Tag Archive | special needs assistant

Strategies For Parents Seeking Support in the Classroom

Navigating through the public school system can be overwhelming for many parents trying to obtain and develop educational support in the classroom. For parents of early school age children, the journey in getting special needs support immediately is even more difficult. Your child may have just received a diagnosis or have an older child in the public school system and need more information. While there are many wonderful community agencies out there, many are stuck outside of the school doors due to Toronto District School Board policies. TDSB school administration may not be as forthcoming with information as parents would expect.  What can parents of special needs children do this year and in the future to get support in the classroom now? In this post, I will be using Toronto District School Board as an example, based on my personal experience. Other School Boards may have different policies. Here are some strategies that have been successful in our journey to building a support system quickly.


  • Always remember you are your child’s best advocate. There will be no one else who can speak better for your child’s needs than you!
  • Understand the roles of those who work with your child at school. Teachers educate, observe your child in the classroom and can provide useful insight into your child’s strengths, weaknesses and identify goals in the classroom. Principals have the authority to make requests for Special Needs Assistants and teachers. Superintendents can override Principal decisions, suspensions and are your recourse should you not be making head way with the Principal. Trustees are publicly appointed individuals who are the final contact should you be unsuccessful with the teacher, principal or superintendent.
  • View the teacher and principal as part of the team, not the enemy. It’s easy to allow emotion to cloud the big picture and to take negativity personally.  Make friendly with the principal, however, do not be afraid to ask questions or speak up for your child’s needs. Make every attempt to sustain a relationship between your child’s teachers and principal.
  • Identify issues and information required to overcome it. Why does your child need support in the classroom? Is your child identified or gifted? How do you have your child formally identified? Do you want your child to be in a regular classroom with support or in a smaller classroom with other special needs children? These are all things parents should think about and KNOW when advocating for their children.
  • Ask your child’s teacher to write in a log. Sometimes, teachers do not have the time immediately after dismissal to talk about the day. Stay updated during these times by having your child’s teacher, EA or whomever is working closest with your child write about your child’s day.
  • Familiarize yourself with education acronyms, their meanings and purpose. It is crucial to know the different between an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and an IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee), for example. (Click herefor a list)
  • Familiarize yourself with applicable special education and human rights law. When you understand the law, you understand what is required of schools. If you feel your child’s rights are being violated, it may be time to consult a lawyer. (Check hereif you live in Ontario, on a budget and need legal help in educational matters)
  • Educate yourself about the school board’s Special Education program and ask around. TDSB shares very limited information on their Special Education program and the steps needed to get support in the classroom is not so clear. You will learn more by researching on the web, talking with different parents, teachers and more. I learned from a Trustee that SNA’s are appointed to a school based on student numbers in June BUT the Principal can request additional support staff any time.
  • Keep a binder or file folder for documents.  Go to the local dollar store and purchase a binder to keep letters, reports and more ready on hand. If you have enough time, you may even consider colour coding sections for easy access during school meetings.
  • Ensure your child sees his or her family doctor, pediatrician and specialists (if any) regularly; obtain any documentation for your records as you may need them to prove any diagnoses. Your child’s health care provider may also write letters supporting your children in receiving special equipment such as computers, learning tools from the Special Equipment Amount.
  • Document every conversation. As in our experience, it may prove useful to do so in your own. If necessary, quote dates, times and names of individuals you spoke with in your letters.
  • Make every request in writing. Want input into your child’s Individual Education Plan? Has your child’s school given you a date for a meeting? Not seeing results?  Sometimes schools do not honour promises that are made through a phone or in-person conversation. Therefore, it is in your child’s best interest to push the school a bit more and hold them accountable.
  • When writing letters, do not blame or belittle staff. Again, parents on this journey will often experience unacceptable discrimination or face situations that bother them immensely. Whether wrong or right, write about your concerns and feelings but avoid name-calling. Those who conduct themselves in such a manner will find their child is the one who loses out the most!
  • CC (Carbon Copy) every request letter to the area superintendent, your child’s doctor, specialists, special education department and if necessary, the media. The more people informed, the more likely there will be increased accountability. This strategy can push schools to meet deadlines and get what you want done.
  • Learn the types of meetings there are and other opportunities to speak for your child. There are opportunities available during School Support Teams (SST) meetings, one on one meetings, Parent / Teacher interviews, etc,. Always request a meeting, in writing, if possible.
  • Be involved. Parents are permitted to provide input for the SST, IEP, Safety Plan and IPRC. You may use your position as the parent to submit letters from professionals providing recommendations, techniques and overall support. If you cannot make the meeting, ensure someone suitable and well knowledgeable of your family is there or reschedule.
  • Bring a photo of your child to school meetings. This is an amazing strategy to remind everyone (including you) who they are at the meeting to discuss. Often, members of the School Support Team meet with a lot of parents and do not have an opportunity to put a name to a face. I find this tip to be extremely helpful at keeping parents calm and encourages positive opportunities to share with others a memorable story about your child.
  • Your child’s school has phoned you at work and asked you to pick up your child because they are unable to manage behaviour. What do you do? When you give into the school’s demands, you allow TDSB staff to create a negative environment for your child and an angry you. By enabling this behaviour, TDSB staff will call left, right and center and your child will lose critical learning time. The solution requires deep thinking on the staff’s part to find ways to managing the issue(s) at hand – stay put at work. TDSB phoned our family every day for three weeks straight – I did not give in once.
  • Provide the school techniques that work for you at home. While schools may or may not implement them, at least they remain knowledgeable and do have a new avenue to try should old Board techniques become ineffective (which often they do).
  • Consider involving a Social Worker, Behavioural Therapist, or more from a local community agency. A Behavioural Therapist may write a list of techniques that the school can use in its capacity and or may recommend that a special needs assistant be brought in to carry them out. TDSB and other school boards may try to discourage you from doing this, however, both Board hired specialists and those employed elsewhere have the same qualifications. Your child’s specialists may be readily available whereas Board ones have a lengthy wait list.(Remember: Schools do not have to allow third party agencies into the school unless the Board already has a connection with their agency which is why letter writing is recommended)
  • Learn to negotiate and pick your battles wisely. Very rarely will your child receive one Special Needs Assistant for their entire day or even everyday. While the infamous line, “1 SNA for every 600 students” is far from the truth, your child will have to share their support assistant with other students. The support you receive may not be in the form of a Special Needs Teacher or Assistant but rather a co-op placement or volunteer. The school and board are obligated to provide an individual who is experienced and educated in the area of your child’s specific needs.