You thought getting called into the principal's office as a kid was bad. Now you're a parent and you've gotten the dreaded phone call: "The principal needs to see you." Whether it's an isolated incident or a reoccurring situation, follow these tips for a productive meeting.
Go with an open mind
Though it may be hard to believe your child exhibited a behavior or was involved in an incident that required school administration's attention, be open to the possibility that something is going on with your son or daughter. It is not uncommon for children to exhibit behaviors in one setting and not another, for example, acting a certain way at school than they do at home. Go with an open mind and listen to what is presented to you.
Get the facts
If it was an isolated incident, ask for specifics about where, when, and how the event took place. If this is a reoccurring situation, gather as much information as possible about how it has been handled prior to this meeting. Take notes so you can refer back to them. Knowing as many details as possible will help you establish the most important piece of the puzzle: Why is this happening?
Identify the cause of the behavior
Always look at biological factors first. Is the behavior occurring because your child is sick, hungry, or physically uncomfortable? Has he started or changed a medication? Is he beginning to go through puberty? Biology can play a big part in behavior, so check for "out of the norm" health issues. Once you've cleared biology as a contributing agent, see if there is a common factor each time a behavior occurs. For example, is your child having a hard time right before lunch? During a certain class? This isn't to say that you will place blame solely on someone or something, but establishing a pattern will lead you to the cause of the behavior and will help you create a plan for supporting your child.
Make a plan
Leave the meeting with a clear plan of what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Will you sit down with your child at home and discuss the incident? Will a school psychologist or behaviorist meet with your child to develop a positive reinforcement system to address the behavior? Be clear about the timeline of intervention as well as the specifics of who will intervene, when, where and how. Establish common terms or language that will be used with your child so you can communicate in the same manner at home. The more detailed the plan, the better and the easier for everyone to follow through.
Before you leave the meeting, be sure to schedule a follow up phone call or meeting to make sure the issue has been resolved or is being addressed appropriately. Scheduling a follow up gives everyone enough time to follow through on the plan you've created together and clearly states who will initiate the communication. For example, you can say "I'll write a note to the teacher in two weeks to see how the plan is working." You've decided who will communicate, when the communication will occur, how it will occur, and what will be discussed. Ongoing communication between home and school will be a key component in resolving the issue.
Jennifer Cerbasi works as a special education teacher at a public school in New Jersey. As owner of The Learning Link, LLC, she works with parents in the home to support children's academic, social, emotional, and physical health through a variety of services. Jennifer utilizes her training in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis in both settings to foster children's development. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. For more information, go to www.jennifercerbasi.com.