Put that OCD to work!
The topic of this next post is one that is currently serving me very, very well. You always hear (when asking advice about meetings or anything else school related) that documentation is vital. If you’re anything like me, ‘documenting’ means you try to keep track of at least half the pages of the most recent IEP, though you may not necessarily have any clue what order those pages actually go in. It might mean that you keep a mental record of the last few phone conversations you had with your child’s teacher. Sometimes at my house, it means that I can kinda-sorta remember what was said at the last IEP meeting. All the paperwork, and all the information can be really overwhelming. As a result, for a long time I would come home from meetings and chuck the folder of papers into the nearest drawer, then not look at them again until the day before the next meeting.
As things have gotten crazier and more difficult with Jaymes’ school, I finally got my butt in gear and got into the spirit of documentation. Until I got started, I never knew how addictive it is! Documentation has got to be the perfect job for someone with OCD… Or someone like me, who gets really into something once I finally get around to it. I might be a closet OCD sufferer. If so, I’m good with that, because I am reaping the reward of being insanely anal about documenting EVERYTHING.
I bought a blue binder with some folders and colored dividers. It was a total of maybe $10 at Walmart. While purchasing these materials, I also got the excitement of seeing a very large African-American gentleman dressed in a lovely red dress and fishnets. I consider the amusement factor worth spending that $10. I was tempted to suggest that he shave before wearing said fishnets, however, because the huge tufts of man-leg-hair sticking out between the holes of the fishnets kind of took away from the overall picture. I opted to keep my mouth shut, though, and paid for my materials.
I divided up my blue binder into sections. Each section got its own divider and folder, along with a nifty orange sticky note to scribble notes onto. The sections my personal book has are as follow, but bear in mind you can add to or take away some of the sections. Whatever worksbest for your organizational purposes. Back to the point… Here are my sections:
-Current issues: This section is the very first folder, where I stick papers of relevance to the most recent problems. Sometimes it is emails, or Jaymes school work samples. Sometimes it’s specific pages of his IEP, with changes written in some funky color that kept me from becoming bored at the time. Sometimes it is just a paper with a list of stuff to talk to the school principal about, along with doodles of purple ponies and horrendous writing that even I have some trouble deciphering. Basically, whatever relates to the current battle, lives in this section. When the problem is solved, those papers are re-categorized and the folder emptied in anticipation of the next crisis. And there always is one.
-Current IEP: This one is self explanatory. I actually changed the way I do it, now I keep the three most recent IEP’s, with most recent on top for easy access.
-Communication with the school: In this folder (which is frequently stuffed to the point of near explosion) I keep copies of every note I send to school. Also, copies of every email to and from the school. Everything organized chronologically, newest on top. When I first got into this documentation obsession, I had to go through my email account (I actually have an email account created solely for email communication with Jaymes school) and print off the last bunch of emails. Now in an effort to avoid that long and painful process, I print every email immediately after sending it. When I get replies, I print those and add them in. The biggest thing with this section of the book is to keep different issues together- that takes precedence over the chronological organization. I use paper clips to keep together a series of pages printed from a long email exchange. Those emails are organized again, newest on top, then paper clipped together and put into the mega-pile to be further organized.
-Behavior charts: This one is specific to Jaymes, and may or may not be a section anyone else on Earth would have a need for in their personal notebook. Jaymes comes home daily with a behavior sheet that actually breaks up his day into 30 minute to an hour chunks. Each teacher or assistant working with Jaymes for that time block scores his behavior according to a bunch of different categories, then adds their own note and finally initials it. I’ll go more into that in another blog post, because this chart the teachers came up with is pretty darn cool. The bigger issues Jaymes was having at school before his schedule change came out pretty much exclusively in behavior charts, which were at the time “sticker” reward type charts. When the time came for the IEP meeting I requested to solve the issue, I showed up with a small handful of the bad ones (because those were all I had thought to copy) and his teacher showed up with a handful of the good ones. We kind of canceled each other out! It made me seriously regret not copying every single sheet. My point would have been a whole lot easier to make, if I had. So now, EVERY behavior sheet gets copied and filed in the Behavior Charts section of the notebook- yes, chronologically. Have I mentioned yet that my purchase a few months ago of a printer that also makes copies and is a scanner was an awesome investment? I go through a log of ink, but it’s well worth it.
-Audio tapes: This section is actually a couple of those pencil bags that clip into the three ring binder. Each pencil bag holds 2-3 cassette tapes. Yes, I still use cassettes. I don’t like the MP3 type recorders, the good old fashioned ones at Walmart that only cost $24 are a lot easier to use. Before last year, I’d never taped anything. The thought of doing so freaked me out. But after an IEP meeting last year where things were promised (but never written into the actual IEP) and never delivered… I taped one meeting. That was it until a couple months ago, when this huge fuss over Jaymes teacher came up. I realized that a big part of why I was not accomplishing much was because I couldn’t remember what had been said. I get so anxious and so flustered that I immediately forget everything. So I started recording EVERY meeting. The first couple with the principal, then the actual IEP meeting. Just a warning- few teachers and school principals will do the happy dance and smile big when you walk into a meeting holding a tape recorder. It can make things decidedly tense. While they can’t tell you that recording is not allowed, they can (and will) send someone to locate a tape recorder and tape to record for themselves. This is a good thing. Everyone has their own re-playable version of each meeting. When I get home from a meeting or conference, I sit on the couch and listen to the tape. This is the time when my mind is calm enough to take notes and really hear what everyone is saying. Sometimes what I hear tells me that I’ve been a little too bitchy. Or, that I backed down way too easily. I almost always hear things that I had not heard the first time. The other thing good about the tapes is that they make it so people who wanted to be at the meeting, but could not make it, can at least hear what went on. My husband appreciates this, and you can also send copies of the tape to advocates, lawyers, or whoever you need to send to. Big thing with these: Make sure you know how to use the darn recorder BEFORE the meeting. And don’t test it by recording yourself saying something stupid, or singing badly… Chances are you will accidentally play it for the whole room when you try to set the recording up at your meeting. Ask me how I know… Actually, don’t. I’m trying to forget that one!
-The last section in my book is for progress reports. I organize them first by year (four in the school year, I believe), then newest on top. This one is pretty self explanatory, and pretty standard, from what others have told me.
Though I have not started on a couple new sections of my book, you can come up with a multitude of others- based on your personal level of OCD. Everything from lunch menus to medical forms, permission slips to attendance award certificates. Personalize it in whatever way makes most sense to you. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you will not be able to keep track of keeping everything organized and up to date because it just gets too frustrating. I recommend being better than me, also. I have an annoying habit of making copies then cramming them underneath a random section to file in later. When later finally comes, I spend forever trying to make sense of the rubble and I curse my lazy, procrastinating personality.
Once you’ve gotten organized, documented, and are sitting in your living room the day before a meeting… I can guarantee you will look into your notebook, breathe a sigh of relief, and pat yourself on the back for your diligence.