If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you know that navigating your way through the special education system can be extremely challenging, confusing, and exhausting.

Parents do want to be in a partnership with their school teams, but often they have more questions than answers. Sometimes parents feel that the only way they can get anywhere is to fight.

With my own personal experiences in mind, I have come to the conclusion that partnership between parents and educators is the key ingredient to the success of ALL students. Building partnership must be a priority.

Educational partnership is when two or more persons come together to work collaboratively to ensure the needs of individual students and/or groups of students are met. The goal is for student’s to be successful. Each party in the partnership has an equal role and has the ability to collaborate to make decisions. The end goal is mutually agreed upon.

What is it that we are trying to achieve and how do we get there?  When individuals or groups come to the table with their own agendas, partnerships are more difficult, if not impossible to form.

Here are 5 tips to building partnerships that every parent and teacher should consider when working together.

  1. Establish a process for open communication.Open communication is free flowing, transparent dialogue. It is shared between two or more people. All parties recognize that what is shared may be may be positive or negative. However, these thoughts must be delivered in a non-threatening, solution oriented way. If it isn’t, conflict can erupt.Communication can occur in many forms.  Establishing how often and in what format a parent and an educator will communicate is a good starting point.  Parents need to know they can reach out to the teacher at any time. Teachers need to know that they can approach parents openly with their thoughts, observations, ideas and concerns.
  2. Recognize each other’s individual differences as an opportunity to learn and grow, not as a threat.We all know individual differences are what makes the world go round. We wouldn’t want to be carbon copies of one another. How boring!  It is easy to come to the table with an assumption about someone or something because of what we have heard.  Challenges may arise due to varying schedules, culture, values, and priorities.While we may not always agree with the person we are partnering with, we need to come to the table with an open mind.  We must be willing to consider other people’s perspectives. After all their experiences and knowledge may just offer us that missing link.
  3. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Demonstrate respect for one another. Being respectful means always being polite, being an active listener, and showing kindness to one another. Positive relationships lead to successful partnerships, even when conflict does arise.  Assuming things or laying blame can stop partnership in its tracks.
  4. Mutual acknowledgement.Acknowledging your team members for a job well done or offering thanks for the unexpected builds stronger relationships. Both parents and teachers will feel more appreciated if the contributions they make are noticed (even the things they attempt in good faith but fail). Send a note, leave a quick voice message or email.  It doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.
  5. Work together to determine shared goals.If you have goals you have a path. Trouble is, if partners have separate goals, success is a lot more difficult to achieve. Goals for a school year can run deeper than academics.  Parents and teachers need to talk to one another and establish priorities together. When people feel like equal participants in building the plan they are more likely to be accountable to their role.

While building partnership does not occur over night, keeping these 5 tips in mind will get you to a good start.  Even if you’re part of a team right now that isn’t making much headway, consider choosing at least one of these things to implement to help you get back on track.  The special education system is complex.  Having partnership is an asset in helping to influence student success.