by Amanda Gray
It could be a learning support team meeting, a transition planning meeting, a meeting about behaviour... Here is a checklist to help you have a positive and successful meeting.
Do you have a jointly agreed goal?
If you are having a meeting where everyone has a different idea about what the meeting is trying to achieve, then it will be difficult to achieve anything that is satisfying to all parties. It is also important that the goal is not set solely by the school representative. This will mean that from the start the other attendees feel dis-empowered.
So have some informal discussion or communication prior to the meeting to determine what everyone wants to get out of the meeting, then write an agenda or goal for the meeting.
Option 1: This is a suspension meeting.Option 1 will not guide discussion as it does not give a singular, positive focus. Option 2 will give structure and focus to the meeting.
Option 2: This meeting is to talk about the incident on Thursday. We need to discuss what happened, what may have lead up to the incident, and what we need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Option 1: This is a meeting about funding.
Option 2: This meeting is about identifying Sam's strengths and difficulties, and the types of resources we might need to make sure she can do her best at school.
Is the time suitable for everyone?
Negotiating a time that is suitable for all is one way of ensuring that all team members feel equally valued.
Are you on neutral territory?
Considering the place of meeting is important as it can set the tone of a meeting. If there is any tension or difficulties in the home-school relationship, involving the family in deciding on a meeting place can show a willingness to work together on equal terms and demonstrates respect.
Are you sitting in a position that gives equal value to each participant?
Sitting in a chair that is placed behind a desk, or means that you are sitting higher than others in the meeting, will communicate an imbalance in power. Sitting in similar chairs, in a circle or without barriers between you, will help to promote a working partnership built on openness, trust and respect.
Are you using plain language?
It can be quite intimidating to attend a meeting where jargon unfamiliar to you is used. Further, it can mean misunderstandings. So it is important that all educational terms are clarified. And, parents, if you don't understand a term don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
Are you listening? Has everyone had a turn to speak?
Every participant in a meeting has their own area of expertise. Parents are most familiar with their child. Teachers are most familiar with their classroom. Executive staff are most familiar with the school administration.
However, sometimes we can contribute new information to each other's areas of expertise. Like a parent who has found a new resource available in the school system of which the principal had not previously been aware. Or a teacher who has observed a particular behaviour in a child at school which does not occur at home.
As discussed in an earlier post, it is important that we recognise our strengths and limitations. Being open to new information is important. But it is also important to have a sense of the role each team member will play in the meeting, as well as in implementing the outcomes of the meeting. Having a good written record of meeting decisions, with a plan of action identifying who is to do what, is important to the future working relationship of the team.
Do you have a plan for dealing with difficulties?
Having some guidelines for meetings can help with conflict management. For example, together you might discuss some expectations such as the expectation that everyone speaks respectfully, everyone is given a chance to have their say, anyone can call a halt to the meeting if they are feeling intimidated or uncomfortable, and a nominated third party, mediator or family advocate is to be used in disputes that are not able to be resolved.
Note for families:
If you are feeling overwhelmed, under-represented or unheard in meetings regarding your child with a disability, you can bring an advocate along. This can be a friend, family member or a professional advocate such as those provided by Disability Advocacy.
Make sure you request changes to your meeting if you feel any of the above are not being addressed.
Providing support to families should be based on "a shared sense of purpose, a willingness to negotiate, sharing of information, shared responsibility, joint decision making and accountability." Rose and Howley (2007, p100)
Bibliography and References
Dettmer, P., Dyck, N., and Thurston, L.P. (1999). Consultation, Collaboration, and Teamwork for Students with Special Needs. Allyn and Bacon: Sydney.
Roffey, S. (2002). School Behaviour and Families: Frameworks for Working Together. David Fulton Publishers: London.
Rose, R., and Howley, M. (2007). The Practical Guide to Special Educational Needs in Inclusive Primary Classrooms. Paul Chapman Publishing: London.