Moving to a new school is hard for any kid, but it’s especially tough for students with learning and behaviour needs and we, as parents, need to be proactive and advocate for our child. Find out how my child and I used goal setting to make going back to school a little easier for him.

It is really easy to label anyone, especially when we don’t understand them. It’s so tempting just to think we know what’s going on and judge. People with learning difficulties live with other people calling them names every day, and this has got to stop.

We must move beyond the labels of lazy, hopeless, bad, rude and stupid into finding real solutions for at risk students.

Focus on their strengths

We need to build a relationship with them where they can be honest with criticism. Learn to listen and chat in a calm way, laugh where you can and build on the skills they already have to find solutions.

“People have within them a wealth of skills, resources and strengths both known and unknown to them.” Micheal Durrent

William, my 12 year old with processing problems (he takes a longer time that most to think through his thoughts and verbalise or write them), and I chatted a lot before he started Intermediate and now that he’s there. I ask:

  • How’s school going this year?
  • Have you got some good supportive friends there?
  • Any friends going to Intermediate school?
  • How are things at home?
  • You keeping up with the homework – how do you do that?
  • How do you feel your learning has gone this year?
  • What have you been doing that’s been working well?
  • How have you done that?
  • What would you like to do more of in your new school?
  • How would that make a difference to you?
  • How about we put a plan together and set some goals to support you?

We focused on what needs to happen, built on Williams strengths and set goals around what he wanted to happen or achieve. We talked through what that might look like. I encouraged the idea of joining clubs and groups to help him make connections with his new school and the people in it.

Once we’d worked through William’s fears, and focused on his strengths, it was time to turn the conversation into some concrete goals for the year.

Goal setting for students with learning difficulties

To turn the conversation into action, together we:

  • Wrote down 2 small and achievable goals together.
  • Wrote down what both he and I needed to do to make them happen.

Achieving these goals may mean involving Learning support / Dean or counsellor / school nurse / mentors / other students at the new school. And that’s great, as it gives you the opportunity to advocate on behalf of your child. Don’t just leave it to chance that things will go smoothly.

In my example William and I met with the Learning Support teacher before William started Intermediate school to talk about his needs and hear what they could offer him. I gave them copies of reports I had, and just made sure they knew what was going on for him. This was a really positive conversation, and we went away feeling much better about the coming year.

You can invite a teacher from the new school to share in your goals with you, and build a positive relationship with the new school staff in the term before the student begins.

Advocating is all about putting support in place before it’s needed. You and your child can make a huge difference to how they’re seen by their school and treated by others.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” Gandi.

You might also like to read about dealing with the Back to school blues for children with learning difficulties. Or for more advice from the experts, check out our Learning Difficulties section.

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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. She has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where works in a high school.

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