I get a total kick out of my girlfriend E. She truly keeps me in stitches. We’ve never met in person but we reach across the country frequently and chat either via text or phone.
Naturally we know each other because of dyslexia.
She’s amazing. She has a background in Speech Pathology and Audiology, is a dyslexia teacher, advocate and all around educational consultant. She’s perfect in this world because not only is she dyslexic herself, but she’s been on both sides of the table, so she understands all sides. I’ve personally hired her as an advocate before.
She gets a kick out of me because of my business acumen. I am a reader of people, a student of the human condition, and as a result, a good negotiator. I like conference rooms. I like the dynamic, the struggle for power, the way the human dynamic plays out. I love sitting there studying, watching, reading people. Whether business or advocacy related, I get a jolt out of it. It is my arena, a game I am born to and play well.
Rarely do I sit across from a worthy adversary. I enjoy those interactions the most, because it is then that my skill is tested.
E knows I have my blog, of course, and she asked me to write a special piece.
You see, even the most skilled, the most calm and collected negotiator with the best poker face has an enormous dialog happening in their heads while a meeting is underway. Depending on the type of meeting, and for this particular purpose we’ll focus on IEP meetings, the situation, the observations of the people across the room, the dialog inside one’s head does help one decide how to “move” in the game of negotiating.
So, E, being a savvy negotiator herself, but more prone than I am to wear her heart on her sleeve for all to see, likes to ask me about negotiation tactics. Both pre and post IEP meetings we do some situational reviews, play through scenarios, potential dialogs, etc. in order to help the outcome of the meeting go as well as possible for the CHILD.
Being friends, I can be, well, me in all of my forms, including my tendency to use colorful language. Having worked through many scenarios with her, she asked me to write a piece focusing on what’s in my head versus what I say / my physical actions.
I struggled with that concept because, well, what’s happening in my head isn’t the “cleanest” of dialog and while, in retrospect, I tend to find it very amusing, I said my parents would kill me. (Yes, I’m a grown woman, but I still try to make them proud of me every day.)
That being said, Mom and Dad, please stop reading here.
School conference room…and…action!
School administrator: “We are going to cut your child’s services in half.”
Inside my head: “The HELL you are!”
Me physically: Glance down, uncross and recross my legs shifting from one side of the chair to another, one eyebrow is raised, small smile on my face. Look up to observe physical reaction of the room.
The school and district staff physically: The two closest scoot their chairs ever so slightly away from me. Everyone is touching their faces, their clothes, their bodies in some way that relates discomfort.
My observation: They’re scared. I can see it. I can smell it. Blood is in the water, but these aren’t sharks. I’m the only shark in the room.
Me out loud: “That is not in line with IDEA.”
School administrator: “Yes, it actually is.”
Me physically: Tilt head in direction of person who spoke. Small smile. Eyebrow raises again. Note that I’ve not yet spoken. I’ve paused. The pause is uncomfortable. They’re touching themselves again.
Inside my head (while I physically move): “What a stupid f***ing thing to say. No, it isn’t you f***ing moron! WHY does no one in this district understand IDEA?!? I’m about to have a lot of fun with you, sweetheart.”
Me physically: I look up and smile.
Me out loud: “No, it actually isn’t. I shall prove it to you in the next meeting as well, though bear in mind, burden of proof is on you, not me. For now, this ARD is over. We’ve been here for 3 hours and you’ve waited until now to bring this up. I disagree with your proposal therefore we’re adjourning. We will table and meet again, at my convenience, after I’ve had time to gather supporting documentation for what will be my response to your proposal.”
I love this Kermit meme. My friend Kels sent it to me once and it speaks VOLUMES about negotiations.
So, let’s see, what’s another one.
School conference room…and…action!
School administrator: “We follow the handbook in aaaaaallllllll things and have invested in quality programs.”
Me inside my head: “She said that with a big smile and bright eyes. She’s a born politician, but not a negotiator. She believes this tactic will win me over, convince me some how. I wonder how many people fall for this? She comes across as very sweet, truly invested in and caring for the best for children. It may have been the truth once, but it isn’t now, unless she really believes what she’s saying. I do know there is a phenomenal amount of cognitive dissonance in education. She was taught Whole Language, however, she is one of two responsible for dyslexia in the district. She has had discussions, meetings, etc. on products, the science, and more. I know many of the same people she knows. No, she does know better. She’s underestimating me. She thinks this will work because it’s worked before. How many families have believed this? Oh, those poor parents; worse yet, those poor children. This is heartbreaking. She thinks I’m going to buy it. That’s funny. I’d laugh if I could. She’s wrong, and this will be fun. Bless her little heart.”
Me physically: Small smile, tilt of the head as I take in her words.
Me out loud: “Thank you for the documentation. I will enjoy reviewing it, but you need to understand that my research does not support your claim and I will be forwarding that to you for you to review.”
School conference room…and…action!
School administrator: “Here is the beginning of the year benchmark evaluation, and as you can see your son had a significant summer slide backwards.”
Hands me the paper.
Me inside my head: I hate these reports. They don’t show relevant significant data that I can bell curve. Where is the stupid number she’s referring to? Ah, found it. 3rd grade child, according to iStation, reading at a PK4 level. How I wish I could beat my head on the table right now. I hate dealing with this. Time to take the measure of Mr. Z. Is he really who I think he is? Let’s poke the bear and find out.
Me out loud: “So this would therefore be a good time to state that my son will not be taking the STAAR.”
School administrator: “You cannot decline a test.”
Me out loud: “It’s not a test, it’s an assessment, and yes I can.”
School administrator: “Before we discuss this further please tell me your reasoning for saying you’re going to do this.”
Me out loud: “You just told me my son cannot read at a PK4 level, but you want me to subject him to the 3rd grade STAAR, which, let’s be honest, is 5th grade material. You just told me, gave me a report that states he CANNOT pass it, yet you expect me to let him take it?”
School team in unison: “How can you say such things about your own son? Who says he can’t pass it? That’s absurd!”
Me inside my head: Giggling hard. I love it when people do and say exactly as I’ve calculated.
Me out loud: Holding up the sheet of paper. “Reconcile this to me then. You seriously just handed me a report that says my son cannot read, yet you insist he can pass the STAAR? Nothing in that statement is logical. Either he can read, or he can’t. You’ve just told me he cannot read, therefore he cannot pass the STAAR. It cannot be both ways, so which is it?”
School administrator: “Well, regardless Mrs. X, you cannot withdraw your son from a state mandated test.”
Mind you, his voice is raised at this point.
Me inside my head: “Yes, definitely not disappointing. I’m right about you. How much farther are you willing to go? Let’s find out.”
Me out loud: “I’ve studied the law and yes, I actually can because it’s not a test, it’s an assessment.”
School administrator starts yelling at me about how I cannot do this.
Me inside my head: “Yup, you are exactly who I thought you were, in every way. You have the state script memorized quite well. Intimidation works for you when it comes to most people. Unfortunately for you, I’m not most people. Thank you for confirming my evaluation of your personality.”
Me out loud: Laughter……………….Endless laughter……………………
Me physically: I put my hand up in the stop sign position to get his attention and to silence him.
School administrator: Silence…………………..
Me inside my head: “He doesn’t know how to respond right now. I’d wager no one has ever behaved this way to him. He’s used to being in control. This is fun.”
Me out loud: (Quite calmly) “Yes, I can. It’s an assessment, not a test. I have already conferred with my attorney and confirmed my and my son’s legal rights in this matter. He isn’t taking it. Period. There will be no further discussion, as further discussion is unnecessary. The matter is closed. Now, moving onto our next agenda item….”
School conference room…Take 2 on tabled ARD from 30 days prior…and…action!
Me physically: Passing out documentation to support the fact that despite 2.5 years of remediation, and while my child is “allegedly” reading on grade level, the scale is wrong and the bell curves still show significant issues, including rate, accuracy, fluency and comprehension, when scored together are still more than -3SD (standard deviations) below the mean.
You can hear a pin drop in the room. The bell curves are damning.
Me inside my head: “And boom goes the cannon!”
It’s funny, but it’s not funny.
I can poke fun at it because it’s my reality and sometimes I have to laugh or I’d do nothing but cry; but the truth is it’s terribly tragic. In our language rich with words and capable through words to create true wonder, I almost feel our language is insufficient to describe the tragedy that is educational malpractice.
As stated before, as a student of the human condition, I find negotiation a fun “game.”
But, the truth is, when it comes to IEP’s, it’s a game with life and death stakes because it’s the life and / or death of a child. Their ability to sink or swim in this life is decided in these meetings by an arbitrary panel plus one loving parent.
IDEA states that the school representatives must comprise teachers and proper school administrative authority so that those present can represent both the welfare of the child through close personal interaction and the one person who can represent the interest of the district. Yet, these people are fleeting presences in the life of the child. How well do they really know, really understand, really care? For my son I know the face he shows them is not his true face, he saves that for his safe places. Some aspects of him are fully on display, but not his heart. I am the only one in the room who knows his heart, who knows his truth.
A table of adults sit in judgment and decide what he’s capable of, what they will allow him to achieve within the hallowed halls of their school. I have to be courageous enough to stand against malpractice and demand more, to demand the law, and I do not always win.
And, it makes for a great blog post where I can be funny and self-deprecating and make others laugh, but this is just a taste of what happens every day with an advocate who understands the law and can stand up to it.
The truth is it all must change. The lives of our children depend on it.
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