There may be a lot of team members when it comes to special education, such as SLP’s, OTP’s, school psychologist, general education teachers, special education teachers, school nurses, resource room teachers, etc., but none are more important that the student’s family. Not only have they spent more time with the student than anyone else, but they see them in a variety of environments. This knowledge is extremely important in the making of a productive IEP. I work in an intermediate special education classroom, so the parents are usually familiar with the school and have had IEP’s for several years. This gives us a little background on the students and their home life, and if there have been difficulties then it provides prospective for creating a good working environment. When there are new students to the school, or ones that have not had an IEP, then we try to meet with the family before we actually conduct an IEP meeting. This way we can be the family’s advocate at the IEP planning sessions and express their thoughts. In our “EDSP 6642” Individual Education Programs class, Dr. Thomas recommended providing the family with a copy of the IEP before the meeting so they could familiarize themselves with the plan. This is can be difficult in our classroom because of the diversity and percentage of ELL parents, but for those same reasons it is imperative that we find translations or a way to communicate our ideas to them beforehand.
There are a number of ways to include families into the daily operation of a classroom. In our class we have a communication folder that goes home with each student’s backpack every day, and comes back in the morning from the family. We fill out a daily form that addresses how their day went, which could include items such as what they worked on to basic health statements for students that have profound disabilities or are medically fragile. The mother of our student with the most severe disabilities fills out a form every morning informing us if he has eaten breakfast, gone to the bathroom, and whether is “happy” or “agitated.” This also allows a chance for her to voice minor concerns or just a “heads up” on temperament. Most major concerns from the family are addressed with an open door type policy where they usually call or email with questions. We respond to these concerns as quickly as possible to alleviate any unneeded worry.
In general we encourage parents to participate in the classroom as much as they are comfortable with. We have what we call “The ILC around the world” where each month we focus on a different area of the world that our students or their family are from, and we do try to focus lessons on that region. This is especially significant in the reading and writing subjects where we try to implement social studies and other skills. We also invite the parents to come into the classroom to share food, attire and stories about their culture. It is pertinent to address the cultural and developmental differences in students with disabilities. Not only do we implement strategies that focus on cultural and developmental factors, but we embed the ideas into the overall theme of our classroom and instruction. I have found that a lot of our parents seem hesitant to be involved with the school as opposed to parents of typically developing children, but when given an opportunity to talk about their culture they seem to feel more at ease. This may revolve around the idea that we are proud of our students’ differences whether it is developmentally or culturally, and I have learned so much about the areas that they come from. This approach also makes it easier for the families to approach us with questions and concerns about their children, and makes the IEP meeting environment much more relaxed and open for communication.