The best way to avoid crises with parents or even, heaven forbid, due process , it’s good to have regular communication methods in place. If parents know you are open to hearing their concerns, you can nip any potential misunderstandings that lead to crisis in the bud. Also, if you communicate regularly, when you do have concerns about problem behaviors or a child in crisis, parents won’t feel blindsided.
Some general advice:
Find out how a parent prefers to communicate. If a parent doesn’t have email, that won’t work. Some parents only have email at work, and may not want to receive messages by email. Some parents may prefer phone calls. Find out what are good times for a phone message. A traveling folder (see below) is a great means of communications, and parents may just prefer to respond to your messages in a notebook in one pocket.
Parents are stressed over their special education children. Some parents may be embarrassed about having children who need services—for some parents parenting is a competitive sport. Some special education children are poorly organized, extraordinarily active, and do poorly at keeping their rooms clean. These children can stress parents out.
Another issue for parents of special education children is that they often feel that no one sees the value of their child because of their challenges. These parents may feel the need to defend their child when you really just want to share a concern or work out a mutually agreeable solution.
Don’t play the blame game. If these children weren’t challenging, they probably wouldn’t need special education services. Your job is to help them succeed, and you need their parents’ help to do it.
Make your first email or phone call a positive one. Call with something positive you want to tell the parent about their child, even if it’s “Robert has the greatest smile.” After that, they won’t always pick up your emails or phone calls with dread.
Handle your parents with TLC (tender loving care) and you will usually find allies, not enemies. You will have difficult parents, but I will discuss them elsewhere.
Email can be a good thing or an opportunity for trouble. It is easy for email messages to be misunderstood, since they lack tone of voice and body language, two things that could assure parents that there is not some hidden message.
A table you create in Microsoft word might help you share information weekly or daily in a regular format, which is not easily misunderstood. Say, you rank behavior daily from 1 to 10, and next to the behavior score you have a box for comments. Perhaps you have a 5 in the behavior box and the comment, “Robert was very active during instructional time today.” Or even “Robert was exceptionally noisy this morning. Is everything okay? Please email me”
It is good to copy your building administrator, your special education supervisor or a partner teacher all of your emails. Check with your special education supervisor to find out who he or she would like to see receive the copies. Even if they never open them, if they store them, you have backup in case of a misunderstanding.
It is especially important to email your supervisor or building principal a heads up if you see trouble with a parent brewing.
Some parents may prefer a phone. They may like the immediacy and the sense of intimacy created by a telephone call. Still, there is potential for misunderstanding, and you never know exactly what frame of mind they are in when you call.You can set up a regular phone date, or just call on special occasions. You might save this for just good news, since other kinds of calls, especially calls involving aggression, may put parents on the defensive, since they haven’t’ had a chance to prepare for it.
If you leave a message, be sure you say "Bob ( or whoever) is fine. I just need to talk (ask a questions, get some information, share something that happened today.) Please call me at . . . "
Be sure to follow up a phone call with an email or a note. Restate briefly what you talked about. Keep a copy.
Traveling Folders are invaluable for communication, especially around completed projects, papers or tests. Usually a teacher will designate one side for homework and the other for completed assignments and the communication folder.
It is still good to save copies of parent’s notes, or even both sides of the conversation, so you can share them with an administrator should you see trouble coming down the pike.
You might want to either put a plastic insert with a list of what should come home each night and directions for how to complete the folder, or staple the same to the front cover of the folder. You will find parents will be pretty good at packing this folder in the child’s back pack.
Stay In Touch--Regularly
How ever you decide to communicate, do it on a regular basis, not just when a crisis arrives. It might be nightly, for a communication folder, or perhaps weekly for a phone call. By keeping in touch, you not only can share concerns, but you will be eliciting the support of parents in reinforcing the good things you want to see happen for their child.
Document, Document, Document.
Need I say more?