Working with your ADHD child's Primary School Teacher (ACT - Australia)
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Remember year 1, when your child was first really standing out to his teachers and being a little bit more intense and impulsive than the other children. Their main classroom teacher was an experienced human, but a beginning teacher still learning what it was to lead a classroom. Remember being presented with a chart containing tally marks for the 26 incidents that your child had been involved in that day - broken down into groups of physical contact with other students, breaking property, disrupting learning and something else. Remember your child's teacher expressing surprise at how healthy your child's lunchbox was, sure that your child's behaviour was driven by sugar rushes and additives. Remember all the phone calls from the school - the day your child cut some hair from one of their classmates, the day they got bored and played with the light switch while the teacher was having floor time,the day they spat in the teacher's face, the day they wouldn't get down off the stacked chairs at the back of the hall, the day they walked up to a random student on the playground and pulled out a fistful of hair for no discernible reason. I know we don't get to choose who we partner with in raising our children at school - and sometimes they are really hard to get along with...
I am both a teacher and a parent of a child with ADHD. I get it. Every teacher has different strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers are amazing at everything they do, and others aren't really all that good with children. (I'd place myself somewhere in the middle - it's a long continuum). When your child has ADHD, working together is vitally important for so many reasons.
But now that I know what is going on and that my son has been diagnosed, it is no longer OK for me to be on the back foot. It is time for me to take my rightful place as my son's advocate and guardian. Here are some of the things that I do:
- MEETING THE TEACHER
My son and I always meet the teacher before school starts for the year (usually the day before - which is allocated for new students). These meetings are usually very quick - maybe 10 minutes at most - as the teachers are really busy getting their classrooms set up for the year. We bring along a one page piece of paper outlining some of the most important information to know about my son before school starts and I let my son ask all the questions he needs to. My son is in the upper primary years now, so I also ask him to tell his teacher what he does and what he needs to be able to learn effectively. (Sometimes my questions get quite pointed, but I make sure that he is in the driver's seat, as it sets to tone for once he is at school.) During this meeting, I find out when the school staff meetings are so that I know which afternoons are best for dropping in on the teacher if we need to talk about anything.
- CHECKING IN
During the first couple of weeks (we usually have a honeymoon period when everything is new and exciting) I will then organise one day a week where I will drop into the classroom before or after school. I try to stay for no more than a couple of minutes if there isn't anything going on as the teacher has a lot of work to do, but it's effect is three-fold. I become a familiar face, so that the teacher doesn't put off contacting me over little problems which turn into big problems and lots of incidental information is shared (both positive and negative). I get a feel of the classroom and the teacher that is currently having such a big impact on my son. Most importantly, my son sees that we are working together for him: to make his schooling successful, that I value his education and that his teacher values his family.
- ILP SUPPORTS
An ILP is an Individual Learning Plan - a document that works alongside the curriculum to show what an individual student is specifically working on. For us, the school instigated the use of the ILP and my son typically has 3 goals that he is working towards - 1 social, 1 behavioural and 1 academic, but these are individual, so don't feel like you have to stick to the formula. Parents can also ask for an ILP if students are struggling and I highly recommend it. An ILP is a signed agreement that you make with your child's classroom teacher.
Usually about a month into the school year, an ILP meeting will be had with the parents and teacher of a child. Some schools will also include an executive teacher or a disability education coordinator (DECO). Some schools do this with the child present and others don't - you will know best if your child is mature enough to be a part of this conversation. During this meeting parents and teachers work together to decide on the goals of the child and what learning and supports are going to be provided to the child so that they can reach their goals. Once the teacher has had a chance to write it up, the ILP document will be sent home for you to sign and put on their records. This is so that past documents can be found to identify previous strategies that have worked well and identify recurring problems. There should be a followup meeting half-way through the year and then again at the end of the year. ILPs can be modified at any time if you feel you would like to add things in or take things out.