I know the feeling. You feel like the school has betrayed you. The IEP team didn’t agree with your recommendations, you had to fight them, and now your IEP meetings feel like a very uncomfortable party where the host isn’t wearing any pants. I’ve been there, and I have some advice on how to get that trust back.

We went through a fairly contentious first half of last school year. However, we reached an accord right before the holiday break and have been able to rebuild a great deal of trust with our team. Part of that comes from changing some team members. We found that sometimes you just have the wrong people on your team. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the person who doesn’t work, just that they aren’t a good fit. For example, we had some “warm and fuzzy” folks on our team that didn’t handle criticism well. My wife and I both need a thicker skinned person who can handle constructive criticism and not take it as an attack. After all, we as parents are always asked by the school to make changes to how we parent, so why shouldn’t the school take our advice on how to facilitate our child’s learning?

Second, I like to use the old Reagan maxim “trust but verify.” He used it to describe the American/Russian relationship coming out of the cold war, and this is a similar situation. Both sides are trying to come back together to do what’s best for the child. I notice that the more open the school has become the more willing we are to trust them on certain matters. I’m a big fan of transparency, and it really helped us to reestablish our relationship with the school.

Third, we had to learn to stop expecting the worst. Its a hard habit to break when you have had to fight, but just tweaking your expectations can have a huge effect on how your child does in the school environment. We always expect success with Raymond, but we had come to dread every phone call. Then we started getting phone calls when he was doing very well, and it helped us change how we approached the school. It has a little to do with the school being able to celebrate your child’s successes in addition to seeing the shortfalls, but it also has to do with actively changing your own reaction.

Finally, nothing rebuilds trust like success. I think a large part of why we trust the school more is because his program has done a 180. We have gone from institutional disciplinary solutions to empirically supported behavior based solutions and Raymond responded well. Institutional discipline, like suspension and ISS, is never effective for our kids and only marginally effective for typical children. Our success has enabled us to see the teachers and staff do their jobs again, and that has been the biggest trust building experience we have had.

In closing, I want to say that every case is different. Ours, however, was very contentious and had lawyers at the table for several meetings. I like to believe that if we can rebuild our relationship with our team, you can too. Keep in mind that rebuilding the relationship doesn’t mean that we don’t ask questions or push for better results. It means that we listen first and ask questions instead of pointing fingers. The school met us halfway. I hope yours does the same.