• Foster Connection

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 4/17/2020 7:00:00 AM

    “The most effective IEPs are written collaboratively by team members who trust and support one another during the process. Although many members comprise an IEP team, the parent and the teacher are arguably the most important members. After all, they know the child the best. If they can work together, parents and teachers can be a powerful force in advocating for a child” (Special Education Guide). 

    To work together, teachers and parents must develop and maintain a relationship. Throughout my articles this year, I’ve been attempting to illustrate  the perspectives of both parents and teachers. My reason for doing this was to enhance understanding as a way to foster the critical relationships between parents and teachers.  To wrap up this series, I want to share one more way for parents and educators to build their relationships and that is to foster connection and trust. 

    Hey! I'm stuck

    According to Brene Brown, empathy fuels connection. In this beautifully animated two minute clip, Brene Brown explains that one of the things we do sometimes in the face of difficult conversations is that we try to make things better.  Brene believes that rather than try to immediately make a difficult situation better or solve a complicated problem, it can be more effective to reply “I don’t even know what to say right now, but I’m glad that you shared that with me.” Brene explains that rarely can a response make a difficult situation better, but what can make something better is connection.  

    To foster connection, we must pay attention to what is happening in the conversation, to the feelings that are being brought up, and the body language of ourselves and those around us. During these moments, Brene encourages us to engage, stay curious, and stay connected. She also shared a strategy that I believe that we all need to embrace and that is to let go of the fear of saying the wrong thing. Instead we can be open and respond with a statement like “I know this is a struggle and you are not alone.” When we admit that we don’t have an immediate answer, but we’re willing to help figure it out, we build trust with others and trust is the foundation of the type of effective relationship teachers and parents must have to work together for the benefit of the child. 

    Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. New York: Random House.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Shared Empathy

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 2/28/2020 7:00:00 AM

    There is a great deal of pressure on special education teachers in case conferences. Teachers are attempting to thoroughly, yet succinctly, review 12 months of progress from an individualized plan and facilitate a collaborative effort to set challenging, yet appropriate, goals and services for the coming year. Teachers are also expected to answer questions about a wide-range of topics and respond to parent requests to meet unique student needs. Given the pressure on teachers in conferences and their intense focus on the complicated IEP process, it can be easy to misinterpret interactions and intentions of other case conference committee members, especially parents. When we misinterpret intentions, we can begin to become defensive and our team can start to head down a path of disconnect and discontentment. 

    One of the best ways to avoid misinterpretations and discontentment is to understand the paradigm of the others in the meeting. This can be achieved when the participants engage in shared empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another without experiencing those feelings as your own. Empathy allows one to demonstrate compassion without infringing on one’s own beliefs. It is the art of seeing the world as someone else sees it (Weaver & Knudtson presentation, 2017). Through empathy, the listener is less likely to take something done or said personally, or focus only on the negative instead of the positive in a conversation (Ciaramicoli, 2017). 

    Theresa Wiseman defined four elements of empathy as
    1) see their world,
    2) appreciate them as human beings/no judgement,
    3) understand feelings, and
    4) communicate understanding.
    See the article for a brief description of each of the four elements. 


    In my last article entitled “Parents’ Emotions,” I described cyclical grief and the emotions that parents of children with disabilities may feel throughout their child’s life. When teachers pause to understand what parents can experience as they raise a child with disabilities, teachers can reframe their thinking with an empathetic lens.  In the same way, parents can also use an empathic lens to understand the perspective of the teacher. I urge all IEP team members to approach case conference meetings with a shared empathy as I truly believe that it will lead to collaborative outcomes for students.  


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Parents' Emotions

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 1/10/2020 7:00:00 AM

    In my previous article titled “The Difficult Parent, I shared that educators not only support children with disabilities, but also the PARENTS of children with disabilities. In consideration of our duty as professional educators to also support the parents of our students, I’ve written this article to bring awareness to the emotions that parents of children with disabilities may experience. Through a better understanding these emotions, educators can be more prepared to support parents on the complex journey that is special education. 

    All parents experience a range of emotions as they raise their children. According to research, parents of children with disabilities may also experience cyclical grief. Cyclical grieving is described as an intermittent reoccurrence of one or more emotions that are part of the grieving process (Blaska, 1998). In the abstract to his study which was conducted to understand parents’ perceptions of raising a child with disabilities, Blaska states that “the emotions (both mothers and fathers) felt included: disappointment, sadness or depression; loneliness, fear; anger; frustration; shock; devastation; numbness, unsureness, and feeling trapped and sorry for the child. Events that triggered grieving included: health or behavioral issues; developmental milestones or age appropriate expectations; family issues and relationships; aged parents and retirement concerns; unusual caretaking demands; professional and programmatic issues; society’s lack of understanding and sensitivity; and seemingly insignificant events” (1998). In his summary, Blaska also notes that parents “also report positive experiences with their children and stress their deep love and concern for them” (1998). 

    The bold text above was intentionally added to illustrate the connection between the triggers of cyclical grief and the IEP case conference processes and developmental milestones that naturally occur at school. In discussing the implications of his study for professionals, Blaska states that “professionals need the knowledge to understand parents and the skills to help them refocus their shattered dream and begin dreaming new dreams while remaining positive and hopeful” (1998). In my next article, I will discuss how educators can employ empathy as a means for supporting parents. 


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • The Difficult Parent

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 11/1/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Have you ever left a case conference meeting feeling  frustrated with a parent of one of your students? During the conference, the parent asked a lot of questions and requested to see evidence of their child’s progress, a student you’d put your heart and soul into. The extra questions made you feel uneasy and unappreciated which may have caused you to feel like you had to defend your practices. As you walk back to your classroom, you wonder, “Why was that parent was so difficult?” 

    On your drive home, you begin to reflect on the meeting. Was the parent  actually being difficult? You wonder how you’d have handled the situation if it were your child. Would you have presented yourself in a way that seemed logical and reasonable to others? As you’re reflecting, you also begin to wonder why the parents questions caused you to feel frustrated, and how you could handle these types of exchanges in meetings in a more productive and less defensive manner. Your feelings of frustration gradually morph into feelings of sympathy and empathy. You begin to ponder how this reframed paradigm might guide you in supporting the parents of your students. 

    Recently I heard someone say that “we’re not only supporting children with disabilities. We’re also supporting PARENTS of children with disabilities.” As educators, we’re often focused exclusively on the needs of our students such that we unintentionally overlook the needs of our students’ families. In my next couple of articles, I will be sharing about some of the emotions that parents of children with disabilities may experience and how educators can productively support parents as they navigate the complex journey of special education.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Empowering Parent Engagement

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 9/19/2019 6:00:00 AM

    Special education is complex, even for professional educators like myself who have been working in this field for over twenty years. Consider what it’s like for a parent at a case conference committee meeting for the first time. I’ve been told that the experience is often overwhelming, intimidating, and even scary. As professionals in the field, we have the power not only to educate children with disabilities, but we can also educate their parents on the many terms, technicalities, and processes in special education. This article provides educators with five recommendations on how we can empower parents to engage in the interactive case conference process. These five practices include being welcoming, asking & listening, educating, offering support, and requesting feedback. 

    Be welcoming. Hold the case conference meeting in a comfortable space with adult-sized chairs. Intentionally arrange seating so parents are able to see and interact with key individuals. Refer to parents as Mr. & Mrs. [Surname], not “Mom & Dad.” Parents don’t refer to you by title alone, so make sure to address them by name.  Be a gracious host by offering water and materials for the parents to take notes.  

    Ask and listen. Ask parents about their visions for their son or daughter along with their concerns. Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions.  Within the IEP, document parents’ concerns and the plan to address them. Ask for parent input regarding the strengths of their child and what motivates their child to do their best. Incorporate their responses within the child’s present levels of performance. 

    Educate. Always provide parents with a hard copy of their Procedural Safeguards. Copies of Procedural Safeguards are available in Spanish and seven other languages on our website. In addition, share a verbal summary. As good educators, check for parents’ understanding throughout the conference.  It is helpful to observe parents’ body language to gauge their comfort and understanding. Pause the meeting and explain the context and answer questions. Offer parents a copy of Navigating the Course, a parent-friendly companion guide to Article 7. If they have questions on a certain area, point out the section in the guide that addresses that topic.  

    Offer supports. Share resources for support. In addition to the resources within the Procedural Safeguards such as IN Source, About Special Kids (ASK), and Indiana Disability Rights, also let parents know that we have folks who are happy to answer their questions and explain in more detail. This is why I ask that you utilize the cover letter with the Procedural Safeguards so the parents know they can contact their local director or myself to learn more about special education.  If you believe a parent leaves with misunderstandings or frustration, make it a priority to share this with the local director so the parent can be contacted and offered an opportunity to resolve their concerns before they fester into bigger worries and issues. 

    Request their feedback. It is important for us to know how we’re doing in our service to children and their families. The US Department of Education requires the Indiana Department of Education to find out whether school personnel encourage parents’ participation and makes it easy for them to be involved in their child’s education. We are required to provide parents with a copy of this letter from the IDOE. If parents request a paper copy of the survey, we can provide it to them along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to return the survey. Spanish copies of the letter and the survey are also available. 


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director


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  • Resources & Support from Earlywood

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 9/5/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Greetings Colleagues! I am excited to leap into a new school year with you! This is Earlywood’s forty-fifth year serving the students, educators, and families of our member districts. We remain committed to providing exceptional service and guidance.  In this article, I will highlight three of the ways Earlywood is here to support you. 

    First of all, the Earlywood Educational Services website (www.earlywood.org)  is loaded with information, links, resources, and videos. We’re continually adding to and refreshing the content on our website.  

    Secondly, Earlywood provides a fabulous selection of high-quality and personalized professional learning experiences. Check out our scheduled training sessions in our Professional Development Catalog. As you review the training options, please note the topics available “on-demand” and our commitment to customizing training to meet your needs. 

    Finally, the Earlywood Special Edition newsletter features information and resources to keep you current regarding the best practices within our profession. We welcome anyone to subscribe to our newsletter via the homepage of our website. Previous articles published by Earlywood employees are also archived on our website. Prior articles featured information on such topics as social emotional and social communication learning, universal design for learning, transition, and technology

    Earlywood’s website, professional development, and newsletter are just three of the many ways we are here to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us and take full advantage of our services. 

    Cheers for a new school year! 


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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