I received the strangest email the other day, and I don’t know why.
The email was a very curt response from a parent (I’ll call her Thelma) to a teacher. The teacher made a third request for a permission slip. Thelma responded with three sharp sentences, some words IN ALL CAPS, every sentence ending with !!!!!.
I couldn’t help it. I had to respond to Thelma.
I told Thelma that I didn’t know why she sent a copy of her email to Wrightslaw. It was painfully obvious that she was not familiar with the advocacy model that we teach in our training programs and in the Special Ed Law & Advocacy Training program download. I felt I had to give Thelma advice, even though she probably wouldn’t appreciate it.
Your tone with the teacher was nasty and increased the odds that there will be more problems between you, the parent, and the staff at your child’s school. When this happens, you will have no one to blame but yourself.
Right or wrong, you need to assume that this teacher was sending a helpful reminder that the slip needed to be turned in. You slapped her in the face.
What could happen if you wrote something different, like this? “Many thanks for sending the email reminder about the permission slip. There are times when we need as many reminders as we can get, so we appreciate your extra effort. The slip is in Charlie’s bag and I hope he remembers to turn it in to you. Thanks again for your help.”
My advice is that if you change your style, this may lead to improved relationships. Take it or leave it. Good luck.
I didn’t expect to hear from Thelma again — unless she wrote to unload on me.
Believe it or not, Thelma sent an email to thank me for the advice.
I guess my email was a cry for help. That email became a “Reality check” after I read your answer.
I sometimes feel like I am trapped up against the wall with my son’s school. Thank you very much for your comments. I will immediately change my tone and definitely look into your Training.
Have a very nice day and many thanks again for your time and response.”
I thought I saw the course begin to change. I just had to respond.
I told Thelma that when Pam and I send an email of the type I sent to her, the recipient often reacts by attacking and criticizing us. Sometimes people write to say that they heard the message and are changing course.
Given Thelma’s positive response, I thought she would enjoy the Susan Bruce’s story. You’ll enjoy it too if you didn’t read it when we published it in a newsletter last year. From Victim to a Mighty Force (The Numbers Do Not Lie) is at http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/advo.susan.success.htm
In 2006, Susan sent an email in which she “ranted” (her words) about her children’s school system. When she received our auto-response, she replied with “Thanks for another door slammed in the face of my child.”
Pam answered Susan, and suggested that she stop playing the victim and do what was necessary to become an effective advocate for her children. That’s exactly what she did! Although we heard nothing from Susan for more than a year, she sent an email a few months ago, describing how her children are doing and what she is up to.
Susan was formerly a Regional Education Coordinator for her state Parent Information Center, PRO-Parents of South Carolina, Inc. You can find Susan at Special Education Advocacy and Consulting. Read her story, From Victim to a Mighty Force: The Numbers Do Not Lie at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/advo.susan.success.htm
In our training programs, we emphasize the importance of keeping your emotions under control and treating others politely, regardless how nasty someone may be acting. You must always play the role of Ms. Manners (who merged with Peter Columbo) and ask lots of “5 W’s + H + E questions” (who, what, when, where, why, how, explain). When you are focused and polite, school staff begin to view you differently. You are now Ms. Manners with a touch of Mother Theresa.
And, as we explain in the Rule of Adverse Assumptions (see Chapter 21 in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, our special education survival guide), you must assume that you will have to request a due process hearing, and that you cannot testify at the hearing. How can you prevail? You must write polite letters about events that occurred, what you requested, and what you were told. Your letters, written at the time events happen, make a powerful paper trail.
I wished Thelma good luck.
Thelma responded again. She said she was committed to getting training to be a good advocate for her young son. I wonder if Thelma will send a Success Story one day.