Meetings build shared understandings

Meetings build shared understandings

I am the mum of two wonderful girls, who both have chronic illness. Sometimes they have times when they can go to school or college very successfully. At other times, they can’t. In her most recent semester, my youngest daughter was absent from school for almost one third of the semester. Sometimes the absences are just part of a day for a medical appointment, and sometimes it’s two or three weeks in the hospital far from home. That means one parent at home with one child and one parent in the hospital with the other one.

Over the years I’ve had countless meetings with principals, teachers, and other school staff. I’ve taught in schools myself, which helps me prepare for all these meetings. I still get anxious about making the meetings go as well as possible, because I ask a lot from schools and I need to justify to them the need to respond flexibly to the changing needs of my girls.

I usually have a meeting with the head of Student Services in the last two weeks of Term 4, where we review what worked and what didn’t from that year, and make some notes about what we think will be useful for next year. This means that if the school knows who will be teaching my child next year, they can have those notes before the end of Term 4. The consultation meetings in the new school year tend to be very quick because everyone involved already has the information from the end of last year. It’s pretty much just a case of double checking with the teachers that any concerns they have are covered and making sure that there haven’t been any new medical developments that require new adjustments. Transition meetings (at the start of Year 7 for example) do take longer as there are so many more teachers than there were in primary school!

It’s also really useful to use these meetings to make sure that all of the school staff actually know who my child is, what the disability is and what that means for them. I usually invite the head of Student Services, all the classroom teachers (including PE, music, language, IT etc.), and any of my daughters’ medical/support team who wish to be involved. My partner and I both attend, and when my daughters have been old enough they attend as well.

For my daughters, we discuss specific needs in particular subject areas, the medical needs (if any), and any general points that are common across different subject areas. There are procedures to be followed when my child is absent from school, so that she doesn’t get too far behind on her school work. There have been times when we have negotiated a reduced subject load for a child in secondary school as a way of managing the fatigue that is common to critical and chronic illness. We always discuss assessment items – what types of adjustments might be needed in terms of the location and time allocated for tests is a common one.

Before the end of the meeting, we negotiate the dates and times for review meetings. As my daughters have become older, we have started to have progress reviews via email at the end of Terms 1 and 3, and a face-to-face meeting towards the end of Terms 2 and 4.

Having the meetings gives us a shared understanding and shared goals, and I think that is totally worth any amount of time and effort.