Don’t Call Me At Home: Effective Communication with your child’s special educators
Communicating with your child’s teacher is a must for every parent. For parents of a child with special needs it is critical. So the big question is how and when do I speak to my child’s teacher?
The answer is not so simple:
Managing the time between when the kids come home from school until when they go to bed requires all my skills. This is when my three children need to complete their homework, eat dinner, attend their after school activities, negotiate getting out of their chores, and finagle a few extra minutes before bedtime.
One year a teacher decided to donate some of “her time” to call me about 7 p.m. to discuss school. In the middle of our evening, the phone would ring and I would suddenly find myself in an impromptu parent-teacher meeting. Leaving my husband to manage the last of the homework assignments and the bedtime routines, I sat and spoke with the teacher.
I never felt like the conversations made much of an impact on my daughter’s school day. In addition, by the time our conversation was done, I felt annoyed that I had missed the precious time with my family. My husband felt annoyed that he was left to attend to everyone’s needs without any advance warning.
In my efforts to avoid surprise phone calls, I switched my mode of communication to emailing. This proved to be more of a disaster than the surprise phone calls. Within emails there is no room for interpretation and tone. Messages read without knowledge of the intent of the sender can result in hostility.
In addition, there just isn’t enough space to describe and explain the complexities of educating a child with special needs. I have learned that teachers do not like reading long emails. I now have reserved email for simple clarification of assignments and procedural messages.
Smiley Face Chart
As a teacher for the past 23 years I am guilty of sending daily behavior charts home. It wasn’t until I started receiving them (as a parent) that my opinion of them greatly changed!
I believe that the daily behavior chart should only be used for shaping one targeted behavior that you want to develop. It should be paired with a positive behavioral support plan that is developed to support the child.
When a child has greater needs, this plan is a formal document that is signed by the parent. Positive reinforcements are developed to reward the behavior you want to shape. In addition, for a child that has an IEP, this should also be linked to a specific goal in the IEP.
When my daughter was young, she wouldn’t leave her shoes on in school. I was receiving a daily smiley face chart. It had a smiley face, a straight face, and a frown face. Most every day I opened her folder to see the sad face was circled on the chart. In the context of my evening with my family, how did this help us? I had no power to influence what was going on at school. Every time I saw the sad face I felt annoyed and helpless.
Rather than daily written reports, we switched to having my daughter’s paraprofessional speak to me after school daily. However, paraprofessionals are not in charge of educational decisions. So after talking to me, the paraprofessional had to translate my information to the teacher. We have all played the game “Telephone” as children–as we learned the end message is never the same.
Just Talk to Me
After nine years of trying new communication methods, I have finally decided to talk with the teacher directly. Since my daughter is in middle school, the teacher and I have arranged for me to pick up my daughter a few minutes early and while I am putting my daughter in the car, the resource room teacher tells me a little about her day and assignments.
Since my daughter is non-verbal, this information is priceless! In addition, I have an immediate opportunity to ask clarifying questions. If a concern arises, I know I will be seeing the teacher after school. They key is to honor the teacher’s time and while it is tempting on most days, I try not to talk to her more than 5 minutes.
In addition to short, daily contact, once a month I schedule a 30-minute meeting to discuss my daughter’s access to the general education curriculum. I bring samples of her work that I enjoy seeing and things I have questions about. In middle school, the resource room teacher coordinates all the support staff so I only need to talk to her. It feels organized and effective.
It has been my experience that the more needs a child has, the more need there is to effectively communicate with people at school. I have three children. Other than parent-teacher conferences they haven’t heard much from me regarding the education of our sons! However, my oldest daughter has special needs and requires much more communication to effectively monitor her IEP goals and her daily happiness. I now feel free from daily phone calls and charts. I am now free to attend to the needs of my family without wondering if the phone will ring.
So… How do you communicate with your child’s teachers?