Don Peek – Caring Makes the Difference

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to




Caring Makes the Difference

I have a lot of experience dealing with parents in a school setting. I spent 20 years as an educator in public schools. Seven of those years I served as an assistant high school principal in two different school districts. I think many parents are somewhat suspicious of assistant principals because their children are often in trouble when an assistant principal calls. They also tend to be a little bit suspicious of the special education programs in which their children are enrolled. They often don’t have a clear understanding of how a special education program even works.

Because I was very involved in the special education programs at the two high schools where I served, I learned a lot about working with parents in general and parents of special education students in particular. Here’s basically what I learned.

If parents trust you, I mean really trust you to make the very best decisions you can concerning their children, you can do almost anything and those parents will support you 100%. On the other hand, if you don’t have that trust, if they are constantly suspicious that you don’t like their children, or that you’re simply not concerned with their well-being, you couldn’t give their children a hard look without getting into a conflict with them.

When I told my dad I had decided to teach school, he gave me some advice. “Just remember,” he said, “teachers deal with the single most prized possession of any parent, their children. Always remember that when you’re making decisions.” That advice is even more important when you are dealing with students who have disabilities. Parents are going to be that much more protective, and that’s totally understandable.

There is no course in college that teaches you to care about each of your students. That has to come from the heart, and it’s very, very difficult to fake. When you genuinely care about each student, you have to make decisions that are best for the child in the long run. That’s not even easy for parents to do with their own children, and yet as educators we have to remember constantly to make those long-term decisions with special education students every day.

For instance, it is easy to give learning disabled students practice sheets that occupy them for hours at a time but do very little to challenge them. Bring out the sheets that are harder, the ones the student really needs to work through, and you have a battle on your hands — often day after day after day. It’s not always easy to do the right thing when an easier solution is so readily available. You can have some quiet time and the student isn’t complaining. The student is also not learning, certainly not progressing.

The same is true in dealing with bad behavior. Some students tend to disrupt the class on a daily basis, even on an hourly basis. Do you do the right thing for the child and consistently use those disruptions as teachable moments, or do you take the easy way out and let the child get away with behavior that will both teach that child the wrong lesson and give inconsistent signals to the other students in the class?

If you genuinely care about your students, not just while they are in your classroom, but care about their futures as a whole, you will consistently teach them what is right. You will teach them the next skill in the sequence rather than repeating things they can already do well. You will teach them how to behave in a classroom and how to get along with the other students in ways that will literally shape their future behavior and their future lives as a whole.

It was very hard to care for every student I faced as an assistant principal. Many had entrenched behavior patterns before I ever had the opportunity to work with them. I did the best I could. I cared as much as I could and tried to help shape their futures in a positive way.

I just hope that as you work with disabled students, either as a parent or a teacher, you will genuinely care about their well-being. You will take every opportunity to teach your students and your children, not the easy way, but the right way. I can guarantee you that it’s well worth the time and effort.


Grant Name: Dreyfus Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis for museums, cultural, performing, and visual arts programs, schools, hospitals, educational and skills training projects, and programs for youth, seniors, and people who are handicapped.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Disabilities, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education

Recipients: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/10/13

Average Amount: $1,500.00 – $20,000.00

Telephone: 202-337-3300



Availability: All States


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