Lexus SC430 * Red Wall * Side
Image by jiazi via Flickr

I am soon going to need a new car. The one in this picture would be just about perfect. Care to donate to my replacement fund? Yeah, didn’t really expect so.

So why is it that you’re not willing to help me get the transportation I need? Because you can see that what I’m asking for is really a want. It may very well be that my car needs to be replaced soon, and having reliable transportation is in fact important to me, but there’s no real reason I need to spend almost $67,000 to get it.

The distinction between wants and needs is not always so clear, especially when it comes to educating our children. In the years I have been a teacher and a parent, one of the most frequent sources of conflict between parent and school has been disagreement about whether something is a need or simply a want.

When these conflicts arise, it’s helpful to step back and refocus on goals. While we would all love to have a Lexus education for our children, sometimes the Chevrolet is sufficient to accomplish the job.

A few thoughts to consider when you find yourself on either side of a difficult discussion about what a child needs in school:

  • Remember that this is about the student. Focus on the goal you have agreed on. If there is no defined goal, then back up another step and talk about that goal before trying to plan for it.
  • Remember that everyone involved in the discussion is fighting for the same thing, ultimately: the welfare of the child. Rather than being opposing forces in a battle, think of everyone at the table as being members of the same team with different specialties. Being on the same team means that we all win or lose together.
  • List all of the options being considered, as well as any options that were rejected. Consider each in light of the goal, and from the student’s perspective. Often by putting things down in writing, we gain clarity about the difference between wants and needs.
  • Be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of each option. No plan is perfect.
  • Avoid compromise. Although it is sometimes a necessary last resort, compromise often patches together bits of incompatible plans and creates something that is unworkable. Instead, aim for consensus.
  • Sometimes there is no best option—just a collection of good ones.
  • Consider asking the student for his or her input. Even young children can often express what they need in a way that helps cut through a disagreement.
  • Don’t ignore the emotional responses of the parties involved. If a parent, classroom teacher, or student is strongly opposed to a plan, no matter how excellent it may be, it is not going to be implemented as designed, and it will likely fail.
  • Everyone should walk out of a meeting feeling like they were heard and understood, and that the agreed plan is satisfactory, at least on a trial basis. Persuasion is fine, but if anyone involved feels like they were badgered into agreement or backed into a corner, no amount of effort on the part of the other parties will make it fully successful.

What other ways do you focus a conversation about how to meet the needs of a student?

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