Toolbox Tuesday!!

In the Toolbox Training we offer ten “tools” that educators can use to comply with our complicated special education laws, serve every student appropriately, and maintain safety in the school. Tool #9 is about providing leadership at the ARD meeting that is not headed for consensus. When we talk about this tool, I often compare ARD meetings to marriage.

It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. After all, in both a marriage and an ARD meeting you have multiple people but only two parties. Let me explain.

In an ARD meeting you have to have a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a person who can help interpret evaluation results, someone who represents the school administration, and the parent. That’s five people. Often there are more than that. But those people represent only two parties—the school and the parent. If both parents are present (or all four) you still have a single party—“the parent.”

The school, as a single party, is ultimately required to speak with a united voice. Disagreement among school staff is to be expected and not to be feared. It’s how the system is built. But the group has to come to a consensus which is normally expressed by the administrative representative.

It’s the same in a marriage, although it looks different. After all there are only two people, right? Well…not really. Mrs. Dawg and I recently celebrated our 49th year of marital unity, and I can assure you that in all the ups and downs, but particularly in the arguments, I channel my inner Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well, then, I contradict myself.

(I am large, I contain multitudes).

And she, being of the more complex gender, contains multitudes of multitudes.

So when we have a disagreement, we each bring a lot to the table. Sometimes we can agree to disagree and go our separate ways. But on some issues, you have to come to a consensus. We are going to spend Christmas with my family or with hers. We are going to move, or stay where we are. We are going to buy the Toyota or the Subaru.

Coming to consensus when the two parties hold strong opinions and preferences is difficult.  Leading a team to do that is a skill that can be learned through practice. That’s what Tool #9 is about.

Here’s another way that ARD meetings are like marriage: the two parties want the same thing. They just have different ideas of how to achieve that. In marriage, both partners want both partners to be happy. I want to be happy. I want her to be happy. She wants the same. We count on this.

In an ARD meeting, both sides want the student to be successful in school. That common desire has to be the starting point for bringing the group to consensus.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at

Tomorrow: feeling dismayed again?