Knowledge in these areas makes you a better advocate for school inclusion with Andy Willemsen

Good Things In Life Podcast episode 097 thumbnail with Andy Willemsen
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Honest, effective dialogue depends on a few key principles: empathy, equity, and a shared set of goals. When advocating for your child with a disability and his or her educational needs, sometimes it feels like the conversation is more of a battleground where no one speaks the same language. But you might have more tools and options than you realize to help ensure your voice is heard, understood, and remembered, and to help turn that battleground into a shared space for teamwork and collaboration.

In this episode, I chat with Andy Willemsen, a developmental service worker and community living advocate with more than thirty years of experience working with children with disabilities and their families. Andy identifies four key areas of knowledge that parents can equip themselves with in order to help support their child’s educational needs, and there’s good news: as a parent, you already have the first area—knowledge about your own child—down pat!

How can you use this knowledge to be a strong advocate for your child, and what other areas of knowledge do you need that can help strengthen your toolkit? Andy defines knowledge about the way the system functions, knowledge about the different actors within the system, and knowledge about what your options are going forward as three more tools to help bolster your case. He also stresses the importance of equity, empathy, teamwork, and planning ahead in working collaboratively to reach achievable, flexible goals that will evolve as your child grows.

This month is Inclusive Education month in Canada and Black History Month in the US. It is an excellent intersection to help us think about inclusivity. In Inclusion Academy, Good Things In Life’s monthly membership, we are covering IEPs – how to make them inclusive, equitable and help all students reach their potential. You can learn more and join us by clicking here.

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Genia  (00:03):

Welcome to The Good Things In Life podcast, I’m Genia Stephen. Today’s guest is Andy Willemsen and he’s a resident of Brampton, Ontario, Canada. And he studied at Sheridan College for Business, but changed his mind and went to the University of Guelph for child studies. And then accidentally ended up in the field of developmental services. He works for Brampton Keller in community living and has been there for 32 years. During that time he’s worked in a number of areas, including community living supports family resources, education, and currently he focuses his time on community participation supports. Andy’s had the opportunity to work on a video series on advocacy in the school system, which is our topic today, which is just one of the school related topics that he enjoys. And he believes that everybody should be part of their community, whether it’s at their school work or neighborhood. Andy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andy  (01:01):

You’re very much nice to meet you.

Genia  (01:03):

Nice to meet you too, Andy, let’s start by, uh, just to having you talk about what your relationship is with people with disabilities and their families and how you accidentally ended up in the, in the field of developmental services.

Andy  (01:19):

Oh yeah. That’s, that’s sort of an interesting story, I guess. Maybe that’s what interested me, interesting to me anyways, but yeah, yeah. I went to school. I thought it was going to be a big business, hot shot, do all that. And I worked for a little bit after that and I absolutely hated it. Absolutely hated it. Um, so then I thought, well, you know what, I’m going to go through child stays and I’m going to work with young offenders. That was my next goal. And yeah, well, it was cool, the ideology behind it was great. Right. And, uh, and so I worked that for a little bit and again, I guess, quickly disillusioned with that. And, uh, so then I sort of wandered around a bit and tried to figure out what was going on. And my dad happened to know what the president of the board of, uh, Brett [inaudible]. And he said, look, if your son is looking for a job, we’ve got absolutely no guys working for us. So, you know, I’d love to love to have him on board. So I really debated about this because when I was in school, of course we studied the developmental sector. And in my head I said, this is not a field I could ever work in. I don’t know if I could handle it emotionally. So, but needed to say it

Genia  (02:26):

Young offenders. Yes. People with disabilities. No,

Andy  (02:29):

That’s right for a minute just for, because I felt like I would feel too much all the time, if that makes

Andy  (02:36):

Sense. Yeah.

Andy  (02:38):

Yeah, for sure. For sure. But, uh, I went in there and gave it a try and absolutely loved it. Absolutely loved it. And now it’s been 33 years. Uh, I’ve had a lot of different experiences within the field here. Um, probably my most favorite experience was actually working in the educational side of things. We used to have a position called Education Liaison. And so what I would do is sort of be that go between, between the school boards and the schools and the developmental sector here. Unfortunately, that position, the funds were reallocated elsewhere. Um, so, but I still dabble in it. I still get involved in it. Not as much as I’d like to be, but I still get into it. I’m involved with a transition advisory committee appeal here. So I work a lot with schools and agencies and on transition planning on, on how that should look. Uh, so yeah, and then I work with families during the day. I provide different supports during the day for families. And of course currently online, we’re in an online world right now, right? So we do a lot of stuff online with families.

Genia  (03:45):

And the topic of our conversation today is, um, Advocacy In The School System, which is something you have, as you’re saying, lots of experience with, and this will be this podcast episode will be published in February, which in Ontario, where we live is inclusive education month. And so when we’re talking about school advocacy, we’re really talking about, you know, advocating for inclusive education, um, which means many, many things, you know, inclusive education means, you know, supports to, you know, truly belong. And it also means supports to get access to high quality education, you know, and curriculum-based education. So it means lots of things which we’ll cover in different podcast episodes. But what I, the reason I reached out to you about, um, doing this episode, um, is because on the Inclusive Education Canada website, which I can include in the show notes, I’ll include that for people who want to find that. There’s a video series and you recorded a video, I mentioned in your bio around knowledge being an essential part of advocacy around school. And I wonder if you could talk about, you know, why knowledge matters and then of course we’ll get into knowledge about what, but why does knowledge, why is knowledge an essential aspect of effective advocacy?

Andy  (05:10):

I think knowledge is important because it equalizes the playing field. You know, as, as a, as a family member, if you know what the lay of the land is sort of what all the, what, how do I say this? I’m trying to explain this and you need to know what the parameters are that you’re working with. What has been established by the authority, if you want to call it that, is that when you go into any school interactions, you know exactly how far you can go with things. What’s the, perhaps the better way of handling things. That knowledge just gives you a sort of an equal stance when you’re, when you’re dealing with families, because, you know, let’s put it this way. Anytime we walk into a strange situation for any of us, there’s a little bit of fear, a little bit of intimidation. We don’t know what to say. Um, but this just brings the playing field to a, uh, more of an even level.

Genia  (06:08):

I couldn’t agree with you more. The, um, I’m just thinking about my own experiences as a parent and the differences when I am walking into a situation where I really just don’t know how things work, um, or I’m in an area that I have no experience in, you know, and not just school, it could be any, it could be that your child wants to, you know, become a ballerina and you know, nothing about ballet, right? Like it doesn’t have to just be kind of school systems level. And then the other times where I walk into, you know, a meeting, for example, and I actually really, really know what they’re talking about. Um, and it’s much easier to, first of all, not be kind of taken for a ride, you know what I mean, tools, things that aren’t true. Um, but it’s also much easier to just we’re having the same conversation often is instead of being one of those situations where I think everybody’s probably experienced this where you’re saying words that they understand, and they’re saying words that you understand, but you find out later you were having a totally different conversation, right? So knowledge really helps you to be on that same equal playing field, as you’re saying, and having the same conversation from the same level of empowerment. Yeah.

Andy  (07:33):

And it also, it sets the tone, right? It sets the tone. When you walk into any meetings, if people know that, you know that then, then it’s a different, different level of conversation.

Genia  (07:45):

Hmm. That is very true. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about that, maybe share some, maybe share a story or two of how you’ve seen that play out for families.

Andy  (08:01):

Hmm. Again, you don’t want it’s, it’s, I’ll be honest. It’s been a while since I’ve been in those meetings within the school system here. Um, but one of the things I used to always tell families is even when you walk into those meetings, walk in with the IPRC guide, or they’d be on the table with you. Just setting that down on the table, because right away, when, when folks see that they know that, you know what you’re talking about. You know, and, and I’ve seen that I’ve seen, uh, families come into meetings and it’s like a deer in the headlights. They have no idea. Right. And it’s, it’s just different ball game. I’ll look at my own example with my own child here. When we first started the school process, you know, I’d get information home, I’d look at it, I’d sign it and I’d set it up because I assumed everybody knew better.

Andy  (08:54):

Right, right. But it wasn’t until you learned to have a voice and talk and show that you have some knowledge that I found the whole interaction changed. Um, I saw I’ve seen so many examples like that, I guess, but my biggest thing is seeing families walk in and we assume, we always assume that the so-called people who know everything are doing the best things in our interests. Right. We assume that we assume you’re the authority, you know, better. But sometimes I, and you, and I know it was not always the case. So again, that bit of knowledge walking in there, it just changes things.

Genia  (09:37):

Well. And interestingly, even in situations in which the school staff are one aligned with your values, two committed to, to acting on their values, and three does know a heck of a lot more than you do about education. You still are going to know more than they do about your child.

Andy  (10:00):

Well, and that’s one of the big points we’re going to talk about knowledge here.

Genia  (10:04):

Right? So you’re so even for people who are thinking to themselves yeah. But they do know more than I do. Um, fair enough. But there’s, there’s pieces that you still know more about. And the, the difference really that you’re talking about here is are you a member of the team or does the team tell you what to do? Right. And when you, when you gain kno gain knowledge, then you become a member of the team. And that of course is going to, as a team member, you’re going to be more effective than if your role is to be told what to do.

Andy  (10:36):

Yeah. You’re going to be more effective. And you’re going to find that the process just flows better overall, you’re a team, right. And as a team you’re working together and that’s, that’s the key word together.

Genia  (10:51):

And one of the things that I really loved about the video that you did for Inclusive Education Canada, is that the points that you raised and also the different categories of knowledge, right? You need knowledge, we’re going to cover a few things. You need knowledge about this. You need knowledge about that. I love that it’s like practical and actionable, right? Like it’s not, you don’t have to become, um, you know, a certified teacher or a special educator. And weren’t, that’s not what we’re talking about. I love the really, um, practical and accessible and effective aspects of what you’re going to talk about around becoming knowledgeable. So I’m excited to get into that. So what are the areas where parents should make sure, um, I’m, I’m flubbing up that sentence from a grammar perspective. Help me out here, Andy, what am I trying to say?

Andy  (11:43):

That’s okay. I do it all the time.

Genia  (11:46):

What are the areas, um, you know, despite a quality education here, I am unable to get the sentence out. Um, what are the categories in which people should try and become knowledgeable

Andy  (11:57):

For sure. Great. That was a great way of putting it. Well, you know, I, I, when I, when I talked about this, I looked upon it at a couple of different ways here. Um, I really, there’s sort of four, four areas to, to look at here. And you touched on the first one, the knowledge of your center daughter, right? Who, who knows better than the parent, you know, you know everything about the, but we’ll talk more about that. Then there’s also the knowledge, it’s sort of the, uh, processes, guidelines, procedures, rules, you know, and again, you don’t want, like you said, you don’t have to be an expert in it. But just take a look at it, come with some, some preparation involved in that and, and you’ll be fine. Um, also knowing the people that are involved, that’s the other bit of knowledge is, is that there’s many, many, many different players, uh, that you’re going to run into over the time that you’re there.

Andy  (12:52):

Uh, and so know who they are because, uh, it’s going to come in handy. Definitely. And then also, you know, you want to know what you could do to make the process work better, because there are certain things that you can do to ensure that team approach, as we talked about, uh, that are going to be in the best interest of your, of your son or daughter and, and also work with the school in such a way that it’s going to facilitate that relationship, because that’s what you want to, you want to work alongside with them.

Genia  (13:24):

Right. Great. Okay. So let’s talk about those, each of those a little bit more so knowing your child. So one of the things that I see an awful lot is that school teams and often parents say, okay, so this is, um, Keem, uh, Keem has autism and ADHD and, you know, and the knowing of the child, and then the thinking about the child’s education, all stems from sort of a diagnostic criteria or category. So, so given that that’s such a common occurrence when parents are thinking about the knowledge that they bring to the table about their child, I I’m, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that that’s not what you’re talking about. So what are you talking about around the helpfulness of that knowledge?

Andy  (14:24):

I’m talking about who their child is, what are their goals and dreams? What are they good at? What do they enjoy? What, what doesn’t work for them? Talk about the person, not, not the label here per se. I’d rather hear about the person, because that’s going to tell me a whole lot more about them than any label will tell me. Plus it also sorta again, when you talk about what your son, daughter, you know, what capable of doing what their goals and dreams are, that paints a whole different picture in the education, ed educators head like it’s, it’s just a, it’s a whole different thing. If you say autism, you know, whatever, whatever label right away, the, you know, educators brain starts going, okay, autism. So we’re going to have to do this. Oh, I’m going to have to do that. You know, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the way it works again.

Andy  (15:17):

Uh, when I do my job in what I’m currently doing, and I have people come to some of the day’s sports, I do, I always tell staff to get to know the person first. Because the minute that they read that file, there’s a lot of assumptions already made. And so, and that’s not true. We don’t know. We don’t know what that, that person’s capable of. Um, I used to tell her, well, I always tell my staff when they come in, one of the first things I say is, you know, what assume everybody that comes into your, across you come across, they’re all Einstein’s. And we’re the people with the problems because we can’t figure out how to get it out of them, you know? And I try to try to take that approach when, when working, but you know what, even as a, as someone who’s been doing this for a while, even I can fall into that trap. And I’ll, I’ll give you a quick little example. And, and I think it’s sort of relevant. So, and one of the areas day sports that I work in there was a gentleman in there, and he’s a really pleasant young man. Um, and he doesn’t say much, he sorta just, you know, flirts around the room. Um, it doesn’t seem to be into, you know, really interested in much, but just a nice guy. Okay. So that’s how I know.

Genia  (16:27):

I’m so sorry. I’m just getting a call from the hospital about my sister. Can you hold on for one second?

Andy  (16:30):

For sure. For sure.

Genia  (16:33):

Okay. Sorry. I’m back though. So if you’re listening to this and you heard me say, hold on, Andy. Um, my sister’s currently in the hospital, um, and, uh, that was a call from the hospital, um, with a, uh, you know, specialist trying to ask a bunch of questions. So poor, Andy got abruptly interrupted in the middle of his story and then made to wait for, um, much longer than I anticipated. And so now he’s going to try and pick up that story. Um, and, uh, we will continue on. Thanks very much, Andy. Sorry about that.

Andy  (17:07):

Oh, no problem. No problem. So, you know, we were speaking about knowledge and, and why it’s important for you to share knowledge with your son and daughter. So this gentleman that I see in a program, like I say, he’s a very quiet guy. Doesn’t say much too much. Now I should preface this as this is a program I’m looking after for another person here. So I don’t see him on a regular basis, but, you know, I just see him as a quiet guy. Well, the other day, you know, I got a call from his mother and, uh, she’s telling me, unfortunately, her and her husband or her really not well right now. And her son that was busy at home, making them tea, cooking them, mage, cooking, cooking them lunch on his stove. Right. And like, boom, you know, light bulbs are going off in my head here.

Andy  (17:50):

Like boy, a boy, I just made an assumption. I shouldn’t have made. This is a gentleman who has a whole lot more talent and knowing some of those talents, knowing that he can operate a stove and make a grilled cheese and do all that well, Hey, here’s a different avenue to look at whenever. Maybe we get back to regular life here.

Genia  (18:09):

Right? Yes, exactly. And the, you know, the school, um, the school gets basically diagnostic reports and paperwork from previous years. Um, and very, very often the only insight into who they are and what they can do and what they’re interested in is going to come from the family. Okay, awesome. So let’s move on to knowing processes and procedures.

Andy  (18:42):

Doesn’t matter where you are. There’s always processes, procedures, and guidelines. Um, but as a parent or a family member, instead of going to the school, letting them tell you what it is, do the research yourself, do a bit of research. Now, you know, I promote Ontario. I know that it could be different in many different locations, but wherever you are, I’m assuming that your, your school board has, uh, or the governing body of your school board has certain rules and regulations around placements and individual education plans and doing all that. So I would prefer to go to the governing body and read there the, you know, whatever thing that they have, their memorandums, their policies, et cetera, et cetera. Um, because that’s the source where the school is taking their stuff from now, the school should have that same materials that they should be able to offer you as well.

Andy  (19:36):

In fact, here in Ontario, when you, you know, you’re, you’re doing your IPRC, the school should be, you know, giving you the guide to special education. But again, I think as a, as a parent, as a caregiver, it’s better to get all that beforehand so that you know exactly what are the rules governing placement? What say do I have, what can I do if I don’t agree with something, um, that way, at least you, you can be proactive, uh, you know, knowledge like, Hey, I can bring people that I know support me to these meetings. Right. Instead of just sitting in there, um, yeah, just learn what’s going on. And then you’ll know better. Like I say, it puts you on that equal footing.

Genia (20:22):

Yeah. It’s interesting. Some of the, um, there’s so many things I could say about knowing your processes and procedures, there are often points of disruption that are possible because somewhere in those processes and procedures, there are entry points embedded. And yet it feels superficially like from the outside, like you get an IEP often just sent home with your child’s. You know, you may not, you may not have been invited to participate or your participation may simply be responding to the IEP that’s already been written. Um, and then essentially, you know, nothing happens, not much else happens. You know, maybe there’s a placement meeting maybe in your jurisdiction, the placement meeting and the I IEP, or, you know, the same meeting. And then there’s not much else that happens. But actually in every district that I’ve explored or spoken to people who are knowledgeable about how it works in that area, there’s actually more points of disruption that are available to you, more entry points that are available to you.

Genia  (21:38):

And that is incredibly helpful. Um, both to be continued to be involved in those conversations and also to recognize, okay, so I’ve been stonewalled maybe, you know, like maybe I’m just really not getting anywhere, but often there’s a reset button after a certain amount of time has passed. And if you know, when that is, then you can say, great, let’s come back to the table and start again. Um, you know, there’s an appeal time. There’s a, so these things are these, these facts and this knowledge that you’re talking about around the policies and procedures, um, hugely hugely important. Um, and there’s, for me, I don’t know that this would be true for every parent. For me, it sticks in my head a little bit better when I’ve, as you said, gone to the original materials and at least skimmed it. I do not read every government document about this stuff that I, I’m not that person.

Genia  (22:34):

I know parents who do do that. And that is amazing. That is not me, but at the very least kind of skimming it and kind of getting familiar with the structure, um, I have found to be much more effective than when the school is telling me even when the school is trying really hard to educate me. Like I find, I find it, you know, I’m not saying people are not giving me good information. They are, even then, I feel like when I have time outside of meetings to kind of look at it, it’s, it sticks a little bit better and makes me more competent when I come back to the table.

Andy  (23:09):

Yeah. It sticks. And it also, again, if you’re going to that source, at least, you know, where that it doesn’t get convoluted along the way, which unfortunately, sometimes we know that happens. Has it trickles down. People tend to take certain points and play them to their advantage for lack of a better way to do it. But you’re right about just knowing things like that. Again, going back to my, my own child, you know, I would get the papers home to sign for the IEP or the IPRC. I didn’t know I could attend. I would just go, okay, sign on the dotted line. And I go, and again, knowing what I know now, why am I kicking myself a few times here? Um, when I started to go to those meetings too, you saw the process and you saw how it worked, but you also got to know who the players were, that’s important to you. Right? And that’s one of the other points is knowing who the people are because as we know, every person is different and there’s some people that may be more receptive to things than others.

Genia  (24:15):

It’s interesting. I just want to say one more thing about the processes and procedures before we move on to the people and the professionals, which is our next knowledge category. You’re just talking about knowing. So IPRC in Ontario, this is where decisions about what kind of educational placement kids will get. So that’s, if that’s not your language, um, then that’s what that means. I, so in Ontario, you can attend the IPRC meeting and, um, and you’re saying attending is helpful and it is. But when you know, the, the policy or the procedures, um, the processes and procedures, you also know where your presence is going to make a big difference or not. So I stopped going to placement meetings, IPRC meetings a few years ago because, um, the placement meeting, I knew I already knew the players. I already knew that it was going to be probably a 45 second meeting where they say, yup, Will’s going to continue into the next grade with his grade peers and the regular classroom.

Genia  (25:25):

And then they’re going to sign off on it. And so once, you know, and get familiar, both with the processes and the procedures and with the people, you can also save yourself some energy by focusing in on where your presence and advocacy actually matters and where you’re just becoming a professional meeting attendee, which I think it’s kind of a problem. Like it becomes almost an identity for S for, for us sometimes, you know, um, and unhealthy identity. So there’s that both I, right. Like, you know, it’s important to go, but then also over time, your knowledge-based can help you decide where maybe you’re wasting your energy.

Andy  (26:09):

Oh, you’re right. I mean, once you’re knowledgeable about a particular take type PRC, you’ll know something’s gone out of whack. Right. And then, you know, Hey, I’m going to appeal this. I’m going to do whatever to this. Right. So you’re right. It’s, it’s focusing your energy. And sometimes that is a matter of survival too. For some families it’s like nowhere, the pick your battles. That’s a terrible analogy because I don’t like to see it as a battle. So I like to see it as that teamwork approach. I mean, I think it’s fun and sometimes that’s the other. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, but, but is important, you know, and certainly when it comes to things like transition plan, even stuff like that, this is, again, you, you have to know that I can speak again for Ontario when I can’t speak for outside of us here. That transition planning this expect, and it’s expected that you should be doing that. The school should be doing that with your local agencies and such like that too. So knowledge like that, that it’s expected is great. Cause I can’t from the transition planning point of view, nothing drives me more crazy when okay. We’re about to graduate. Let’s do a transition plan, right? That transition plan is supposed to be happening well before that. And that’s dictated.

Genia  (27:21):

Yeah. And I would argue that the schools, so yeah, we’re in Ontario where the schools are required to participate in transition planning. But, um, the idea that that transition planning would be with other agencies presumes a couple of things that presumes that agency services are required for people with disabilities to live fulfilling lives in community, which is not always true. And that’s kind of what high school is about, right? Like you start with in grade nine and you’ve got all these required credits. And then as you move through high school, you have less required credits and more elective credits based on your interests and your plans for the future. Yeah. So transition planning that that is high school, that’s what high school is. It’s like figuring out what you’re going to transition to as an adult. And, um, so yeah, I agree that the transition process needs to happen before graduation.

Genia  (28:27):

But in fact, I would say as far as like parents becoming knowledgeable, um, about processes and procedures, you really want to be thinking about what do I need to be doing today? So that five years from now things are going well and my son or daughter is where they want to be. Um, and I, I think transition planning often, no matter how let’s say you started in the, you know, the September of the last year of school, it’s still way too late by that point, you know, it should have been, you know, um, should have been thinking about this. This is not an accusation of parents. It’s just, it’s like a, it is almost a process and procedure problem is that we embed transition planning into that last year. Um, as opposed to seeing what do kids typically do around transition planning? Well, that’s what high school is. And so it’s, it’s a gradual transition plan anyway. Now I’m ranting and rambling. I apologize.

Andy  (29:25):

No, no, you’re, you’re, you’re being on it. And I know we want to move on there, but you’re right. That transition planning has to help an early cause to me, that’s the building blocks that are going to help you get to where you want to go. Yep. And that’s sure a stroke. So when I see say agencies, I don’t necessarily mean as in or someone who’s running a program. What I’m talking about maybe as a service navigator or someone who has experience with the educational system, right. To, just to help stand alongside the parents. Yeah. Yeah.

Genia  (29:55):

Hey there, I wanted to let you know that Good Things In Life’s monthly membership Inclusion Academy is covering IEPs inclusive education plans. This month, we’re going to be going through some expert presentations on creating high quality, high impact, inclusive IEPs. We’ll be reviewing people’s or people’s kids IEPs. And we will have a guest expert come in to provide some recommendations, some suggestions, some strategies around advocacy for getting, and actually implementing high quality IEP. If this is something that would be valuable to you, you can find out more and join by going to

Genia (30:48):

So it’s funny, like I’m like, um, I grew up in the, you know, community living movement, which in Ontario in Canada, community living is, uh, the, um, one of the significant organizations, um, at the national and provincial and local levels that support people with disabilities in a number of different ways. Sometimes service driven, sometimes not. So I’m always, so I’m kind of like the brat that grew, you know, grew up in the community living movement and then continues therefore to feel kind of entitled to be a little bit critical. But I’m always thinking we need to be setting our goal to be so embedded in, in, um, so embedded in the heart of community and the typical life that our service systems, regardless how good of how good they are play the same kind of role in our lives as our tax accountant and our dentist, you know, where they may be having a service, but we’re certainly not seeing them as like a major player in our life,

Andy  (31:58):

In an ideal world. I do. I wish I was out of a job. Exactly. That’s the ideal, that’s the ideal world. That’s, that’s the short strokes of it, right? Yeah. Um, I guess at the end of the day, I’m looking at whatever tools parents can use tool to get to where you’re going. That’s what it is. We’re not the answer [inaudible] by any stretch of the imagination.

Genia  (32:21):

I think I just moved away from the conversation about being knowledgeable towards something a little more philosophical. I apologize.

Andy  (32:29):

No, no, that’s okay. That’s okay.

Genia  (32:31):

Let’s move on to knowledge about the people and the profile, and the [inaudible].

Andy  (32:36):

For sure. For sure. So, you know, we’re going to come across a whole lot of people in our, in our time in the school system and you figure you’re, you’re in the public school. School system for a number of years, you’re on the secondary, so some of the players are going to be the same, but they often change too at same time. So I really believe that you need to get to know who everybody is that you’re going to come across. Who is that principal, who is that vice principal, who the teacher is, who are the people in the IPRC meetings, who again, get to know as many people as you can. Um, cause you’re also going to get to know personalities and you’re going to get to know what works and doesn’t work with different people along the way. But you know, the short structure at all is you, you want to get to know them.

Andy  (33:23):

You want them to know your son and daughter. In fact, if along the way you can get, make sure your son and daughter is in that process of getting to know them with you by all means. Because again, it’s, it’s, it makes them a person, it teaches them about their dreams, their goals, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Um, so yeah, you, you want to know, basically everybody who’s going to be involved. Um, some schools, you know, they may have specialized teachers. I itinerant teachers. I don’t know what they may call them. Whatever. Some schools have, people who specialize in transition plannings. I know a couple of people on our school boards here that are absolutely amazing when it comes to transition planning with students here. Right? So again, the more people you get to know that it’s going to be helpful and you’re going to know how to approach them. Uh, and hopefully if you start that relationship off on a good foot, then that’s going to carry through with you, you know? Um, yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s good to know. It’s also, you know, we’re going to step back to the organizational side. It’s also good to know who are the other people out there who can be the tools to help you. Yes. Yeah. Um, yeah, so there’s a lot of different players out there. That’s for strokes of that.

Genia  (34:39):

Yeah. It’s I think that there’s a few, just what you’re saying about who are the people outside of the school, you know, there’s, there’s a, I don’t know how old this adage is, but certainly within the apparent movement, there’s an old adage, you know, never go to a meeting alone. And knowing who are the people that were professionals who might attend with you from outside of the school is incredibly important and very powerful. Um, and part of what’s valuable about knowing the people or knowing who are your allies and who are the people who truly are misaligned with, you know, with your values and your goals for your child that is really powerful to know. And the other thing that’s really helpful about knowing the people and the professionals is that sometimes we ask the wrong, we ask a person for something they can’t give. So if we understand like who’s the person and what is their role and what’s within their purview, then we can ask the right person for what we need, um, and be strategic about, about our asks and about who we’re pulling in. You know, we may need to know about the person at the board or the district, um, who isn’t necessarily going to attend this meeting, but maybe we want to invite them because actually we want to ask something that only they can say yes to that we want to face to face with them.

Andy  (36:07):

Yeah. And, and like anything else, there’s also a hierarchy. Right. And sometimes the immediate response to solitude as well. I’m going to go to that person up there, whereas maybe that’s not the right response. Maybe it’s there’s that there’s an intermediary there. That’s going to, you know, take your cause for lack of a better way to say it and champion it. Right. So, um, you’re right. You want to know who who’s there, who’s going to work with you. Who’s on your side. Um, I’m a terrible side, right? Implies you’re taking sides, but you know what I might do? Yeah, yeah, yeah. An ally, that’s it. That’s a good way to put it. And especially like you say in those meetings, um, you want someone who’s going to stand alongside you and support you. Right. So it’s important to know the right people to do that here. Uh, I really believe personally, get to know the people, get to know them. It brings it to that, that human approach here. And I think you have a better chance of a good relationship throughout the school. Yeah. You’re going to hit road bumps. I hit road bumps with my child. There’s no two ways about it. Occasionally you come across some people who it just doesn’t work, but you know, that’s where it’s important then to know the people that it does work with.

Genia  (37:25):

Right? Yeah, exactly, exactly. And the next area that you want to think about being, becoming knowledgeable is how you can help. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about that?

Andy  (37:38):

Well, again, I think people have to see, this is a two way relationship to get home. And I know as parents we’re busy and we’re tired. Um, and sometimes, you know, we think, okay, the school is going to do their part, but we do have to work with the school. Again, you know, your son and daughter, you know, everything about them, making sure that information is transferred to that school. Uh, that’s going to help the process better. I always tell every family that I come across, cherry with you, a binder of everything that’s been happening, you know, transition plans, IEP, everything, bring it with you to these meetings. Um, so when you go into the meeting, you’re sharing this, this information because we like to assume that whoever you’re meeting with knows at all that’s wrong, assumption, assumptions, you know, stuff is electronically filed these days and let’s face it.

Andy  (38:34):

Sometimes aren’t looked at opened up and you know, nothing worse than having your son go into a school year, basically repeating everything they did the year before, um, that that’s not helpful. That’s not helpful as far as that transition planning goes. So, you know, your, your child’s strengths to weaknesses. You’re going to share that with them. You’re also going to work with them on those strengths and weaknesses within the school. Right. So whatever the school is doing, hopefully you can follow through at home. And what you’re doing at home for the school could follow through with, again, it’s that two, two way relationship here. Um, no, I, I, I really believe that that sharing of the information is better. You may be working with certain people who have knowledge as well, uh, outside of the school. I think you can share that with the schools because the school doesn’t always have the answers. So there may be somebody, yeah. There may be somebody out there who can be helpful. And I’d like to believe that that person who is helpful can also then help those teachers or individuals with other students sharing their knowledge.

Genia (39:41):

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I have, um, there’s a there’s there’s, uh, I think there’s sort of, um, a bit of a struggle with this point around not setting parents up. Like not sending parents the message that they actually have to be more knowledgeable, more informed and better resourced than the teacher or the school system. Like that’s an unfair expectation. I don’t want to do that nor do I want to imply that it’s an appropriate, um, like it’s not like this ought to be the way it is. I’m not suggesting that this is ought to be the way it is. But the facts are that sometimes you have to be able to access resources that the school does not have. And sometimes even if the school ought to be able to figure that out, you might be able to figure it out faster. So there’s been several times over my son’s educational career that I have found funds to bring somebody in, to provide resources or training or supports to the staff to improve things, because frankly it was faster than waiting for the school to be able to figure it out. Um, that’s not always going to be possible, you know, for any number of different reasons, funding being one major barrier. Um, and as I said, nor would I ever want to communicate to parents that that’s a reasonable thing to be expected of them, but keeping an open mind about the fact that you’ve got a lot of good people working in a really complex and frankly not very effective system. And that sometimes just bypassing the system and saying, what do you need? And maybe you might actually be able to just help with that.

Andy  (41:30):

Yeah. And I think that’s where this sort of hand in with, you know, working alongside with some of these people in some of these agencies, because they have knowledge in some areas or, or specialists or therapies or whatever that you’re right. If we can bring it in faster into the situation, why not work together in that particular aspect here. So using those resources that you have that will hopefully benefit not only your son or daughter, but the other people in the schooler. Who’s huge. Um, yeah, that’s a biggie. I mean, unfortunately I think what’s happened over the years is that schools are sometimes reluctant to have other resources within the school to help them out. And because unfortunately it’s silly things that have happened because of that.

Genia  (42:16):

I’ve actually had situations where the trainings have happened, but secretively. Like we, we make it happen, but nobody talks about it at the board level for exactly that reason because it would, it wouldn’t be allowed. And I think another, when we’re thinking about how can we knowledge about how we can help another subcategory of that is trying to remove oneself from one’s own experience a little bit, and thinking about the vulnerable, the like being truly empathetic and trying to put oneself in the shoes of the people you’re working with at the school. And thinking about how they might be experiencing vulnerability, how they might be threatened by what you’re asking, how they might be afraid of doing something wrong and then what, you know, harming your child or, or being criticized or having some co you know, some punishment for doing something wrong. And that can be, you know, just a very nice human thing to do, but it’s also very strategic because when you start to be able to understand their experience, you can be helpful in ways that are not technical per se, but give people, give the school staff sort of the emotional freedom and empowerment to do the best they can instead of re you know, maintaining this sort of camp like us and them, or who’s on your side, like we’re saying, and that’s like, that’s a, that’s a thing that happens, right.

Genia  (44:05):

You can kind of cut, try and see their perspective. You don’t have to think that they’re experienced as, um, like you don’t have to live there in that space of like trying to be truly empathetic and, you know, be in their shoes, but trying to go there periodically can be helpful. One example that I’ve found really helpful, um, in my son’s experience is giving them permission to fail in advance. So just saying where, you know, you’re doing something as a school you’ve never done before. It’s not going to go well, right? Like hopefully in the end it will go out, but it’s not going to go smoothly and you’re going to make mistakes. Um, probably mistakes you’re a bit embarrassed about, and I’m going to call you on stuff, but I’m going to call you on stuff so that we can kind of keep evolving this into something better and better.

Genia  (44:59):

But I want you to know that I’m going to be the most confident, the most excited and the most enthusiastic and supportive. When you call me to tell me what went wrong, because it’s going to go wrong and that’s okay. You know, like, um, and that, of course it has to be within the context of a situation that’s safe. Like, I would never say that if my son was in an educational setting where people were being abusive or neglectful, or, you know what I mean? Like that’s a very context specific example. Um, but man, did that ever increase people’s comfort level and saying, I actually have no idea what I’m doing. Um, or this hap, you know, this thing happened, we just discovered that this bad thing happened.

Andy  (45:40):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, I think being a, and I don’t know where it’s understanding the teacher being empathetic with what sort of, what their constraints may be or their fears, what their fears may be. Like you said, giving them permission to fail, like nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right. So, so let’s, let’s give it a try. Um, people are human, right? No mistakes will be made, but at the same time, you know, if, if, if we don’t put a little faith in some people, sometimes we won’t get any further ahead of the game either here. So, so it is important to get to know all those folks. I think along the way, you’re going to run into people too. Who were her champions of your son and daughter who’ve done extremely, extremely well. I really believe if you can bring those people into the following year meetings with the teacher, that’s following up on that. Um, because they’ll be able to share what worked, what didn’t work. Um, hopefully that this new teacher will see from the old teacher, get their passion about your son or daughter as well. Uh, I think that’s a, that’s a biggie. So, you know, you can do all that. So come in with some knowledge, come in, showing some empathy for the people that you’re working with, come in saying that, you know, I’m going to work alongside you, you know, uh, again, back to what we originally said, it’s part of the team.

Genia  (47:05):

Yep. Yep, exactly. So, Andy, if you ha do you have any sort of final thoughts or wisdom to impart little summary of what you hope people take from this

Andy  (47:18):

Wisdom? Well, that’s a normal thing I’ve been told. I wise let me put it that way. I think the biggest thing is this is I’m thinking of the boy scout motto be, be prepared. Just take a look at this stuff again. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to have it memorized. Heck I don’t have this stuff memorized. So I’ll be honest with you. I have to go back to the playbook every now and then, and that’s okay. But be prepared and realize that you, you do have a say in this, um, don’t assume that people are going to do things for you. You know, you, you do have to be involved. And I know in this day and age with everything that’s going on and, and being busy as parents, sometimes that’s really difficult to do, but, you know, take that time, just be prepared, even just a little, even if you print that copy of that IPRC or whatever guide it is for your school board and bring it into that meeting with you, just that little thing right away, it sets the tone. Right? So I guess if anything, I just want people to just take a tiny little bit of time and be prepared and learn, just learn enough to get it through. There’ll be people out there that will help you along the way.

Genia  (48:31):

Yeah. I really think this idea of being knowledgeable and prepared is incredibly powerful and important. And it’s why good things in life has a, has a membership, you know, so that parents have a, you know, a place to go. And one of the things that’s a part of that membership is a course, um, developed by Marilyn Dolmage, an inclusion consultant in, in Ontario called The What, Why and How of Inclusive Education. And it is that playbook. That’s exactly what that, the purpose of that course is, um, a playbook in inclusive education, not just for Ontario. Um, but it covers all the core concepts that it’s really important that parents are knowledgeable about so that they know what the, you know, what are they aiming for, why they’re aiming for it, and then how to go about actually being a part of the school team to, to make it happen and just to support an advocate on all levels. Um, so if people are interested in the membership and in that, What, Why and How of Inclusive Education course, they can go to good things in Andy, if people want to follow up and learn more about your organization or connect with you, where would people find you

Andy  (49:53):

Genia  (49:55):

Awesome. Thank you so, so much for your, uh, time, significantly more time, even than this recording. Cause I put you on hold for so long to take the call from the hospital. So, um, and much longer than I told you, we would be on the phone. So I’m, I’m grateful. Um, I really preach, appreciate your contribution and your insight into how to break down these knowledge categories. Thanks very much, Andy. 

Andy (50:21)

It’s been a pleasure. 

Genia (50:22)

All right. Take care. Thanks.


Special thanks to Andy Willemsen for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.