Parents & Schools - Partners in Education
Copyright Lisa Simmons USA
As parents we all know how awful it is to feel "left out of the loop", to not really know what's going on with your child while they are at school all day.
The list of reasons why communication doesn't happen between schools & families of children with disabilities is long & familiar: "too many students & only one teacher" "no reliable system to get information from school to home or vice versa" "the student has limited verbal skills & can't relay messages reliably" "things are going well -- and the school assumes no news is good news" "things are going poorly & the school is gathering data to support a different placement" "their have been past disagreements between school & parents so both sides are avoiding contact whenever possible"
But our objective today is to find positive, practical ways to increase parent involvement with the school & maximize parent/teacher communication. So where do you start . . . .
1. Utilize the basics.
Make sure your son/daughter's IEP includes a way for you to communicate & monitor progress. Frequently used methods include a notebook or fill in the blank page sent home each day in the student's backpack containing the teacher or paraprofessional's comments on the day's activities.
2. Develop a monitoring system for actual class work.
Talk with the teacher about how long work needs to be kept at school for grading, etc. & then ask that completed items be sent home for you to see. This lets you see how work is being modified & helps you make sure that accommodations agreed on in the IEP are actually happening. It will also be the easiest way for you to spot areas where your child is consistently struggling so that you know what issues to bring up during meetings.
3. Use technology.
If the traditional paper & pencil approach doesn't work because your student frequently forgets or loses his/her backpack then consider a more high tech approach. Set up a contact schedule with your teacher using email, phone calls, or even video conferencing if you want to involve therapists or other health professionals. A new development that can impact not only your communication but your entire school's -- is the creation of a community site. This is a new service available through Learning.com that is designed specifically to maximize parent/school communication.
4. Get involved!
Most parents do the basics (join the Parent/Teacher organization, attend their child's IEP & parent teacher conferences, & attend routine school functions) but if establishing an effective parent/school partnership is important to you it's probably going to be necessary to go above & beyond this level of participation. Need ideas?
=> Look for opportunities to volunteer at the school, most have small groups that help teachers with making copies, cutting out shapes, etc. (basically whatever the teachers need done). By doing these small tasks you can free up your teacher to spend more time developing creative accomodations and supports for your student & others that may need extra help.
=> At parent teacher conferences, don't just tell the teacher what else you want her to do, ask what you can do at home to support her efforts at school.
=> At the PTO level, look for ways your organization can support the teachers by sponsoring communication training for the teachers and administrative staff or helping to develop a parent resource center (an area in the school that invites parents to share their parenting experiences with other parents and to work with teachers and other school staff on school concerns).
5. Keep a before, during & after record system.
BEFORE you meet with school staff - develop your own agenda. This approach will make sure that you are prepared & have a solid idea about what issues that you want addressed.
DURING the meeting - make notes about the school's response to each request.
AFTER each meeting - send a letter of understanding to the school reviewing your request and their response. The letter should be included in your child's file & can be CC'd to anyone else that you want to be aware of the situation. It also serves as your record of the meeting and what was agreed on so be sure & keep a copy for your own file. From a communication stand point it will eliminate months of misunderstanding if for any reason you & the school staff walked away from the meeting with different ideas about what the plan of action was going to be. This way the misunderstanding surfaces immediately and can be resolved. The key to all of these suggestions is to look for creative ways to maximize the amount as well as the quality of information being shared between home & classroom. Using these ideas will also help everyone remember that parents are a critical partner in the education process!