As a special education teacher, parent and graduate student, I find that how I communicate is just as important as what I communicate. For many parents of students receiving special education services, just walking through the school doors can be an intimidating experience surrounded by a feeling of anxiety. How we set the tone for conferences and individualized education program (IEP) meetings can make the biggest difference in the success or failure of that meeting.
Speak Clearly Without Talking Down
Teachers, think back to that first special education class you took in college. Did you ever wonder how you were going to remember all those acronyms? IEP, IDEA, BIP, AT, SDI, LRE, NCLB … the list goes on. Using jargon like that in front of parents with little to no explanation is nothing more than overwhelming to them and, in my opinion, it’s detrimental. It goes without saying that we as educators should know our clientele and speak to them as equals, but in an unassuming manner.
Tailor Your Approach
I work in a district not far from where I grew up, so I tend to know a few of my students’ parents on a more personal level. My approach with these parents is more laid back, as they are friends and acquaintances. Some of my students’ parents received services from our district during their high school years. Does this change my approach? Yes, it does and it should. Going into the meeting, I know that I need to be more thorough in my explanations without talking down to them. I take extra care in welcoming them and treating them with respect, as they are a key component in their children’s academic progress. Understanding each family is just as crucial as understanding the diversity of each of our learners. They way in which educators communicate needs to reflect this understanding.
Communicate With Respect and Courtesy
As a parent, I always go into my son’s parent-teacher conferences hoping to hear positive information, but I know that may not always be the case. However, even the “not so good” news still needs to be conveyed with respect and courtesy. On one occasion, I left my son’s conference feeling talked down to and admonished by his teacher for a few late assignments on his part. This caused me to reflect upon my own role as a teacher during these quarterly meetings and on how my students’ parents may perceive our communication.
How we say something is just as important as the message that we are trying to convey. By taking extra care in how we as teachers communicate with parents, we can avoid misunderstandings and better foster parental involvement.