A little poster popped up on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. On the surface, it seems to be positive, student centered, and an invitation to the parent. So, why did it make me uncomfortable? I started taking it apart to figure out what part of this statement made me bristle.

The first few statements of the poster/script are so positive and kind,

“Before we begin this IEP meeting, I just want to take a moment to tell you how amazing your child is. We’re going to talk a lot today about all of the things your son can’t do but I need you to know that he is so much more than the sum of his deficits. Your son has his own personality with unique strengths and interests that make him such an awesome little guy.”

So, what’s wrong with that Kim? Nothing.

I continued my examination. The next statement,

“If we had more time, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee and chat about all of the precious moments I have shared with your son. But today is about helping him. So, yes, we are going to focus on what he can’t do.”

There it is. Yep. That is it. I know now why this paragraph disturbs me.

This is a subtle disempowerment, or at the very least, a definite discouragement of the parent’s possible conversation, her desire to talk about the positive attributes of her child. It seems to say participation is okay as long as the parent is following the lead of the school staff-no off topic conversation.

The statement establishes who is going to do the speaking and decision-making in the meeting-the school staff. It seems, in a veiled and subtle way, to discourage the active participation we should be seeking from our families. I know this is not the intent of the author. I know he or she intended to assure the parent their child is important. However, we must become more sensitive to how we invite parents to be active participants in their child’s educational programming. We need language that is inclusive and appreciative of any information a parent can give us about their child. We need to show them how we value all of what they say about their children and incorporate children’s strengths and interests into their educational programming.

The school staff’s focus on the child’s needs only risks excluding valuable information about the child’s competencies. We must invite families to discuss their child’s strengths and affinities along with their weaknesses. This practice will only enhance how the programming may support and remove barriers for this student. In his book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School, Craig Pohlman advises parents that one of the most productive teaching strategies is to use a child’s strength to leverage a weakness, such as substituting verbal material for visual material or vice versa. As for highlighting interests, children are almost always more likely to attempt to read something if it is of high interest to them. This is just an example of how to use what we know about a child’s strength and affinities to write goals and objectives for learning more effectively and efficiently. Dr. Pohlman’s advice to parents is the opposite of this Facebook poster. Knowing about and discussing a child’s strengths and interests helps teachers know better how to teach and motivate a child.

I appreciate the attempt by the author to reduce conflict and save time within the IEP setting by talking positively about the child and welcoming the parent to help tackle the plan for working on what the child can’t do. However, we build relationships by opening our conversations and our hearts to a parent’s everyday knowledge about their child, listening to what families say, not restricting conversation. As a result, parents will be empowered, feel accepted, and join in the important work of educating their child.