Parent-Teacher Collaboration (page 4)
After an IEP is created, parents will likely have ongoing contact with teachers, who will share with parents on a regular basis a student's grades and progress. Consequently, it is important for parents to collaborate with teachers on issues related to their child's mastery of goals. Parent-teacher communication is an important part of a child's education. Her success depends, in large part, on the combined efforts of her teachers and parents to maintain ongoing contact. Not only do teachers communicate with one another and with school administrators, but they also communicate with parents—sometimes on a regular basis. Parents are a very important partner in a child's education, and good communication between school and home is essential.
Initiating Communication Between Parents and Teachers
The first step in parent-teacher communication is for parents and teachers to create a positive relationship with one another. Let's talk about some of the more popular methods of cultivating a good relationship.
Attend an Open House We recommend that parents attend each open house that their child's school holds. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to meet their child's teachers face to face and get to know who they are. An open house is an informal setting that allows parents to ask general questions about what their child is doing in each class and to meet other parents, too. Teachers also have an opportunity to get to know parents and to learn more about the child. During an open house, teachers often display children's work as a way of displaying some of their accomplishments. If a child's work is displayed, it can be very rewarding for the child if his parent mentions the work and praises him for having his achievement recognized.
Volunteer in the Classroom Another way for parents to be involved in their child's class is to be a classroom volunteer. While some principals will not assign parents to their child's room, being a room mother (or room father) is a possibility in many districts. Volunteering in another class can still provide many insights into what goes on in the school or in the classroom—for example, what happens daily or how a teacher manages her classroom. Volunteering provides the teacher with an extra set of hands and some welcome help. Teaching is a big responsibility that requires a great deal of planning and hard work, and typically, parents' offers to help are greatly appreciated.
Meet Early in the School Year It's a good idea for parents to meet with their child's teacher (or teachers) before or immediately after a new school year starts. This meeting gives them an opportunity to discuss possible concerns, including the child's disability, his needs, and which classroom interventions have and have not worked. Parents should ensure that the new teacher has a copy of the child's special education file, including the IEP. While schools usually do a good job of making sure each teacher is aware of every student with a disability, a change in school leadership or teaching staff or a change in schools on the student's part may cause some things to be accidentally overlooked at the beginning of the school year, when things are likely to be very hectic.
Maintaining Communication Between Parents and Teachers
Parents and teachers use many methods to stay in contact with one another. Some require technology; others are old-fashioned ways of communicating. Regardless of which method is chosen, it is important that parents and teacher maintain a regular, open, and positive channel of communication with one another. In this section, we list some of the most successful ways of maintaining parent-teacher communication.
Student Planner A student planner, sometimes called a homework agenda, is a notebook that is used to help children keep track of their daily homework assignments. While many teachers will write the assignments that are due in the planner, older children may be required to do this task themselves in order to increase their independence and responsibility. Teachers may write out the assignments for children with motor impairments or for those with written expression problems. When children are responsible for writing their assignments in the planner, the teacher will sometimes check their notebook to see whether they completed the task accurately. Parents and teachers can communicate daily through a child's planner.
Message Notebook A message notebook may be used so that a teacher can communicate what is going on at school and a parent can communicate what is happening at home. Notebook comments from a teacher may discuss a child's progress, her behavior, her attitude, the rate at which she completes class work, or other relevant information. A message notebook also provides an opportunity for a parent to ask questions she may have for the teacher or provide information about her child to the teacher. For example, a parent might want to know which pages her child should be reading over a weekend or holiday break to give the child an opportunity to get ahead, or a parent might wonder whether the interventions she is trying at home have helped her child at school. Thus, using a message notebook or a planner can be an excellent method of two-way communication.
Phone Calls Whether parents call their child's teacher or vice versa, phone conversations can be a good way to communicate because each party can ask more detailed questions. Telephone conversations often do not provide the ongoing dialogue that corresponding through a message notebook does. However, for complex issues, a phone call may be the better choice. Although we suggest that a face-to-face meeting is usually the best way to communicate, a phone conversation is a good alternative.
Scheduling phone calls can be difficult. Perhaps a parent's employment situation is not suitable for personal conversations; for example, the parent may work in an open area where everyone can hear the call or in a busy environment that does not allow personal calls. Teachers are often very difficult to reach during school hours because of classroom obligations. Parents also may not realize that in the late afternoon or evening after school, teachers are often engaged in meetings, after-school programs, college courses, or training. It sometimes is best to leave a message for the teacher and ask that she return your call at a time that is convenient for her. This allows teachers to call you when they have free time during the day. E-mail can be used to schedule time for a phone call. If you have a quick question and know that the call will take only ten minutes, or if you have many questions and will require a thirty-minute phone call, say so ahead of time so that the teacher can plan her time accordingly.
E-Mail E-mail has become a very common and convenient method of communication. If parents and teachers both have an e-mail address, e-mail may be a convenient way for them to communicate. E-mail can also be used to support the other forms of communication mentioned earlier in this section. Many individuals who have access to e-mail, especially teachers, are much more likely to respond to an e-mail than to return a phone call during the day. E-mail has the advantage that each party can respond at a time that is convenient rather than having to schedule a time that works for both.
Homework Hot Line Some districts use a homework hot line that allows teachers to communicate homework information to parents and students. Parents can call a certain number in order to hear the day's homework assignments for their child. Of course, a hot line may be used in conjunction with other forms of communication.
Web-Based Homework List Similar to a homework hot line, a Web-based homework list provides a list of reading and homework assignments for the night. The site may also include links to relevant Internet resources. A homework list is often offered as part of a program that allows parents to log in and access their child's grades. This feature allows parents to continually monitor their child's progress, which is particularly important if parents are concerned that their child's grades may be slipping because of extracurricular activities or after school employment.
Preparing for a Collaborative Parent-Teacher Meeting
Sometimes it is necessary for a parent and a teacher to meet. A parent may have medical documentation, for example, or a child's work samples to show the teacher. A parent may also have a question about a child's grade, amount of homework, or the teacher's classroom management skills and feels more comfortable discussing this in a face-to-face meeting. In this section, we suggest a six-step process for engaging in an informal meeting with a teacher or parent. These tips will help ensure a successful, productive meeting.
Step 1: List Your Concerns It is appropriate to bring a list of questions to the meeting. The concerns do not need to be detailed in paragraph or even sentence form; a numbered or bulleted list may suffice.
Step 2: Listen to the Other Party It's probably best to take turns talking. If a parent goes first, the teacher should answer all of the parent's questions before asking her own. A collaborative discussion may commence after both parties have asked their questions. Allowing each person time to address his or her points is important. Of course, how each responds and what is said is important, too.
Step 3: Ask Questions Now is the time to ask your questions. It's best to raise one question or concern at a time; a rapid-fire approach can be very confusing. Once the other person answers your question to your satisfaction, move on to the next point. If the answer is unclear, be sure to ask for clarification. If necessary, take notes.
Step 4: Be Prepared to Brainstorm Parents and teachers may meet because a child has problems with his behavior, academics, social skills, or some other issue—or perhaps more than one of these areas. Brainstorming allows parents and teachers to generate creative and imaginative solutions to his challenges. There may be many obvious solutions to these problems, but if they don't work, some creativity may be required. If they can work together, parents and teachers have a better chance of finding solutions that will help a child in the classroom and at home.
Step 5: Be Open to the Other Person's Suggestions Brainstorming requires both creativity and patience. You need to allow the other person to share suggestions with you, even though they might not necessarily make sense to you at first. The best solutions are not always the most obvious ones. Try to be flexible in your thinking and open to the other person's suggestions and listen to the reasons behind the suggestions. A teacher may suggest a particular approach, for example, because that intervention has been effective with other students in the past.
Step 6: Remain Positive We understand that meetings can be stressful. A good deal of time may be spent on discussing a child's problems, how he misbehaves, how he does not understand class work or homework, and so on. At times like these, it is not uncommon for both parents and teachers to feel somewhat defensive or to feel that they should have been able to solve the problem on their own. But sometimes it takes two. It is extremely important to try to remain positive and work together. In order to come up with the best solutions to a child's problems, parents and teachers need to discuss the problems in detail. Although such discussions may be difficult, they are necessary in order to develop interventions that can be implemented consistently in the classroom and at home. With the right interventions, most children will improve, although it may take a while. Stay positive, work collaboratively, and think about how all of this time and effort will ultimately benefit the child.