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Advocacy: Your Child's Most Important Team Member

Two women shouting at each other

By Brice Palmer

[Note: REGISTER and join us for the Webinar to discuss this article on March 10, 2016 at 7:30 PM ET]

The opening sentence in our last article and webinar was “This INCIID article is about your child’s most important Team member -  You.”

The assertion that you – the parent – are your child’s most important Team member hit a nerve because a lot of parents from different states have called me to unload about the treatment and indifference they have been faced with from their school. This complaint by parents is not new. It has been topical for many years – but – I have never seen it as often as now.

What’s going on here?

Two women shouting at each other We could try to explain it by trying to account for cultural and social changes. We could, but I don’t think this is where we should look for a solution to the problem. And, I don’t think the state and federal special education law is where to look for an answer.

Instead of looking for answers, should we first begin by asking questions? OK, you might be wondering how this is relevant to you. The truth is, if you want solutions to key problems, chat rooms and social media is probably not the place to look. The pursuit of the truth is not answers but questions—specifically, which are the most important ones to be asking.

So when someone says they “want to make a difference,” ask that person what specific difference they want to make.

What are the most important questions we can ask?

  • what is the most important or difficult thing you need to overcome in your IEP meeting advocacy?
  • How can you increase the odds in your favor in tough situations?
  • What will it take to improve your working relationship with the school district?

First, recognize that It is not wrong to insist that the school district must faithfully follow the procedures to develop an IEP or 504 plan that works for your child.

And, acknowledge that it is not wrong for you to vigorously advocate for your child’s educational welfare. Congress put the procedural safeguards and parental participation in the IDEA on purpose.

Strong and ethical advocacy should be rewarded, not belittled or punished.

Second, understand that nobody triumphs on a complaint or difference of opinion by accident.

Third, be the best you that you can be.

Fourth, build your own network of knowledgeable parents and others who will help you.

Handling tough situations with nasty school districts or school district Team members.

Trigger Warning:

The following couple of paragraphs have what my mother called an “ugly word”.

Several years ago a Stanford professor, Robert L Sutton, wrote a book based on an essay he wrote for the Harvard Business Review. In 2007 that book was awarded the Quill Award for the best business book in 2007.

The title of the book is The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

The theme of this book is that bullying behavior in the workplace worsens morale and productivity. 

The author, Robert Sutton, insisted on the tile of the book because, he said, the word asshole has a stronger effect than other words such as bully or jerk.

Sutton set out two tests for recognizing an asshole:

1.    After encountering the person, do you feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about yourself?

2.    Does the person target people who are less powerful than him or her?

Sutton also listed unpleasant behaviors he called The Dirty Dozen

  1. Insults

2.    Violation of personal space

3.    Unsolicited touching

4.    Threats

5.    Sarcasm

  1. Flames

7.    Humiliation

8.   Shaming

9.    Interruption


11. Glaring

12. Snubbing


Over the years I have recommended this book to several parents. 


Some important skills you need to develop.

Telling the story of your case (whether at an IEP meeting or in a complaint).

Begin by telling your child’s story – your child’s story is not an explanation of the disabilities. Your child’s story is a human story that includes who your child is.

Question: What is more important: the nature of the disability or the uniqueness of your child?

Follow up by telling the story of the case – it is not about the problems and struggles you have with the school district. The trick is finding the truth (provable facts) that matter in your case and being able to talk about those provable facts as a part of your story. 


Do you have a hook, or an anchoring truth that you can weave through your story?


OJ Simpson Murder Trial: "If It Doesn't Fit, You Must Acquit"

Wednesday, June 21, 1995, O.J. Simpson holds up his hands before the jury after putting on a new pair of gloves similar to the infamous bloody gloves during his double-murder trial in Los Angeles. The return of O.J. Simpson to a Las Vegas courtroom next Monday, May, 13, will remind Americans of a tragedy that became a national obsession and in the process changed the country's attitude toward the justice system, the media and celebrity.

The prosecution's request to have OJ Simpson try on a pair of gloves spawned a phrase that became an enduring motto and marked a key moment in the case.

 "If It Doesn't Fit, You Must Acquit".

And the jury did just that. OJ Simpson was acquitted on the charge of murder.

We are trying to sell our story at every meeting, with every letter, with every email message, and every formal complaint.

Aristotle suggested that in any argument, three issues are relevant: 1) logos~the logic of the argument; 2) pathos-the emotion associated with the case; and 3) ethos - the character of the speaker.

I realize that what is suggested in this article is a new way of thinking and planning for many parents.  For as long as I can remember, parents have been told by the “experts” that their only hope is to fight fire with fire – get nasty.

There is a very big difference between getting nasty and applying advocacy skills that truly make you the most important – and effective - Team member for your child.

Breakthroughs happen only when someone asks why not, and thinks beyond conventional wisdom. It’s not wrong to want to get the right things done right. But curiosity, imagination and a strong desire to truly understand the nature of people and of special education with a good measure of humility is a path less traveled that should be rewarded, not belittled.


- BP -



[1]r with those tough customers.






[1] Cartoon character Pogo. Created by cartoonist Walt Kelly