Sunday, June 12, 2011

Think hopefully, write locally

I've tendered my resignation at Hopeful Parents, and will no longer be appearing there on the eleventh of every month.  I want to be clear, though:  it's not them; it's me.  It was an honor to be affiliated with that talented collaborative of writers - people writing honestly about the challenges and heartache inherent in raising a child with special needs, while continuing to stay focused on the opportunities, the possibilities, and the hopefulness it holds.

Philosophically, my affiliation with Hopeful Parents was a natural fit, but structurally, it just didn't work for me.  I've always viewed blogging - used blogging - as an outlet - a way to process through complicated issues and emotions in the moment.  I've had long stretches of time when I didn't write at all.  I've had times when I seemed to be writing constantly.  I have come to trust the flow - to know when I need to be here - to know when I need to stay away.

So, the monthly deadline at HP was a jarring reality to me.  Even when the deadline was weeks away, it hovered on my radar, accelerating my heart rate and making me feel unequal to the task.  When I was inspired to write about a particular topic, I would look at the calendar and think "I'd better not post this on my blog right now.  What if I don't have another idea before the 11th?"  Then, instead of writing and posting and engaging with this online community on whose insight I have come to depend, I would hold the thought, stop the internal composition, and wait.  Inevitably, by the time the HP deadline arrived, that original thought was gone - or was stale - or was representative of a moment that had passed.  So I would develop something else to post at Hopeful Parents, and leave this page largely untouched - frozen and static.

As you might imagine, after a few months of that, I lost my blogging center.  I fell out of the groove.  It stopped being fun.

So, I'm walking away from the have-to and I'm hoping that the want-to will find me again.  I think it will.  I'm excited about the summer ahead.  For the first time in a couple of years, I'm taking a break from teaching in the fall, so I will not spend the summer building courses.  Instead, I plan to dust off some writing projects that have been sitting on the shelf, calling to me - their voices, lately, louder and more insistent.  And maybe - maybe - with them as a catalyst, I will find myself here more often, too.  Not because I have to be, but because I want to be.

I'm not sure if it will happen.  But, maybe - hopefully - it will.

Friday, June 10, 2011

An open letter to IEP teams everywhere

Dear IEP team members,

I'd like you to have a copy of the e-mail I sent this afternoon to Bud's IEP team - a combination of classroom teachers and special ed staff from the elementary school he is leaving and the middle school he will enter in the fall.  It's the kind of letter that every special needs parent wants to be able to write, but - based on what I've heard from parents whose IEP meetings sound more like armed warfare than like collaborative planning sessions - usually can't.

I'm posting it here for two reasons - first, to publicly thank the team that we are so lucky to have, and second, to issue a challenge to people on IEP teams across the country - classroom teachers, special educators, and administrators.

My challenge is this:  As you begin the IEP cycle each year, use this letter as an end goal.  Start your planning process, structure your meetings, and implement your ideas with the goal that every parent who sits at your table will be able to leave the room and write a letter like this.

I know that it's possible, because I've seen it done, over and over and over again.  Like every district everywhere, my district is under-funded.  The special ed budget has been cut.  The caseload has grown exponentially, but the staffing has not.  And yet, because the members of our team approach their work with care and insight - because they are creative - because they are collaborative - because they listen and learn and seek to understand not just who my child is, but also who he might become - they are able to set a high bar, and then help him soar over it.

You can do it, too.


Hello, all,

I just wanted to write to follow up on our IEP meeting this afternoon to tell you how fortunate I feel to work with such an outstanding team. I have friends raising children with autism all over the country, and in recent weeks I’ve heard story after story about them donning their battle gear as they entered IEP meetings, only to emerge hours later, deflated and defeated. In contrast, I walked into today’s meeting with a list of points I wanted to make sure we covered, and in every instance – without exception – someone else on the team raised the issue before I had a chance. I truly believe that the plan we have in place for Bud – and the plan you’ve been implementing with him all spring - is fantastic and puts him in the best possible position as he prepares to make the transition to middle school.

This could be an overwhelming and frightening time for Bud, and for me. Instead, because we have the good fortune to work with people like you – insightful, collaborative, forward-thinking people who truly know and respect my son – it’s an exciting time full of possibilities. I imagine that IEP season is exhausting for you. Please know that your work really matters, and that I appreciate everything you do.

All the best,