“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa
I was lucky enough to be Kristi’s little sister and to teach students with special needs. Those were two hats that I was extremely proud to wear, and the ones that gave me some of the best yet hardest lessons of my life. I think the biggest lesson I learned from both was the importance of teamwork, and how teamwork can either make things amazing or destroy even the best laid plans if everyone is not on the same page.
The importance of teamwork became evident as I started attending Kristi’s team meetings (before I decided to go to school to get my teaching degree). I learned very quickly, through some trial and error, how rewarding and frustrating teams could be. There were many times I just wanted to be an island all to myself. But as we all know, in the world of special needs, that is just not possible. Here are some tips from both sides of the fence…
- You are an expert on your child. Most times, you will know much more about Rett than your child’s school team. Many of my professors in the college of Education had not heard of Rett Syndrome until I mentioned it. Use your knowledge to teach the team about your child, and how Rett Syndrome and your child’s complex needs affect their learning and communication. As we all know, every child with complex needs is not exactly the same. While there are similarities between individuals with Rett, you are educating others about your child. Be their resident expert!
- When entering a new team situation, be open and willing. I know how hard that can be when you have not had good experiences before, but just as we want our child’s new team to be open and willing, we need to grant the same opportunity.
- Be willing to share ideas and strategies. As Susan and I say, we love teachers and staff who are willing to learn, so be that way as a parent. While you are an expert, there are times that others might have a new idea that you have not thought of. After my first Rett U training with Susan, I returned to my classroom and completely changed my instruction based on what I learned. Some of my families were apprehensive but willing to try. Others were very against it, but I think we can all agree that “This is the way we have always done it” can be a huge roadblock for all involved.
- Strive to not take your rough days, fatigue, or being “overwhelmed” out on your school staff. I know how hard it can be, but they are also human, and they have their own life-battles that we may know nothing about.
For our teams:
- See our loved one first as a person, not their disability. It is a part of them, it is not the definition of them. You are multifaceted, as are our loved ones. See all their angles.
- Respect that parents are experts on their children and their child’s diagnosis. Also, respect what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Having a loved one with complex needs is hard, and there are days where you are holding on by an extremely thin thread (that is quickly unraveling). Please be patient and do not make assumptions. As an educator, I heard many comments about families and what they were or were not doing. It was frustrating and created issues in the team relationship.
- When you get a new child, be open and willing to learn. “This is how we do it” is not the correct answer. This child may not learn that way. I cannot tell you how many times Susan and I have heard comments from school staff that make us cringe, making teamwork become almost impossible. Be a “willing to learn” not a “know it all”. I will tell you… I have been Kristi’s sister my whole life. I taught for 19 years and have a masters in Autism and Severe Intellectual Disabilities. I have been a Rett U coach for the past few years, and I am still Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.
- If students are not learning the way you are teaching, examine your teaching. What works for some does not work for all. There is a reason we have Individual Education Plans, and we differentiate our instruction. There are times we must look in the mirror and evaluate our approach. If a child has the same IEP goals for years on end, more than likely, it is not working.
- Advocate for our loved ones, and know that as parents and family members, we know how hard it is in the world of education, especially now. We see you, and we appreciate your dedication to make it all work. We will support you and advocate as much as we can… because we are a team. Ultimately, seeing our kids improve and grow is the goal for everyone involved.
Teamwork is vital for our loved ones to learn and grow. Let’s work together to create teams that bring growth to everyone involved, especially our loved ones with complex needs.