When you have a child that is accessing special education services, parents and educators will have multiple reasons to communicate throughout a school year. These conversations can be initiated by either the parent or the school and can hold different functions and purpose.
Communication forms the basis of all positive and productive relationships. It is a means of connection. Communicating produces greater understanding between people and sets the stage for successful partnership.
Communicating with anyone is an art. It requires considerable effort and skill in the way a person sends and receives information. It’s a dance between two or more people, and one misstep can ruin even the best of relationships.
While we all enjoy a conversation that tells us how well our child is doing, for students with special needs, at some point the conversation has to shift to your child’s area of need. This is unavoidable. With that comes certain challenges as these conversations are often riddled with emotion and may be difficult to have.
Despite the potential for difficulty, communication with your child’s special education team is critical to your child’s short and long term success.
While navigating the education system with my children, I have had several opportunities to interact with educators and school support staff. Thankfully, many conversations have gone very well. I have managed to create some wonderful partnerships with my children’s special education teams, past and present. However, there definitely have been some difficult conversations over the years which have led to moments that I wish had a “do over” button. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
When things haven’t gone well I have had difficult conversations. There have been times when I felt I just wasn’t on the same page as the teachers and that things just didn’t feel like they were fitting together. This created some very trying situations which led to having some moments that were filled with anger, resentment and blame when my children were struggling.
I mentioned, I have had “moments” of feeling like my emotions were out of control. Unfortunately for some, those moments can be years of difficult and unresolved conversations. I hear these sentiments echoed in the voices of so many parents I speak to who are really struggling to make partnership work with their child’s special education team.
When communication breaks down, or sadly isn’t occurring at all, it can be extremely stressful for the parent, teacher and most importantly the child.
While we cannot possibly avoid all difficult conversations, I began to wonder a while back why some of my interactions with educators were so positive and why others seemed doomed from the start. After some thinking and some honest and deep reflection I realized this…
Relationships are built on mutual respect. Without that you have nothing to build on!
It’s true! When one or both parties doesn’t genuinely respect the other, a true partnership cannot be formed. Yet, don’t mistake respect with being agreeable. Partners don’t have to always agree, and even the most committed partnerships will never be free of conflict. However, in true partnership there needs to be a willingness to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
So how do you build a partnership based on respect? Here are things to keep in mind.
Establish rapport.There may not be a significant amount of opportunity for you to interact with your child’s teacher or support staff. Therefore, the interactions you do have are very important. You need to make every interaction count. Small talk is a great way to build rapport and ease into a new relationship. If you wait to do this until there is a challenging situation, rapport will be difficult to achieve.
Identify common ground.This is where you move beyond small talk. Ask questions, share perspectives and ideas. This is a great place to continue building that rapport. Any differences that may come up can initially wait. Remember, we are focusing on our similarities, not our differences at this phase.
Be authentic.This means putting your best self forward to meet those common goals. Interact with best intentions. “Do what you say. Say what you mean.” Have you heard the phrase walk the talk? This applies to both educators and parents.
Be considerate. Recognize that while you have a student’s perspective of what a classroom is and should look like (because you were a student once yourself), you can’t possibly know what it would look and feel like teaching your child’s class, even if you are a teacher yourself. The dynamics of any particular group of students significantly impacts a classroom. It is important to try to take on each other’s perspectives. For parents, don’t make assumptions about the simplicity of the strategy or solution you are asking for. In a perfect world it might be quite possible. In a classroom of 25-30 it might be nearly impossible. For teachers, parents may find what you ask of them difficult, not because they don’t want to, but often because they can’t or don’t know how. Listen to what each other is saying.
Be forgiving. Both parents and educators need to acknowledge that mistakes happen and things get forgotten. It doesn’t necessarily reflect a personal bias or lack of commitment to the overall goal which is success for your child. Most importantly do not to make assumptions. You know what they say about those. Base your understanding of any situation on facts and facts only. Then proceed to find a mutually agreeable solution. More to come on the topic of conflict resolution in another post.
Need some more help? Download my FREE PDF guide with questions, tips and action steps to help you start or restart the conversation.
These 5 questions can be asked in any order to anyone who is connected to your child’s classroom and special education program. This value packed, action oriented guide will provide you with a place to START or even RESTART the conversations that are not only necessary, but critical to your child’s success at school.