By Allie Nicolari, MS
CAA Special Education Advocate
The beginning of the school year is a perfect time to foster that magical year you have dreamed about.
Actually there is no “magic” to accomplish this but you must be focused, purposeful and aware of the direction you want to take. Research indicates that a positive parent-school relationship contributes to your child’s academic and social progress. So let’s begin on how to establish this partnership.
There are four “T”s to teamwork that are essential in building such a relationship:
The “T”s to Teamwork
TALK: Put your “money where your mouth is” so they say. Talk to your child’s teachers and team members. This builds mutual respect, open communication and a feeling of joint responsibility. You know your child best so let the school personnel know what your child’s strengths, interests, weaknesses, fears and behaviors are like. If the teacher has not already asked for this, then you can send a “Getting To Know My Child” letter. Let the school know you want to be involved but not intrusive. Ask the school how best to communicate on a regular basis and who should that communication be directed to. Talk to your school’s Principal and other key educators to make them aware of your desire to participate and assist whenever possible.
TOGETHER: You are not in this alone; communicate! Utilize the expertise of your school’s staff including related service providers such as school psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists and special educators. Positive outcomes are achieved when families and schools work together to achieve mutual goals set for your child. Together you can share information that will be important and helpful to move your child successfully through the school year. Sometimes it’s the little bits of information that make the largest impact. Don’t be afraid of sharing! A two-way communication is necessary and must be on-going.
TIME: Yes, time is of essence. Time is always not enough. However, your child is your most precious gift so time is crucial. In order to have meaningful conversations with school personnel, there must be sufficient time allocated for meetings and conferences. Give yourself the time to accomplish this through scheduling ahead and creative planning. If you have a team meeting or Pupil Planning Placement Team (PPT) meeting, inform the school in advance what time frame you are expecting to allocate to accomplish the goals of the meeting. Providing them with a proposed agenda helps to facilitate the meeting and allows the school team to come prepared with the appropriate materials in order to use the time most efficiently. If you anticipate on having consistent meetings throughout the school year, establish the times well in advance to give everyone including yourself ample notice for preparation.
TRUST: “Easier said than done,” you may be saying. There are no guarantees, but the potential for trust is much more obtainable if you follow the above “T’s. Talking, Together communication and Time management all contribute to a parent school partnership embedded in mutual respect, collaborative decision-making and responsibility and shared ownership. All of these factors combine to build a relationship fueled by trust. In establishing a positive partnership, your child will sense your satisfaction and he/she can then begin to trust his teachers because you do. Research tells us that when your child feels good about school, trusts his teachers and develops a feeling of a positive school climate; then academic, social and emotional progress is more likely to be achieved.
You are now in the “driver’s seat.” You have the tools to make this year successful for you and your child. The “magic” is within you to be empowered and to accomplish what you want and need to do. Effective partnerships just don’t happen; they are built together with a purpose and a mutual understanding. Here’s to a productive and collaborative school year!
Ms. Nicolari is a former special education teacher and public school administrator for special education with more than 35 years of experience, who now, as a special education advocate, continues to devote herself to helping children with special needs ensure they are getting the services they need from the public schools.