Demystifying Team Meetings

Show Transcript

Welcome to Beyond the Bell podcast where you get an inside look into school life. We cover school related topics that support your child's education and well being. As you listen along, we hope you’ll gain insights for navigating school with your child, and leave with a deeper sense of connection between school and home.

Here's your host, Chantelle Quesnelle. 

Chantelle: Welcome Simcoe Muskoka families. On this episode we are going beyond the bell, to take an inside look at team meetings with our board analyst, Michael Van Geene. Michael is a certified behavior analyst - board certified behavior analyst…

Mike: That’s right.

Chantelle: …and he has worked at our school board for over 16 years in various roles, but mostly in this role. So it's great to have you Mike. 

Mike: Thanks for having me, Chantelle. Thanks for the introduction!

Chantelle: Oh, awesome. Before we get started, and figure out exactly what a Team Meeting is, I'm wondering Mike, how many team meetings have you been to with parents over the years?

Mike: Definitely in the hundreds, I would say. Yeah, like 50 to 100 each year, I would say. So many, many Team Meetings. 

Chantelle: Sure! That's a lot and I guess you certainly bring a lot of experience and knowledge to this conversation and so we're thankful for that. 

Mike: Thanks for having me. 

Chantelle: Yeah, and out of curiosity Mike, have you ever attended a Team Meeting yourself as a parent? I have not had the pleasure yet. But maybe in the future. I do have three children and one is in elementary school, but haven't had the pleasure yet. 

Chantelle: Yeah, sure. I recently have, and it's an interesting experience when you've been in a team meeting as a school board employee and you kind of shift to the meeting as a parent, but I think what we're going to cover today will bring a lot of helpful information for parents and caregivers when they're in - when they're in that space with the school team. 

Mike: Yeah.

Chantelle: Yeah. Okay, so then let's jump right into it. So let's unpack the idea of a Team Meeting, Mike. So what exactly is a Team Meeting and who's normally there? 

Mike: So a team meeting is a meeting between parents and their child's school team. Now the school team typically consists of your child's teacher, and anyone else in the school that you know, regularly supports your student, or your child. Your child may have support from an educational assistant or they may have support from a special education resource teacher. There may be other professionals at the table too, that support your child. Like perhaps a speech language pathologist or an occupational therapist, and you typically have the school principal or vice principal attend as well. So that's typically who attends and where do the meetings typically happen? They typically happen in a conference room at the school. Now since, since we've been in COVID, schools have made accommodations so that parents are able to join Team Meetings virtually. Which has been good because sometimes we're able to have professionals that maybe can't physically be in the school for the meeting and are, able to join still join the school team. 

Chantelle: Yeah, right. That's a, that's a good point. So sometimes they're a person and sometimes, at least now, through COVID and post-pandemic, they can happen virtually as well. I know you mentioned that, you know, you might attend 50 to 100 meetings every year. And so I'm wondering, just to normalize this for parents, like how often do these types of meetings happen at schools? 

MIke: So it really depends on your child and your child's needs. You may never attend the school Team Meeting for your child or you know, depending on your child's needs, you may attend several in a year. It really depends on how things are going with your child and you know, is there a need for the school team and the parents to get together, collaborate, come up with some ideas to solve, you know, any issues that may be going on?

Chantelle: Yeah, sure. And so we've heard a little bit about, you know, what a team meeting is kind of generally and who might be there, but I'm wondering if you can share for our listeners, what happens in these meetings? So a parent or caregiver has gotten the call or the email and they've been asked to come in to, to chat about something. What typically happens, where are they helpful? 

MIke: So they're helpful - it's an opportunity for parents, you know, who are typically the people that know the child the best, to meet with the school team who are there to make sure the student’s being as successful as they can be at school. It's an opportunity for us to get together and really discuss the child; discuss what's been happening; share strategies, all in the hopes of making the school a more enjoyable and successful place for your child to be.

Chantelle: Yeah, so it sounds like you know, the overall goal for for these Team Meetings with parents and caregivers and school staff come together to talk about how to support their child or student that it's meant to be - sounds like - some problem solving, some strategies, something that's meant to improve a student's learning experience; their time at school. 

Mike: Yeah, so a very accurate description. Typically, schools will generate an agenda beforehand. I would recommend to parents, you know, if you are asked to come into the school for a Team Meeting, it's definitely a good idea to ask the school for a copy of the agenda beforehand, so you can kind of be ready for you know, why are we calling the Team Meeting? And you know, if there are items that you'd like to discuss, that aren't on the agenda that gives you an opportunity to talk to the school and say, hey, you know, can you add a couple other items that I'd like to discuss as well? You know, so when a Team Meeting happens, you know, we'll have this agenda we try to follow. At the start of the team meeting in our Catholic schools, we’ll often even start with a prayer before we get into the agenda. So that's something you've kind of be ready for. And it's often a nice way to start team meetings in a nice positive way.

Chantelle: Yeah, I really appreciate that idea of like asking for an agenda or what might be covered in the meeting, because I imagine that there's some anxiety or some nerves that parents might have when that request has been made, or they're coming in to the school space where all of the school staff are likely quite comfortable there, but for in many cases, this is a new space for parents. Or maybe parents have their own experience with their education when they were kids. And so, you know, maybe there's feelings that come up about that history when they attend the meeting. And so, really being aware of what might be covered in that meeting, and the goal of the meeting could help support them through that. 

Mike: Yeah, yeah, I agree. It can be really intimidating for a parent to come in and, you know, sit down with a school team that, you know, depending on the child's needs, there might be five or six people at the table along with the parents. So it definitely can be intimidating. But you know, I agree with your advice there. You know, read the agenda, be familiar and confident with what you're coming into discuss and you know, you'll, you'll be a little bit less anxious coming in and just keep in mind that everyone that's in that room has your child's best interests in mind. 

Chantelle: Of course, that's really important to kind of stay centered and that I imagine that really helps set the tone of the meeting as well. So Mike, I know we're going to end our conversation really talking about how parents and caregivers can prepare for the meeting or what to expect that way, but I know, it might also be helpful to have a little inside peek around what school staff do to prepare for the meeting. And so is there anything you can share with us around - what does that look like? How do educators, you know… administrators, yourself even. What do you do to prepare for these, these meetings with, with school teams and parents? 

Mike: Sure. So when I'm asked to attend a team meeting, I always make sure that I have the most up to date data and information available to share with the parent. But you know, I typically would have went over that with the school team already. So they sort of - they'll know what I'm about to present. But school teams will come in with, you know, their concerns, ready to be shared, any- typically a summary of strategies that they've tried already. And the things that we'll talk about, in general, we're going to talk about your child's learning, you know, sometimes a Team Meeting could be called because your child's really excelling at school. And we just want to make sure that you know, they're not bored and we're keeping them engaged. A lot of the time. Schools are calling Team Meetings because you know, your child may be struggling, whether that's with learning or with social interactions with their peers. So- and schools may ask for an update from home as well. So, you know, have you seen any new behavior at home? How's your child’s mood been lately? Sleeping and eating patterns, medications, any medication changes? You know, these are things that school teams want to know, to maybe understand, have a better understanding about why there's been a change in your child at school. 

Chantelle:Ah, I can see you know, as a parent, how helpful it might be to take a second, or a moment to- together or even sometimes, and I don't know if you ever do this Mike, is when I'm thinking about any recent changes or updates or maybe when something started, sometimes I talk to my parents- my kids’ grandparents, to say: Do you remember when that was? Because I need to bring in that circle of support sometimes to remember those key dates or experiences that have happened. And so, connecting and writing those things down ahead of time might help somebody feel really prepared in these meetings. 

Mike: Yeah, I agree. And I meet with parents- parent group at least once a year and I  do a bit of a training with them just to talk about, you know, how you can be a more positive advocate for your child and really, like help get the most out of the school experience for your child. So one of the biggest things I talk about is like being prepared, and I do give some strategies on how to be prepared you know, create a binder. There's so much school information that you'll have on your child, so create a binder, have it with you. You know, the more prepared you are, the less anxious you're going to be in that meeting and the more likely that you're going to have a successful meeting that results in better outcomes for your child. 

Chantelle: Yeah, and I suppose there might also be questions or wonderings that the school team might have, that as a parent, you might not have the answer to just yet, or can't remember that information and that's okay, too. That is so normal. 

Mike: Totally. Yeah, we get that in every school team meeting just like parents may ask the school questions that we don't necessarily have the answers to right away and it's okay to say hey, don't worry, we'll get back to you on that. And we, we 100% allow that from parents, and do expect that to happen. 

Chantelle: That's a good point. So anything else about-  I really appreciate, how you shared Mike, how you might kind of prepare for a meeting and, and what things that you're looking at going in. Is there anything else that you would want to share about the school staff or what happens in preparation for a meeting with parents?

MIke: Well, sometimes it can be challenging to get everyone to the table that's involved with your child, so like for example, if your child receives support from an educational assistant, and perhaps they're working at the time with another student when the meetings occurring. School teams would typically go to that educational assistant and make sure that they gather information, questions, comments from that educational assistant, just to make sure that that important information can be shared in the meeting? 

Chantelle: Yeah, absolutely. That's really important that sometimes because schools work as a team, that not everybody can always be present but their voices are in the best practice would be to find ways to get their perspectives, get their experiences and bring those into the conversation or ask those questions in the meeting and find a way to follow up with a future meeting. 

Mike:Yeah.

Chantelle: Yeah. Okay, so then, if we kind of shift we have this inside look at what that looks like from a school team perspective and, and now maybe shifting the conversation over to, to parents and caregivers and us getting some tips already on how they might prepare. So for example, asking for the agenda and maybe the goal or the purpose of the meeting, if they're not aware, thinking about any updates, any changes like medications, sleep habits, things like that, and who they might need to include in that kind of circle to kind of get the best information going into the meeting and maybe organizing some of the documents if there are a lot of documents, in some cases in a binder or some sort of system so it's all there together. And so anything else, Mike that you often recommend for parents and caregivers as they prepare for a meeting? 

Mike: I think you've covered most of it there, just touching on like the binder to make sure that you come in prepared - some some pieces that I know are really helpful for school teams to have, that we often ask for in team meetings - you know, any medical reports that a parents comfortable sharing, psychological reports that may include diagnoses - that's really important information for us. Any other assessment reports from outside professionals like, perhaps your child's had a speech language pathologist assessment outside of the school, that would be really helpful for us to have. Or perhaps they receive some other form of therapy outside of the school. That's good information for us to have. Again, like any current medications, medication changes, perhaps specialized equipment. It can also be handy to have a copy of past team meetings too - a copy of past team meeting minutes and that binders you can go back and refer to things that may have been discussed in the past and have some blank note paper in there so you can take your own notes. Now you can always request a copy of the school team meeting minutes after hand, but I do recommend taking your own notes as well. 

Chantelle: And I was just thinking about that about how even if you maybe didn't come to the meeting with a pen and paper that thankfully being in the school setting, that's something that the school team can offer as well and then that it's okay to take those notes and write things down, because just as you said, there's often somebody part of that school team taking notes and typically Mike, it you can correct me but it's often on a computer. So there might be somebody there typing and there's a reason for that. 

Mike: Yeah, that's right. There's, there's typically someone there taking team meeting notes. And that just makes it easier for you know, the notes to be shared with everyone that's part of the team to kind of keep that clear record of the team meeting minutes. Yeah, so very easy for school teams to get parents a copy afterwards. 

Chantelle: That's great and I guess the one person maybe we haven't talked about just yet is is the student - and I know depending on the age and the awareness of the student, they might wonder why parents are coming into the school or they might maybe end up seeing the parents or request to be part of the meeting or or maybe be included really intentionally and part of the meeting. And so I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit. 

Mike: Sure. So for, for younger students. Like I'd recommend parents, you know, they, they know their child best. I think it's best for them to decide, you know, how they should explain to their child you know why they're in the school. Now for older students, students in high school. I've been in meetings where the child's attended for the entire- or youth has attended for the entire meeting. At other times, we've talked with the parents first and said, You know, it's probably best if we meet as a group first without the student present and then bring them in afterwards to get their feedback and share some of the ideas that we're having. So really, in my experience, we sort of left that to parents and students to sort of discuss on their own and figure out what's best for them and schools are typically open to any arrangement.

Chantelle: Yeah, that's great and I think sometimes just as as parents can get nervous going in for a team meeting, that if the student or the child knows that, that parents are coming in for a meeting that they can get nervous and anxious too and and that sometimes knowing the agenda or knowing the intention or even just reiterating that everybody is there to support them at school and come up with some strategies to put in place. That can be reassuring that it's not about a child getting in trouble or a student getting in trouble too, right? 

Mike: Yeah, definitely. 

Chantelle: Yeah. Okay, so I wonder about wrapping up talking a little bit about getting into the mindset of a team, of a team meeting. I wonder if there's some, some tips you might be able to share on, on that topic? 

MIke: Yeah. So oftentimes, like depending on the purpose of the meeting, oftentimes parents are called in to perhaps discuss topics that can be difficult, like your child is having difficulty learning or they're having difficulty interacting positively with their peers. So, you know, oftentimes, there can be some emotions attached to these meetings. So it's really - I found that it's really important for parents to - and school teams, to go into these meetings with a really positive attitude. You know, it allows for better collaboration. It allows for better outcomes for the student.

They're just more effective. Like, I find it's best if we, you know, talk briefly about the problems and then spend most of the meeting talking about potential solutions. So you know, whether the purpose of the meeting may be because of something negative happening, you know, try and spend most of the meeting talking about positive things we can do to make school better for the child.

Chantelle: I really like that framing that's really important. And I also find that when we frame things that way, we do come out of the meeting feeling, you know, hopeful and like there is something we can do about a challenge or that we're on the same, the same page.

MIke: Yeah, for sure. I think like there, there is research out there about positive advocacy. I've read one study that was conducted in Ontario, just looking at you know, what types of parent behaviors result in parents feeling like they're better advocates for their children? So the study found that parents who engaged in maladaptive coping behavior - so they're talking about, you know, denial, venting, substance use, self blame, you know, those parents tended to rate themselves as poor advocates for their child. Now, they did also find the parents who indicated they had sort of higher levels of emotional support, tended to rate themselves as better advocates for their child's. So emotional support, in this sense, just referred to having someone available that they can share you know, worries and concerns with sort of outside of the school team. So, really like this research for me like and I always bring this up when I do that presentation with parents like it really highlights for me the importance of planning for meetings, framing the meeting as something really positive for your child, making sure that you have people there that's that can support you when you need it outside of kind of the situation.

One other thing, Chantelle, while it wasn't a significant factor in the study, another thing that I found is really important for parents is just engaging in their own self care. So taking care of yourself by practicing good eating, getting enough rest and exercise and just making time for yourself too - and not feeling guilty about it. So whether that's, you know, spending time socially with friends or finding your own time to engage in a hobby you enjoy, you know, if we're taking care of ourselves, it's a lot easier for us to be, you know, good parents and advocate more positively for our kids. 

Chantelle: Yeah, so, so true. And I was just going to bring that up because I was thinking your- as you're sharing about that research around some of the strategies that parents and school staff might need to remember going into the meeting to kind of manage some of the emotions that might come up through the course of of that conversation and what happens next and, and that taking a couple deep breaths, having a fidget or something in your hands if you need it -and sometimes that's for writing things down - are- can- can be a helpful strategy as well. And whatever else, a parent might be going into that meeting to manage through that situation. But then I also really like how you spoke a bit broader too, that it's not just about “in the moment of the meeting” or the moments leading up to the meeting. It really is those everyday practices to model and to have those healthy self care strategies that we often talk about… and easier said than done - we all know, we all know that but the importance is still there. And so making sure we're finding those things independently as an adult or as a caregiver, and also figuring out what are the things that we can do as a family to model that as well and that's always a good tip.

Mike: Yeah, great point, Chantelle. And that's actually something that I do bring up in my training that I do with parents, like “Remember, we're kind of the primary models for our kids. So the better we can model you know, self regulation. Another one I talked about is like, you know, show you like model reading for your child; model that you enjoy reading. If you- if you want your child to enjoy reading and look at it that way. So yeah, really great that you brought that up.

Chantelle: So then I wonder as we wrap up our time together, Mike, if you could highlight one key piece of information from our conversation today or maybe it's something that we didn't get a chance to cover that is a key highlight. What would you highlight for our listeners to remember?

MIke: I think the biggest thing to remember is that when we're called in when parents are called in for a school team meeting, it's keep in mind it's because the school really cares about your child and wants them to be successful. And they're reaching out to you because you know your child best and they're just looking for support and information from you to try and make things as positive as possible for your child. And the best way we can do that as parents I'm a parent too, is to come into that meeting prepared and in that positive mindset, keeping in mind that you know everyone is here because they care about my kid.

Chantelle: Ah - what a great way to end this conversation. So thank you again, Mike, for your time today. Thanks for taking us beyond the bell and into a school-parent-team meeting. We hope that this has brought our listeners some insights into what that might look like. It's ah-  thank you so much. 

Mike: Thank you Chantal.

Thanks for listening to Beyond the Bell podcast. We hope you found today's episode helpful. Beyond the Bell is brought to you by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and our Catholic Parent Involvement Committee. It's hosted by Chantelle Quesnelle. Pauline Stevenson is our executive producer. Episodes are produced and edited by Portage Creative. You can find our show notes and previous episodes on our podcast website beyondthebell.ca. If you'd like today's episode, leave us a review. If you have any suggestions for future episodes or any questions or comments about Beyond the Bell podcast you can send an email to info@SMCDSB.on.ca. Thanks again for joining us. We'll see you next time.