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Building Better Relationships between Schools and Parents of Special Needs Students

February 15, 2012

Building Better Relationships between Schools and Parents of Special Needs Students

Special needs students are best served when school and home work together harmoniously. Students perform better. Teachers and parents are less frustrated and less stressed in a cooperative environment. Nonetheless, schools and parents are often in conflict. How can the process of building better relationships between schools and parents of special needs students be improved? What are some considerations to keep in mind when trying to create better relationships between schools and parents of special needs students? First, understand why these relationships can fail. Anxiety can cause relationship failure. Parents fear for their child's future. Teachers worry about student test scores and the student's future success at higher grade levels. Fear drives anxious responses on the part of both home and school. Frustration often defines home and school contacts. Parents are frustrated by their child's school performance and behaviors. So are teachers. Often the focus then becomes the problem rather than the solution. Both parents and teachers are protective for different reasons. Parents are concerned about their own child first. Teachers are concerned about the entire classroom of students. Rather than using this protectiveness against each other, it's a good idea to determine how the different focus of parent and teacher may be complementary when attempting to find solutions. Both parents and teachers have limited time. The demands on teacher and parent time are different, but it all adds up to the same result…not enough time to deal with a situation. Solutions need to be kept simple and not complex. Establish initial positive home connections through the IEP case manager. Of all the school staff, the IEP case manager should be given the latitude and time to connect with both parent and student. General education teachers will change in a student's school but the case manager should remain constant. This person knows how the disability affects academics and behavior, knows the student's school history, and is aware of what is going on at home with the student. The case manager should be in the loop for all school and home communication. Then he or she can act as a buffer for both school frustrations and home frustrations. Additionally, having one "go-to" person can reduce communication frustration. Start with positive, personal communication. Often sending out a letter at the beginning of the year is not enough to build a good relationship. Parents may not get the letter, either because it got buried in the bottom of a child's backpack or because the mailing address is incorrect. An open house at the beginning of the year with a positive, fun even such as an ice cream social or other community-appropriate activity often works better. This allows parents and staff to interact without the pressure of meetings. In complex cases, the best choice may be to phone or e-mail. Find out about any changes in the student's circumstances over the summer and communicate any changes in the school environment. Build personal connections at the very beginning of the school year. Meet parents at the school door if they have a routine of picking up their child. If the student is involved in a school activity or sport, attend an event. Encourage parent participation in the classroom/school. Make it easy for the parent to see the school as a positive partner in their child's development. Provide links to community resources. Be honest about your program's limitations. Provide realistic timelines for responses, projected interventions, and keep those timelines. Inform parents if problems arise with scheduling. Be forgiving when parents run into challenges on their side. All of us are heavily scheduled in these days, and understanding a parent's time challenges helps earn you understanding in return. Set up home-school communication routines. Keep these routines as simple as possible. Utilize techniques such as: Home-school notebooks Notes in student planners Check-in/check-out sheet reports If phone calls are requested or required, set up a consistent common call time and keep reports short. Use e-mails if possible. Know when to listen and when to problem-solve. Parenting a special needs child, even a special needs child with a minor disability, can be very frustrating and frightening all at once. Sometimes the best thing a sympathetic school staff member can do is just to be there and listen as the parent shares his or her concerns. Having a ready box of tissues and offering a shoulder sometimes is the only thing a staff member can do. School is not always going to have all of the answers, but school and parents working together may be able to find a solution. Above all else, keep respect and honesty in the equation. Frustration happens on all sides of the school and home relationship. Respectful communication, honesty, sympathetic listening, and straightforward responses about situations go a long ways toward creating good relationships. Try to establish positive communication before there is a problem and realize that the best intervention for a child will involve the parent and plan for parental support. These suggestions are not a cure-all for the home and school communication issues that may arise with special needs students. But implementing these considerations into the school side of building better relationships between schools and parents of special needs students will help improve these relationships. Image credit shutterstock_20244007

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