Pam Lindemann Shares Her #1 Secret to Success as an Educational Advocate

The other day, I had an IEP meeting, I think it was last Friday, and this was for a little boy who lived in another district in Florida. Last year in May, I think it was, we did an IEP meeting and we successfully advocated for a one-on-one para for him, and he’s got autism. So we successfully advocated for a one-to-one, a dedicated para, and I think he was in first grade. So we got that done. Then the parents decided to put him in a private school, because they thought that would be better for him, and it didn’t work out. They couldn’t handle his behaviors, and he’s really off task all the time. He really needs somebody to help them. So the parents were bringing him into another county, and the big concern was that one-to-one para, because districts typically, typically in Florida will, it’s not a surprise, it’s an expectation that they will fight that one-on-one.

So when we got a draft of the IEP, on the draft of the IEP, sure enough, it’s on the previous IEP, it said “One-to-one individual para throughout the school day to help with academics, independent functioning.” Okay? On the new IEP, it said something like “Staff need to support child in independent functioning, academics.” So it was a big change. It was not a one-to-one, it just said “Staff needs to help.” So mom’s all distraught and I’m like, “All right, I know what I need to do.” You know, I’m prepping for my meeting, I’m getting my attitude straight, I’m getting my reasoning set up. I mean, I do a lot of preparation for these meetings and so I’m all ready to go in and all ready to argue this.

And so before the meeting, I was talking to the mom and we hung up and she said to me “Can we pray before we go into this meeting?” And I said, absolutely. So I called her up and we prayed. We just asked for God’s guidance and His direction, and you know, if you’ve gone and seen on my website, The Advocate’s Prayer, that I wrote because before I go into every meeting, I pray. So if you haven’t read that, I’d encourage you to read it. So I always pray for the family and for the team and for my mouth, my mouth stays in control.

So I pray with that mom, and we go in the meeting and it’s a lovely team and everything’s going really well, and we’re waiting for the moment where we’re going to talk about this and that, and about the one-to-one. There was a district program specialist in the meeting, which they’re always in the meeting when I show up, which is fine. So that’s okay. I was ready. We get through the whole IEP, it was lovely, everybody’s nice, and we get to the services. We come to that particular entry and the staffing specialist reads, as it reads on the draft “Staff to support child throughout the day, independent functioning, behavior,” whatever.

And just as I’m getting ready, I mean, my mouth was open, just as I was getting ready to say something, the district program specialist says, “Wait a minute, he gets a one-to-one dedicated para. That’s what it says on the previous IEP. That’s what needs to be on this IEP. You need to change that.” And the staffing specialist said, “Well, we wrote it this way.” And the district person, program specialist says, “No, you need to write it the exact way that they wrote it on the previous IEP.”

And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that a program administrator at that level wasn’t fighting the parent on this, wasn’t going to fight us, and she was insisting that it be changed. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me before. I don’t remember that happening without me having to say something in response and having a discussion about it. It was a moment to behold. So we got through that. We finalized the whole IEP. We got everything done, and mom, after the meeting, mom and I called and she was beside herself with joy. Like the parents couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it.

So here’s what I want to tell you. You know, people always ask me, “How do you do it, Pam? What do you do? What do you say? How do you say it? What’s the secret, Pam? How come you’re just so good at this?” And it reminded me after that meeting that years ago, probably like 13, 14 years ago, before I started the company, I went to an IEP meeting for a friend of mine. We went into the meeting, I advocated and we got him, the little guy, a one-to-one para. So we come out of the meeting and the parents are so overjoyed, just so overjoyed. All their friends told them they’d never get it.

And I was talking to the dad and he said, “I have never seen anyone advocate like you.” And I said, I think I said, “Well, thank you.” He meant it as a compliment. I said, “Thank you.” He says, “Do you know why you’re so successful?” And I said, “I prepare a lot.” I said, “You know, I try and do my best.” And he said, “Pam, you’re the only person I’ve ever known who actually asks God to go in the meeting with you.”

And I’ve always prayed before I go into a meeting, but I forgot that little story until a couple days ago. There is no secret to what I do and how I do it. I am prepared and I do my part, but I will tell you categorically that the reason, the only reason that things happen, the way they do in IEP meetings and my meetings is because God shows up, and I asked him to show up, and He walks into that meeting with me. Because I will tell you, there are things that have happened in some of my meetings that can only be called miracles. That’s the only way to explain it. So here’s the deal. I love teaching. I love sharing. I love sharing things and techniques and topics and answering questions and everything, but you really need to know, it’s not a big secret.

So I would encourage you to, before you go into a meeting, before you get on a phone call, before you talk to anybody, just say, “Hey, God, I really need your help. Can you just come with me?” And here’s the thing, He’s there with you anyway, He shows up anyway, He’s just waiting for you to recognize him. He’s just waiting for you to recognize him and to ask Him for help. He’s just waiting for you to recognize that you need His help and He’s the one to help you. He’s there anyway, might as well ask Him to work. We’ll put Him to work, that’s how I look at it.

So on that note, I just really want to thank you. This has been a real joy. I’ve loved it. It was a little new technique of offering this class and just having you pay what you wanted to pay if you could pay, and not worry about it if you didn’t. That was a directive by God. I understand now why He had me do it. So it’s been a real joy, it’s been a real pleasure. If I can help you anywhere, in any way, then please let me know because I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long haul. Before I forget, so one more thing, John asks, “You mentioned last week, putting the medical diagnosis on the IEP. Did you say in the parent notes or the actual health section?” You can put it both, but here’s the thing. Some schools don’t want to put it in the health section and have it printed, so they tell you they can’t do it. But if you want it written in the parents section, that’s your section, you can ask for it to be stated there. Okay?

All right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a real pleasure, have a fantastic evening. We look forward to having our paths cross in another way at some other time. God bless you. God bless your families.

The IEP Advocate is your best shot at helping your child succeed in school (and life). We help parents get the school to approve and follow individual education plans (IEPs) for their children who are struggling in school. Even if the school is saying “no” to you, we’ll get them to say “yes” to us!

A Dead Serious Conversation About Your Child’s Behavior Problems in School

All right. We’re going to have a dead serious conversation about your child’s behavior problems in school.

This is something that I take very, very seriously. I’ve been doing this 25 years, more than 25 years. I’ve seen a lot of things and I’ve seen school districts do things that, again, there are wonderful people in the school. There are some fantastic schools and programs and classrooms, all of that. That’s a given, but there are some problems. There are some really big challenges lately with kids who have behavior challenges in school. You need to know what you’re up against, because if you don’t take this seriously, if you don’t have a very full, comprehensive idea of what you’re up against, and your child has behavior challenges, then he or she are very much at risk for being kicked out of school or sent to an alternative school, and I’m not kidding.

Here’s what you need to understand, ever since Parkland and that horrible devastating event in South Florida several years ago, the school districts, and I really can only speak for Florida, but the school districts in Florida, rightfully so, took that situation very seriously. One of the big challenges with Parkland, one of the problems, there were many, was that the school district took a lot of heat because people knew that that shooter was troubled and had problems and there were signals and signs that people felt were ignored, that if they weren’t ignored by the school district, maybe the event wouldn’t have happened, okay?

So that was one of the things that came out of that. As a result, school districts in Florida really buckled down and put all kinds of things into place and security measures and everything like that. They have a zero tolerance for children who have behavior challenges. Your child, it doesn’t matter if your child have, some parents think, “Oh, my child’s so good. He’s never had a behavior problem. He’s been such a good kid. This is just an incident. It’s really not that big of a deal. It’s not that bad.” Let me tell you something, in the public school districts, every behavior problem is a big deal. It is either a big deal in and of itself now, or it’s going to lead to something that could lead to a big deal and they are taken very seriously. There is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior in the school district.

I had a mom call me one time. Well, I have a lot of moms call me when their child is being suspended. If your child’s being suspended and getting referrals, you better know how many suspensions your child has, because once they reach 10 suspensions, it’s extremely serious. You need to know. I talk to parents all the time who don’t know how many suspensions their children have. You better know 10 is the number. You don’t want them to get to 10. Once they get to 10, they can be kicked out of school or sent to an alternative school. You don’t want your child going to an alternative school. It is not a good place to be, okay?

I’m going to apologize in advance because I get very worked up on this topic because I know what’s at stake. I was talking to a mom one time. Her son was in ninth grade, nice kid. He had autism. Nice kid, never had any problems. He had an IEP, never had a behavior problem. Respectful, nice, got good grades, a little quirky, some social skills issues, but never, ever a problem. He happened to be in the classroom of a teacher who was a ROTC instructor. Because she was an ROTC instructor, she had a gun, a rifle I guess, of some sort in her classroom, standing in the corner. Wasn’t loaded or anything, but why it was there is not the issue, it was there. He, the student, picked up the gun. Went up, picked up the gun, held the gun and said, “I’m going to shoot all of you. I’m going to shoot all of you dead.” He thought he was being funny. He thought he was a funny joke. Ha ha. He never would’ve done it. He never intended or whatever. He just thought it was a funny thing.

He was on the verge of being kicked out of school. When the mom called me, she said, “Well, you know what? They have a meeting. The school told us about this meeting and we’re going to go in and have this meeting. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re going to talk about what happened and about his autism.’ It’s just, this has never happened before. He’s a good kid. I’m not worried about it. I talked to the principal, the principal said not to worry about it. This meeting is just a formality and it should all be fine. He has never had a problem before.” Well, I’m going to tell you what I tell that mother and what I tell every single parent who calls me when they’re in a similar situation or approaching a situation.

Here’s what you need to understand. That principle, if the decision is left up to the principal, because a lot of these decisions are out of the hands of the principal. The principals get directives from the district, okay? You have to understand, principals don’t run their schools all the time. It’s the districts behind, up above who pull the strings. So here’s the deal though. That principle has a couple of things to be concerned about. Number one, no matter what your child does, did, it is a violation of the code of conduct. So that principle has three groups of people, well actually four, to be concerned about.

One, he has to send a message to all the other students in the school, because they all know that this happened, this stuff spreads like wildfire. He has to send a message to all the other students in the school that this is not tolerated. This is absolutely not tolerated and it won’t be tolerated. So he can’t have the student come back to school, because what kind of message does that send to all the other students? It says, “Well, he did it. It was funny. Ha ha or whatever, but it’s not serious. We’re sending him back to school.” That cannot be.

The second group of people the principal is concerned with, has to be concerned with are all the parents. This is going to spread again, like wildfire among the parents. “Hey, did you hear what Jimmy did today? He picked up a gun. He said he was going to shoot everybody.” And it’s like the game of telephone. By the time it gets to the 100th person, it’s blown out of proportion. So those parents want to know, what is that principal going to do? What did he do with that student? They want to make sure their student is safe and they don’t want this student back on campus at all. So this principal has to be able to say to all those other parents, “Hey, I took this seriously. Whether he intended it or not, I take your child’s safety seriously, and he’s not allowed on campus. So you have nothing to worry about.” That’s the second group.

Third group of people are the teachers and all the other staff, because the teachers and all the other staff in the school are saying, “Do you care about our safety? Do you care about us? You’ve got a student here who threatened to kill everybody. He thinks it was a joke. He thinks it was funny, but you know what? Parkland wasn’t a joke. Parkland wasn’t funny and look what happened down there. How can you put our lives at risk when you don’t know for sure?” So that principal has to go back the next day and talk to the teachers and the staff and assure them that he takes their safety seriously. So he’s not going to let your child come back to school, even if it was a joke, even if there was no serious threat whatsoever.

The fourth group is the district, the people above the principal, and they’re looking at things and they’re looking at all of this. They don’t want a PR nightmare. They don’t want any kind of a risk. Even if it’s a minimal risk, they don’t want it. So I’ve dealt with a lot of situations where the principal had no say in the situation, it was a district decision. They told the principal what was going to be done.

These are the circumstances under which you’re going into this meeting, just to discuss what happened. Was it a result of his disability, of his medical diagnosis and not to worry, it’s just a meeting, okay? Let me tell you something. There is no such thing in my world, under these circumstances, when there is just a meeting. My staff knows that if any parent calls our office with his child under these circumstances, and there’s a meeting coming up, that I will drop everything to help a parent in this situation, to figure out what has to be done, because I know what will happen. Most of the time, most of the time, these children will be not allowed back in regular school. They will be found one way or another, there’s a process that has to be done, but they will either be expelled or sent to an alternative school, but they won’t be allowed to go back to their homeschool. I’m not kidding.

You have to take this extremely seriously. If your child is having behaviors in school, if they’re having problems and you know it, and you know it’s going to get worse. I have parents who have children who don’t have any kind of problems whatsoever. Then maybe they hit middle school or high school and, you know, it’s a chaotic world. Their kids are going through so much these days and they start having an incident here or an incident there. You know, as a parent, you know in your gut if you need to be concerned and if there’s a problem. So if your child has never had a behavior challenge before, but now you’re seeing signs, please take it seriously, call us. There are things that can be done and to be put into place, to help protect your child from going down this path.

There are things that the school districts are obligated to do, to work with children who have behavior challenges. They are obligated to put behavior plans in place, which when written properly, is a positive intervention to help children. They have to do, they collect data. They can get a behavior analyst involved. They can get a school psychologist involved. There’s a lot of things, if your child does not qualify for an IEP, they need to get an IEP. We just had a case where a mom and dad called me, I felt so bad for them. Lovely people, never had a problem. Their son doesn’t have an IEP, but he has ADHD, ADHD and anxiety, and things are starting to pop up. He’s in middle school, he’s having challenges and emotional challenges and a lot of anxiety. He was suspended for a couple of days and they called me, he does not have an IEP.

If they had not called me and we had not had a discussion, I guarantee you, he would’ve been kicked out within a month or two, because the behaviors were escalating and the school was getting more involved and more serious about what was happening. So he did not have an IEP. We worked so fast and so hard to get that child in the IEP process, because once a child is in the IEP process, once they’re being evaluated, then they have all the protections as if they had an actual IEP. So I knew that once we got this particular student in the IEP process, evaluated for an IEP, that he had all the protection, almost as if he had an IEP. That was critically important. Sure enough, we worked with the parents the day after we had this meeting to assign consent for him to have evaluations and start the process, following day he got suspended for a couple more days. Please take this seriously. Don’t mess around. Please call us.

We make this the highest priority because it is, and it literally changes the trajectory of your child’s life. Okay. Thanks a bunch. Bye-bye.

The IEP Advocate is your best shot at helping your child succeed in school (and life). We help parents get the school to approve and follow individual education plans (IEPs) for their children who are struggling in school. Even if the school is saying “no” to you, we’ll get them to say “yes” to us!

IEP Meetings: Get Past The Fluff

During a recent IEP meeting, the staff gushed about how cute the little boy was, how much he got along with other children and how much they enjoyed working with him. It was a lovely feel-good moment, and all of that was fine, but I wanted to know how the child was progressing in school. The staff may love him, but are they teaching him?

After several requests for evaluation data (the school didn’t want to give to us at first), the school showed that last year the child was reading at a 2.4 grade level. A year later he was at a 2.6 reading level. He was in fourth grade: He only made two months progress over an entire school year! I was quick to point this out to the school IEP team which put a damper on their enthusiasm for “how wonderful he was doing.” Two months’ worth of progress was not acceptable and I wanted to know what they were going to do to improve his reading scores.

Lesson to be learned: Be careful not to get caught up in things you want to hear that make you feel good, but don’t have much substance. This mom left the meeting with an entirely different perspective on her son’s “progress” in school. She was devastated because everyone told her not to worry, that he was doing well. The truth was…he wasn’t doing well at all.

Children Attending Their Own IEP Meetings: It is NOT Mandatory

As children get older, particularly when they enter middle school and high school, the school may start inviting your child to their IEP meeting. BE CAREFUL! I don’t think it’s always the wisest move to invite a child into an IEP meeting. Think about it: Most adults are intimidated by IEP meetings, what makes us think a child wouldn’t be as well?

Actually, it could be worse for a child because they don’t understand the terminology or the context of the discussion. As one middle schooler told me, “It was horrible. The principal and all my teachers sat there and told me how I could do better, how I wasn’t working hard enough and I was a behavior problem. They pretty much told me I was a bad kid.”

Your child does NOT have to attend their IEP meeting. The school has to invite them to participate, but they cannot force them to attend. It is your decision whether or not they participate. My recommendation? Only under extreme circumstances, and only in a very well controlled environment, should a child attend a meeting. Make sure the questions for the child are predetermined and the amount of time the child is in the meeting is minimal – 10 to 15 minutes – and then they’re out.

Don’t Wait To Call An Advocate

I’ve been advocating for almost 25 years and I’ve noticed there is a pattern of how parents postpone getting help for their children who are struggling in school. As advocates, our office is extremely busy during the end of the school year. We can barely keep up with the demand of phone calls and meeting requests.

Then, on the last day of school, the phones stop ringing. The phones just stop because parents are done. They are finished with school and they don’t even want to think about school during the summer. They are exhausted and they just want to focus on their summer plans. The last thing they want to do is talk to an advocate. I get it.

A New School Year Full of Hope

Then the start of school rolls around in the fall and most parents are thrilled because they are ready to send the kids back to school. They buy new backpacks, pencils, rulers, notebooks and clothes. The kids will be out of the house! Yippee!

Caught up in the excitement, parents tell themselves, “You know what? It really wasn’t that bad last year. He didn’t really struggle that much. He’s going to do better this year. I just know it.” 

Or, “It wasn’t his fault he failed math. He had a bad teacher. This year he has the ‘teacher of the year!’ Of course he’s going to do better!”

So school starts. Parents are in a state of happiness, optimism, hope, and joy. The school year gets underway then after a few weeks the honeymoon is over. Kaput. The problems from last year start to raise their ugly heads. A parent may wonder, “Now where did I put that advocate’s business card?”

Many Parents Think It’s Going to Get Better

Parents think if they wait a little longer he’ll all of a sudden learn to read. With a little more time spent on homework, she’ll understand math. Some parents just do not want to rock the boat. They want to be “good” parents and not create a fuss. Hiring an advocate would create a fuss.

Then fall turns into Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s almost like there is an unconscious sigh of relief because, after all, it’s the holidays! So much to do! Let’s have fun! I’ll worry about the school stuff later. If he doesn’t improve I’ll do something after the holidays. I’ll call that advocate later.

Happy New Year! Suddenly parents start to say, “I cannot ignore this anymore. There is a problem and I have to get my child some help. Where’s that advocate’s phone number?” That’s when parents start to call us for help, in January, February and March. At The IEP Advocate, our phones are nonstop! Parents are in a state of panic. Almost each one is in crisis mode. A fifth grader is reading at a second grade reading level. This one cannot do grade level math. Another child is at risk for being retained. My heart goes out to each and every one of these families.

Parents want a miracle to happen at the very end of the school year. Call us in the fall when school starts so we can advocate for help right away! You know your child has a problem. You know they are struggling! You know they need help. Please, call us now. Don’t waste seven or eight months of your child’s education because you could not face the truth!”

As your advocate we can do so much more to help you if you call us sooner rather than later. Getting services from the school district takes time, no matter how good an advocate you are.

Be Careful About Giving Permission For The School To Contact Your Child’s Medical Professionals

Many times the school will present you with forms for you to sign giving them permission to contact your child’s pediatrician, specialists, or therapists. They may tell you they would like to talk to these professionals to better understand your child’s diagnosis, behavior, or therapy care plan. Their intent to help may be genuine, but when you give others permission to talk to medical caregivers, you could be giving them permission to get information you really don’t want them to have. Here are a few real life examples:

When one mom gave her permission to the school personnel, they called the child’s psychologist to get information. During the discussion the doctor told the principal that he felt “the mom needed psychiatric help…not the child.” Yikes!

Another time, the parent gave permission for the school to contact the doctor’s office but only for information in one subject area. Well, the new medical receptionist who took the records request was so glad to be able to help, that she copied everything in the file – including the child’s drug history the parent did not want the school to know about! The receptionist sent all the documentation to the school.

Yes, what the doctor and receptionist said/did was wrong on so many levels, but the fact is this stuff happens. What should you do? Do not sign the forms. Instead, try to get the the school to give you a list of the information they want, and YOU can contact the doctors and get the information from them. When you get the documents you can review them before you turn them over to the school and you stay in control.