict of interest.  And, frankly, parents who are really good at advocating for their child or children are sometimes seen in a negative light by school administrators.  That said, parents should always remember that it really doesn’t matter what the principal thinks as long as their child is getting the help they need. Of course, politics enters into this dynamic as well. There is an old saying “you can get more with honey than vinegar.” That certainly applies in this situation. While these comments are more likely to relate to public and Catholic schools, more will be said in item (5.) regarding looking at the option of a private school — where a parent/teacher partnership made be better.

(#3.) Visit the local Learning Disability Association or a related organization.

This is key. I was involved with the Niagara area LDA for many years, both as a parent and as a professional. While they don’t make specific recommendations, they have lists of the types of resources and professionals a parent may need. And, often they will make a referral. I can’t stress this option enough. Make an appointment. What parents will learn will help immensely. Here is the link to the Canadian Learning Disability Association where you can “Find the Chapter nearest you” which is found on the site’s left sidebar. (Link) Of course, other associations can also provide assistance, such as the Association for Community Living or the Autism Society of Canada. For links, see my header bar under “Parent Resources.” 

(#4.) Act on physician and LDA recommendations.

Never feel embarrassed or pushy. This is your child we are talking about. Too often pre-schools and regular schools will give parents that impression. Ignore them. Be polite but firm. Have all your facts at your finger tips. Do not blame. Just insist on the help your child needs. Remember, that in ten or twenty years you will still be helping your child and those educators will be retired and have long forgotten about you. In other words, think long term.

(#5.) Pay for private testing/treatment/schools if necessary.

If your physician or school system has your child on a waiting list for testing or specialized treatment, find out the name of a registered psychologist who does private testing and/or a behavioural therapist who offers private ABA (applied behavioural analysis treatment for severe autism spectrum disorders). And, even if you have to pay with post-dated cheques or have to borrow money, if at all humanly possible don’t wait. Or, if that option is just not possible, visit the various social services groups to see if they can help — like the Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, and so on. It can take years, valuable time wasted, if you put all your eggs in one basket. The school systems do what they can with the money they have available, but they can’t be all things to all people. So, parents need to be their own advocate. Some major medical plans through employment also pay a portion of private testing and treatment — as long as there has been a referral from a physician. Lastly, as sor said in a comment, consider a private school.

(#6.) Join a parent or disability support group.

Join a parent support group of some kind,  be it for learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit, cerebral palsy or Tourette’s. Talk to other parents. Find out what they are doing. Tell them what you are doing. Be involved. Be known. If possible, be a spokesperson for a group. Share your experiences with other parents at meetings or even conferences. Word of mouth (and now the blogosphere) is one of the main ways for parents to find out what they need or can do.

(#7.) Read and become knowledgeable.

There are lots of books and articles available on line. To begin with, search out all the links on this “Parent Resources” page on my header bar.

(#8.) Don’t wait on anyone else.

Waiting! One of the most frustrating things for parents who are trying to find out what may be wrong with their child, or what can be done to help them, is the waiting.  Sometimes there is no other option but to wait. Whatever the case, take other steps that you can do. Always remember you are your child’s advocate.  So, while waiting, get started on item 6. above by gathering together all the necessary information you need to move ahead — test results, special education programs that might be available, where ABA therapy is being offered, and so on.

HELP! When parents don’t know what to do…

There is a time in the life of many parents when they know there is something wrong or not quite right with their child. At first they might ignore the problems — such as when their child acts out more than other children their age or is unable to share or play — thinking they are worrying for nothing. But, intuitively, they know something is not right. 

It is when they are at that point of recognizing there might be a problem when they feel lost and very alone because they have no idea who to see and where to find help.

I have been in that situation and know the frustration and loneliness. I use the term loneliness on purpose because parents (and I include both the mother and the father in this description) are far too often told by well-meaning relatives and friends to simply love the child and stop worrying because “they’ll outgrow it” whatever “it” is.

Well, all too often, our children don’t outgrow their physiological, development and/or behavioural difficulties. The good news is, of course, that most parents do find help, eventually.

However, “eventually” is sometimes not fast enough. The purpose of this article is to encourage parents to become their child’s advocate immediately and never, just never relinquish that advocacy to anyone else — including the medical or school systems.

Here is a list of some of the things a parent can do, with links wherever possible. No one way is right for everyone, but at least this list is a place to start. And, parents need to remember to be doing more than one thing at one time. In other words, you can make an appointment with a specialized pediatrician AND be visiting the Learning Disability Association in your district at the same time.

Oh, and one more thing. There is no perfect solution to every problem. Compromise and some kind of help is better than none. So, parents need to be prepared to try whatever is available — while waiting for other treatment or curriculum options.

(1.) Visit your family doctor or pediatrician.

He or she can rule out disease, infection and/or any genetic or other physiological abnormalities. He or she can also prescribe medication as a last resort if that is necessary.  However, if the physician simply tells you not to worry, be firm. Have the specifics at your finger tips. Don’t take no or wait for an answer. For example, if a infant or toddler is not developing according to regular guidelines, keep a record and share that information — such as when a baby sits, rolls over, crawls (if at all), stands and speaks. Or does the toddler scream or shake their hands at the least bit of provocation? In other words, be prepared and expect answers.

(2.) If your child is school-aged, visit his or her school.

This section was added after posting. As both Mac and Northern Ontario said in comments, sometimes a classroom teacher and/or a school resource teacher can offer helpful advice. When that happens, everyone can benefit. However, since the school system has a different agenda and is under financial constraints, parents need to be aware that there may be a conflict of interest.  And, frankly, parents who are really good at advocating for their child or children are sometimes seen in a negative light by school administrators.  That said, parents should always remember that it really doesn’t matter what the principal thinks as long as their child is getting the help they need. Of course, politics enters into this dynamic as well. There is an old saying “you can get more with honey than vinegar.” That certainly applies in this situation. While these comments are more likely to relate to public and Catholic schools, more will be said in item (5.) regarding looking at the option of a private school — where a parent/teacher partnership made be better.

(3.) Visit the local Learning Disability Association or a related organization.

This is key. I was involved with the Niagara area LDA for many years, both as a parent and as a professional. While they don’t make specific recommendations, they have lists of the types of resources and professionals a parent may need. And, often they will make a referral. I can’t stress this option enough. Make an appointment. What parents will learn will help immensely. Here is a link to my feature page on a wide range of such parent “Special Education” resources.

(4.) Act on physician and LDA recommendations.

Never feel embarrassed or pushy. This is your child we are talking about. Too often pre-schools and regular schools will give parents that impression. Ignore them. Be polite but firm. Have all your facts at your finger tips. Do not blame. Just insist on the help your child needs. Remember, that in ten or twenty years you will still be helping your child and those educators will be retired and have long forgotten about you. In other words, think long term.

(5.) Pay for private testing/treatment/schools if necessary.

If your physician or school system has your child on a waiting list for testing or specialized treatment, find out the name of a registered psychologist who does private testing and/or a behavioural therapist who offers private ABA (applied behavioural analysis treatment for severe autism spectrum disorders). And, even if you have to pay with post-dated cheques or have to borrow money, if at all humanly possible don’t wait. Or, if that option is just not possible, visit the various social services groups to see if they can help — like the Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, and so on. It can take years, valuable time wasted, if you put all your eggs in one basket. The school systems do what they can with the money they have available, but they can’t be all things to all people. So, parents need to be their own advocate. Some major medical plans through employment also pay a portion of private testing and treatment — as long as there has been a referral from a physician. Lastly, as sor said in a comment, consider a private school.

(6.) Join a parent or disability support group.

Join a parent support group of some kind,  be it for learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit, cerebral palsy or Tourette’s. Talk to other parents. Find out what they are doing. Tell them what you are doing. Be involved. Be known. If possible, be a spokesperson for a group. Share your experiences with other parents at meetings or even conferences. Word of mouth (and now the blogosphere) is one of the main ways for parents to find out what they need or can do.

(7.) Read and become knowledgeable.

There are lots of books and articles available on line. Also I mentioned above, parents can begin the process by checking out all the links on the “Special Ed Links” on my header bar.

(8) Don’t wait on anyone else.

Waiting! One of the most frustrating things for parents who are trying to find out what may be wrong with their child, or what can be done to help them, is the waiting.  Sometimes there is no other option but to wait. Whatever the case, take other steps that you can do. Always remember you are your child’s advocate.  So, while waiting, get started on item 6. above by gathering together all the necessary information you need to move ahead — test results, special education programs that might be available, where ABA therapy is being offered, and so on.

Notes: (1) This list is for information only and is certainly not diagnositic or definitive. In other words, it is just my opinion. As such, I would like to invite parents and professionals to leave a comment or e-mail me with other items that I can add to the list in order to help parents when they don’t know what to do.

(2) I have one caution however. Sometimes parents are preyed upon by so-called professionals who say this method or that method will work — for a price. And, sometimes parents are so desperate for help, they will try anything. Many of those situations can be avoided with proper research and being part of a parent support group — to talk things over. And, as Northern Ontario Tory wrote in a comment, keep detailed records of all the meetings and school conferences attended, who were there, what was said and what was promised.