Supporting Your Child At School: Understanding "Educator Speak"
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
I've been a high school teacher and a middle school counselor for more years than I can count fingers on two hands and the one thing I know for sure is how overwhelming navigating the educational system can be for parents. I have sat in meetings where I can clearly see when well-intended educators start talking in a language that parents do not understand and do not want to risk asking "what does that mean?" in fear of looking like an uniformed adult.
Trust me, I get it. Here is a short example of a sample meeting held at school...
Parent and student walks into a room with several staff members (principal, student services, teachers, etc.). They sit down, meeting begins. "Mrs. Example Parent. Your child has been having some challenges at school lately. They have been repeatedly missing RTI instruction time, received a less-than-proficient score on the Forward Exam, struggle to meet PBIS expectations, and could benefit from testing for SLD to receive an IEP and/or skills to improve their executive functioning." Mrs. Example Parent sits quietly, almost like a deer in headlights and turns towards her child to translate what was just said. The child turns, looks at the parent and says, "I didn't do anything, I swear!!"
Schools are systems filled with acronyms, slogans and confusing verbiage. And as schools evolve, the terms change all of the time. For example, if you are in your 60's: remember in Health class (if it was offered at your school), you learned about VD (venereal diseases)? And for those in your 40's they were called STD's (sexually transmitted diseases)? And now 20-year-olds know them as STI's (sexually transmitted infections). All I know is you don't want to contract any of them.
Let me break the above conversation down to include some more generalized terms that a non-educator would better understand:
Response To Intervention (RTI): Normally an allocated time period during the school day used to re-teach (most often) Math and Reading strategies/information for students who need extra support in these subjects.
Forward Exam: A state-wide test given to certain grade levels to assess how students are doing in core subjects. In Wisconsin, this test can be used to determine if students are at grade level in comparison to peers, how schools are performing in comparison to other schools, and also for state data/reporting purposes.
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS): Many schools have adopted PBIS practices in order to better communicate, educate and re-teach student expectations. PBIS supports using data and tiers (levels) of interventions to address student behavior in order to increase academic performance.
Specific Learning Disability (SLD): A disorder that interferes with a student's ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. SLD is determined through an evaluation process that may or may not occur in the school setting.
Individualized Education Plan (IEP): When (if) a student qualifies for a disability that impacts their ability to learn or function in the school setting, they may be offered an IEP to address their specific needs, through targeted interventions/strategies. IEP meetings are held annually to address student's growth and adjust services if needed.
Executive Functioning: Mental processes, along with self-regulation, that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.
When these terms are unpacked, it allows parents/guardians and educators to better align in order to support the kiddo's success in school. This is due to not only having a common shared language but also so the child knows that the adults are on the same page. This gives children a sense of grounding and stability.
When in doubt, I advise parents to check the school's website when they have questions as a first step. Many times it will have helpful information and links. Second, contact your child's homeroom/advisory teacher. They usually have more interaction with your student and can walk you through how to access information at the school and direct you to the right people. Third, bring a notepad along to any meeting so you can write notes and ask any questions you may have just as you would if going to the doctor or an accountant's office. Your child's school success is just as important and no one expects non-educators to know all of the jargon.
P.S. Does your child suffer from school anxiety? Click HERE for tips on how to support them.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]