Demystifying School Team Meetings
BY: PATTI OLIVEIRA, COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW BY: CHANTELLE QUESNELLE, MENTAL HEALTH LEAD
GUEST: MICHAEL VAN GEENE, APPLIED BEHAVIOUR ANALYST
February 28, 2023
I’m not the type of person that easily asks for help. I find it just as difficult to accept help that’s freely offered. Maybe these two qualities are just the flip-side of the same coin. It can be the most well-intentioned offer of assistance but the moment it is uttered I go into a tailspin of self-doubt and insecurity: What am I doing wrong? Am I not qualified to do this on my own? When a person in a position of authority puts out a helping-hand - things really get interesting in the anxiety-department!
I’ll never forget the first time I got "The Call." A guidance counselor called me to discuss some concerns surrounding my child’s performance at school. Feeling the heat rushing up into my face, I was so thankful this was a phone call and not an in-person conversation! Those familiar feelings of guilt and yes… embarrassment started to set in. The counselor told me he had spoken to the Vice-Principal (the Vice-Principal !?! Oh dear, this isn’t good. It’s gone all the way to the top!). They wanted my permission to make some suggestions to my child to help get him on a path to success. He wasn’t in trouble - there was genuine concern and a sincere offer of help! There were more phone calls after that, and I’ll admit, those same feelings came bubbling up first, but they didn’t last long. The support is so valuable - there are things that I don’t know (gasp!) that the School Team does and through trial and error we are able to make my child’s experience at school all that it should be - safe, welcoming and fulfilling.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it’s important to know who’s in that village. When it comes to School team meetings - the village that is rallying around your child in a circle of support is made up of school staff that has their best interest at heart.
For the better part of his 16 years with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, Michael Van Geene has been a Board-certified, Applied Behaviour Analyst. He has made a career of using the principles of learning to address the behavioural needs of students in the classroom. You might find someone like Mike in a parent-teacher conference or team meeting at your child’s school, so who better to take us beyond the bell and right into this conversation about Team Meetings, than Mr. Van Geene!
Chantelle: What exactly is a team meeting? Who’s usually there?
Mike: So a team meeting is … a meeting between parents and their child's school team. The team typically consists of your child's teacher, and anyone else in the school that regularly supports your child… The meeting provides an opportunity for parents and caregivers to meet with the school team and really discuss their child: discuss what's been happening; share strategies - to make school more enjoyable, so your child can be successful.
Chantelle: Mike, I imagine that there's some anxiety or feelings that come up with parents when that request for a team meeting has been made. In many cases, this is a new space for parents. Can you offer some insight to support them through that?
Mike: I agree. It can be really intimidating for a parent to come in and sit down with a school team of five or six people, depending on the child's needs… but it’s important to keep in mind that everyone that's in that room has your child's best interests in mind.
Chantelle: I think sometimes, just as parents can get nervous going in for a team meeting, the student, knowing that parents are coming in for a meeting, can get nervous and anxious too. Knowing the agenda or knowing that the intention of the meeting is to support them at school… that can be reassuring. It's not about a child getting in trouble, right?
Mike: Right. In general, we're going to talk about your child's learning. Sometimes a team meeting could be called because your child's really excelling at school and we just want to make sure that they're not bored and we're keeping them engaged. And sometimes schools are calling team meetings because your child may be struggling, whether that's with learning or with social interactions with their peers. Oftentimes, there can be some emotions attached to these meetings. What’s really important to remember is that… the school is 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. The best way we can do that as parents… is to come into that meeting prepared and with a positive mindset, keeping in mind that everyone is here because they care about this child.
Team meetings can make you feel a little apprehensive. But with a little prep work, the right support and a positive mindset, you and your child will be smiling all the way to the principal’s office.