(#17) Productive Parent Meetings (part 2)
If you’re in the schools, May is typically a major month for meetings. Therefore, here are more meeting-strategies to enhance your professional identity and plant seeds to grow and garner parent treatment support. Last week, Part 1 established the base for this week.
Let’s face it, parents and teachers will not remember everything that was said at the eligibility/IEP/RTI meeting. [I won’t either, for that matter!] Most of us, including parents, will remember a few important points; most, however, will remember the impressions that were made at the meeting.
“Impressions” includes their initial perception of you. This initial perception will have a lot to do with the success of future parent interactions including homework support. The parents will remember:
- Your demeaner
- Your professionalism (the manner you present the information, not necessarily, what you present)
- Your warmth; how you verbally and non-verbally interact with them
- How you interact with the other professionals in the group, and how they interact with you
Because we all attend a gazillion meetings, it’s easy to slip into “a standard routine.” The following are logical principles that you, no doubt, already know and adhere to—but sometimes it’s good to just review and think about them.
Meeting-Methods to Develop Positive Perceptions and Parental Support
Make face-to-face eye contact. As you share your information, if the parents are not looking at you, wait a couple beats for them to make eye contact. Go around the table, of course, speaking to all present—including the child if he’s there—but always come back to the parents. They are the primary recipients of your results and recommendations.
Smile with your eyes.
Demeaner: Emotionally connect with the parents, not just cognitively connect. We’re walking a tightrope, here. No matter the meeting type, we are there to share information (the cognitive piece). Keep an eye on the parents, however, to see if they are understanding your information (simplify your words and give examples, if necessary), AND, observe how they are emotionally interpreting it. Sometimes, parents are hard to read. You may want to ask them, “Does this make sense to you?” “Do you see this in your child at home?”
I know sometimes, we view our part in meetings as our time to “present.” In some cases, you may view those times as an opportunity to interact with the parents and establish a connection.
Personality and communication: Hit a happy medium. Avoid extremes. At one end, obviously, avoid patronization. At the other end, avoid being their best friend. (I looked up patronization; it means, “to treat with an apparent kindness which betrays a feeling of superiority”). Don’t you just hate that?!
Joking around can help lighten the atmosphere, but too many jokes can just come across as a distraction. Present yourself as someone you would like and trust.
Stay centered and focused on the child. A few years ago when I started my business, Speech Dynamics, Inc., I read a book called, Business Think. The authors sited several “rules.” The first rule was “Check Your Ego at the Door.” Ego has no place in business, or in education, therapy, and definitely not in school meetings. You’ve probably attended meetings where one of the professionals had an “I” problem: “I have this amount of education from this prestigious institution…, I personally wrote this…, I’ve worked with…, I did this with your child… (not, here’s how your child responded and here’s what it means), etc.
In a school I worked at, during several eligibility meetings, one of the professionals displayed his very long written report on the Smart Board screen and proceeded to read it to us. With his back to the group. For many, many minutes. In addition to being boring and rude, it was meaningless and ego-driven. The content was all about him, his knowledge, and the kid’s scores; very little interpretation was provided. Parents complained, and rightly so.
Parents are there for their child, not to see how smart we all are. Granted, establishing credibility is important, but an inflated ego negates credibility.
Thoughts on sharing testing and/or progress results. The nice thing about working with speech and language is that everyone does it; everyone communicates. Everyone, including parents, has a mouth, everyone makes speech sounds, and everyone uses verbalizations to communicate. Use the parent’s own communication as examples. When talking about speech sounds, turn the parent’s attention to their own mouth, i.e. how they place and contour their tongue to formulate speech.
For example, ask the parent (or everyone in the group) to close their eyes and count from one to ten; notice where the sides of their tongue touch. This obviously emphasizes lateral margin stabilization during speaking (see Therapy Matters #7, February 20, 2018, Speaking Tongues are Actively Braced). Say, “Yes, everyone here touched their side teeth while talking; Johnny doesn’t do that. That’s one important thing we will be working on.” The parents will remember that.
- Therefore, give examples of the child artic errors. Ask the parents to say (focus and feel on their own mouth) the contrasting “good” speech sounds, and the ones their child does. If there are a lot of speech errors, just provide a couple examples. The parents don’t need the whole enchilada.
- If you address oral resting postures in your therapy, ask the parents to close their eyes and think about where their tongue rests; 99% of the time it’s on top. “Your child’s tongue does not rest there. It rests down. And where the tongue rests, is where it works.”
- Give examples of the child’s language answers, and share a simple interpretation, e.g., “Maria’s vocabulary is not up to what other children her age use. Her use of more simple words can deter her full expression of what she wants to say, as well as impact her reading comprehension, etc.” “When saying a question Michael makes a statement, such as ____. Being able to form a question is important, not only when talking with others, but in our mind. We ask ourselves questions throughout the day. That’s how we make decisions.” Noah has great difficulty organizing what he wants to say, here’s an example ____”, etc.
Present the child’s relevant information in an organized, sequential manner, and keep it short. Use personal and parent examples and visuals. Those will probably be the specifics they’ll remember.
Put parent’s minds at ease. “I have worked with several children that remind me of your son. In fact, I remember this one child. He worked really hard on his ____, and fortunately he, too, had good parent support at home, and within one year, he was able to _____. I was so proud of him. I think there’s a good possibility that can happen with your child, as well.”
Some parents (and sometimes the child or the teachers) may be interested in knowing your therapy philosophy. Following are some ideas to help you zero in and narrow down:
- “Your child and his speech/language improvement is very important to me.”
- “Speech/language improvement and change does not happen overnight. It happens through repeated rehearsal and practice with the efforts of everyone on the TEAM.” This is an excellent time to share two or three things they can do at home to help. Mention homework; explain the method as to how you will send it home and the parent’s role in supporting the implementation of the homework.
- “Good speech is important in communication, for everyone. How you say your sounds can impact your reading, your writing, your sounding out of words, your pronunciation of new reading words (unless a person can correctly say a new word, he will not use it), your talking out loud in class, your standing up front and giving a speech, your social interaction with friends, your making of new friends, etc.“
- “Good speech and language helps to improve self-concept and confidence.”
- “Language is the method of instruction. It’s everything. It’s speaking, reading, and writing. What you learn in language therapy will help in other language areas, too.”
- Speaking to the child: “Your mouth forms your speech sounds. Therefore, we are going to improve your mouth and its capability to say ____. Your mouth is having difficulty—let’s work on it together.”
- Speaking to the child: “Here’s what I believe and what I share with all my students: When you work, I work. When I see you trying hard, I will do anything and everything I can to help you. For you to be successful means we both do our best to improve your speech/language.”
When the designated amount of therapy-time is questioned/discussed. Consider including:
- “The speech/language instruction is targeted to your child’s specific needs. We focus on the quality and intensity of instruction, not always the quantity of instruction.”
- “The instruction groups are small, and our time together is intensive and targeted on your child and the objectives.”
- “Pull-out instruction time is important, but so is the amount of in-class time.”
- Also, this may be another opportunity to bring in the TEAMWORK concept. “Everyone pulls in the same direction, the child, the teacher(s), the parents, and the specialists. It’s important that we all do our part.”
I am totally sure you have additional thoughts, ideas, and strategies that work for you in your meetings. Feel free to share them—I would love to hear from you!
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