Speaking “Child”

by Kevin Gailey,Treasurer, Board of Directors

What Language do you speak?  Most of the time this question elicits responses based in terms of native tongue – English, French, Spanish, etc.  But I am asking in terms of nomenclature, meaning what perspective do you speak from.  Do you speak from the mindset of a teacher, using terms such as LRE, BIP, accommodation vs. modification, PLoP, etc.?  Do you speak from the mindset of a parent, using terms such as emotional safety, individual needs, my child’s future?

Too often when parent-teacher meetings or IEP conferences occur we do not speak the common language of Child.  This is both peculiar and unfortunate.  Parents want to help their children grow and do what is best for them.  Teachers enter the field of education to do their best to help children progress academically and socially.  It’s pretty easy to say these are very similar and overlapping goals.

Unfortunately, too often somewhere along the way the two groups diverge and are unable to converse in a productive manner.  IEP or 504 meetings become meetings of foreign powers not wanting to raise the ire of their counterpart, but also determined to sit firm on their haunches getting what they feel they deserve or have to from the meeting.

Why might that be?  There are so many possibilities.  Laws and regulations restrict teachers from saying or doing certain things.  Test scores must be reached and teachers have to meet minimum standards required to keep their jobs.  Parents want to protect and guide their child, sometimes appearing to simply want what they want and won’t be swayed.  Or, they are afraid to let their children struggle in order to grow.

All of these possibilities can be true, but more often the problem lies in the process.  We do not slow down long enough to understand one another’s perspective.  We don’t take the time to communicate, in detail, that which the other needs to really understand our position.

What if we all, parents and educators alike, take a moment before a meeting begins to create common space.  Maybe if we slow down, think about how we are speaking and change our delivery, we will all begin to speak the common language of Child.  That is what the LDA proposes and is promulgating through our platform.  We all must speak Child if we are to develop common goals to reach the most common goal of all – to promote the growth and development of our children.

So, we challenge you, the parent, the educator, the adult who is safeguarding our children.  Stop speaking in jargon.  Lower your line of defenses.  Let go of your expectations based on past experience and work together to start speaking the language of truly helping children.

Maybe this approach will lead us to asking what does Johnny need?  How can we help Susie grow and succeed?  If civility and collaboration were to reign and rise above all else, maybe we would be able to include students in their conferences and meetings in meaningful ways asking them to be contemplative and provide their thoughts and input.  We might ask what confuses them?  What is hard?  What is easy?  What is scary or intimidating during school?  How can we help at home without overly softening the work assigned?

This tact might lead us to creating consistency between home and school.  We might be able to use each other as consistent resources helping leverage the good work of both of these important constructs in children’s lives.  The LDA believes we can do this, but first, before any progress, before any assessment, before any planning can be done we must speak.  We must speak collaboratively with the child at the center of every conversation.  We must focus every word on the student in the room.  We must speak a common language.

We must all speak Child.

Kevin Gailey is Head of School, Midwest Academy, Carmel, Indiana. In addition to being the Treasurer of LDA America, he is active with LDA of Indiana.

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  1. Great article! I often find that the “experts” in the room often are on an educational vanity mission, speaking a language that only their peers can fully understand and relate to. This can be extremely intimidating to parents. It also doesn’t allow for parents to feel part of the decision-making team when they having a difficult time understanding what is being said or discussed. That’s why more and more parents are bringing advocates or attorneys with them to IEP meetings. It helps to level the playing field in terms of knowledge but at the same time, ignite friction between parents and school staff because the staff members may all of sudden feel they are no longer in the driver’s seat, but will dig their heals into the ground and stay firm. This can create a stale-mate that gets no one anywhere. So speaking child make sense. That is of course, if you get everyone at the table to agree to do so. Not an easy task, but certainly worth trying to accomplish. IEP coordinators should “take note” of your article and heed to your excellent advice, for the benefit of the student. – Lorraine Donovan (Dyslexic, Dyslexia Advocate and Author of a new book on dyslexia called “A Child’s Touchstone”).

  2. Mary Sherard says

    Thank you Kevin for your article. You give good advise and true thoughts on this matter. Adults feel they “know” and “understand” what the issues of the child are, but in reality they do not. A child with A learning disability doesn’t understand they are different, not doing their school work properly, and understanding incorrectly what is expected of a assignment. The child Is further isolated when teachers and parents do not allow the student to participate in their own possible solutions. If the child can have a voice in their progress, past work assignments and what the parent or teacher can do to better help the child, I feel there would be good learning progress for the child. I learn by example for instance, if I was told “you need to put a period at the end that sentence” I would not understand this statement as it is said or written. The first question that may come to my mind could be “why?”. The second question would be “what sentence, where?” and the third maybe “it looks and sounds fine as I have it”. You can see the problem, we can not. What would work for this situation would be if the teacher, another student or their parent was able to give a example of the child’s sentence and explained why it is better with a period. A Short and simple explanation is all that maybe needed. But if the child is able to speak and say what would help them in the class or at home would be great.

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