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The Sandwich Method

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
10/25/22  10:46 AM PST
the sandwich method

Want a More Productive Conversation with Your Child’s Caregivers? Build a Sandwich

I discovered the “sandwich method” long before I had kids. As a high school English teacher, parent conferences could go one of two ways: beneficial or brutal. Humans are sensitive creatures and parents of teenagers are the most sensitive of all – there are so many potholes on the road to raising adults. A teacher can be a pothole to a kid’s SAT score, graduation placement, future career. But a teacher can also be a helpful caution sign too, if you get a good one.

I wanted to be one of the good ones and I used the sandwich method to help make these interactions with parents a success. So what is the sandwich method? It’s “sandwiching” any constructive criticism between positive affirmations. You smush that tough meaty truth in between nice doughy compliments and you always ask a question so that it becomes a conversation rather than a dead end. It sounds simple and a bit patronizing, but not if you do it right and not if you mean it. Never say things you don’t mean. This is true in parent-teacher conferences and also life.

For example, I had a father of a student once request a conference in order to “go back over those scores and see if we can’t find my son an A.” Oof.

Here’s how I constructed our sandwich:

Me: Thank you for taking the time to attend this meeting and for your email. (Bread = time investment)

Me: I’ve noted that Eric is not turning in his assignments on time. Perhaps this is why he isn’t achieving the scores he could. What’s a strategy we could both use to help him both here and at home to be more responsible with his homework? (Meat = He doesn’t have an A because of late homework. Ask for ideas.)

Me: Eric is a great kid. I hope we can work together to help him fulfill his potential. (Bread = compliment the kid, because he is great, just late, and remind the father of our mutual goal.)

I was a pro at this kind of thing…until I began attending my oldest son Charlie’s IEP meetings. With therapists, teachers, and the principal gathered around that too-big table, I became both too defensive and also too submissive. I was ready to argue his brilliance and their ineptitude, if only I could string a sentence together. Basically, I lost all sandwich protocol.

I couldn’t afford to get irrational, however. If anything, I had to be the calmest, most rational version of myself in order to get Charlie a much-needed new communication device. I had to use my words to help Charlie use his. I went back to the sandwich method.

Bread: “Thank you all for how much time you have invested in Charlie.”

Meat: “He has so much knowledge that he can’t express in class due to the limits of his current AAC device. Do you have any suggestions for upgraded technology or classroom strategies that could help him show what he knows?”

Bread (After we came up with a list of modifications that could be made in the classroom as well as a referral for an upgrade to his device): “Thank you again for your time and being willing to be flexible when it comes to teaching my son.”

It’s easy to get defensive and emotional when meeting with your child’s caregivers when a problem needs to be addressed. However, our kids need us to fight for them when they can’t. Building a sandwich is one way to help.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:

















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