Parents you know your child better than anyone in this world.
Teachers you know each of your individual students as a learner and as part of a group of learners.
You both bring valuable expertise to the program planning process. Parents you need to advocate for your child. You need to ask the hard questions, you need to keep the BIG picture in mind (for your child), and you need to support their learning journey. Teachers you need to teach each student based on their unique individualities. You need to see beyond the one-size-fits-all curriculum, and provide learning opportunities that are appropriate for each of your students.
This is no easy task for either of you. Teachers, you have one perspective and Parents, you have another.
Throw each other an olive branch.
At a recent meeting, a parent proclaimed to everyone how much she dreaded coming to meetings about her son until the last few meetings. She went on to say she felt attacked by the school and judged about her parenting and home situation. She went on to say that it was not until the last few meetings that she felt like we were all on the same page.
How heart breaking!
This far too common situation should never occur. Parents should feel valued for their insight and perspective. They should know they are a part of the learning team, not just on the receiving end of a message.
I know schools often meet before parent meetings in order to prepare an agenda, ensure clarity, and make sure their concerns are warranted. Like many professions, communication & collaboration are key to success- so a pre-meeting is a good idea. However, often at a school's pre-meeting decisions and direction can be prematurely decided. Whether the decisions are the 'right' ones or not, the parents need to be a part of decision-making process. and not just have the decisions made for them.
Teachers, you are the experts at the table on the curriculum, learning, and your class community. You understand the learning process for individuals and for groups, you understand where each student started and where each student needs to go, and you know the program planning process. However, you need to remember it is the parents that know their child as well-rounded individuals. It is the parents who bring the BIG picture perspective to the meetings: where are we going? how are we getting there? & how is this decision going to help us get there? . They know their child as member of community, but they do not know the program planning process. You all bring expertise.
One thing I always aim to do is build a relationship with each parent (or guardian). As building relationships with kiddos is key, building relationships with parents is not far behind. Remember, an inclusive classroom is not like a traditional classroom: it is not straight forward, it is complicated, it is unique, and it requires a lot of collaboration to run.
So, how can you start to build a relationship with parents:
1. Ask for insight on your students from the parents (TpT has lots of student info sheets you can download for free). Asking for their input upfront is an easy way to start the relationship!
2. Connecting with parents biweekly via a quick email or phone call is awesome. This is time consuming, but goes a long way in building the communication bridge- once you have it, you can ease off to monthly communication. This type of communication should be personal about their child and provide a few examples of how well their child is doing.
3. Be upfront and honest! Let parents know when you have a concern and why you are concerned. BUT, let parents know what you 'plan of attack' is moving forward--> that way, you are reducing the surprises, keeping the parents in the loop, and giving them opportunity to be a part of the discussion.
4. Throw them an olive branch! When you and your students' parents seem to be at odds (it does happen more than once), hear them out. Parents are there for their child and they want to make sure they are getting a fair learning experience. You know you are doing this, but remember perspectives can be interpreted differently- so listen to your students' parents. If you are uncomfortable- bring along an administrator!