When a child has challenges that impact his or her functioning in school, consistent communication between home and school is essential.
Students with behavior, mood, and learning problems may not be as effective at communicating their needs or challenges as other students. They also may struggle with accurately relaying information from school to home, such as homework assignments or problems that happened during the day. As a result, parents and teachers need to find ways to efficiently and effectively communicate about what is happening in the home and school environments so the child can be best supported. Here are some ideas for setting up supportive communication between these environments:
- Daily Home-School Communication Process – This can be done via notebook or email, but the idea is to provide brief information that the parent or teacher needs to understand how the student is doing that particular day. In the morning, the parent may indicate that the day’s start was smooth or rough for the child. At the end of the day, the teacher may communicate that the student did well with an activity that is typically challenging, or indicate that there is an assignment that needs to be completed. The amount and type of communication will vary depending on the severity and complexity of the child’s needs. It is critical to incorporate positive information as well as negative, as these daily communications should not become a litany of negative reporting about the child.
- Regular team meetings – Often when a student has challenges that impact learning, socialization, or behavior in school, there are multiple staff members assigned to be part of that student’s school team. Parents are also essential members of the school team. Scheduling team meetings at regular intervals throughout the year provides the team opportunities to problem solve and celebrate what is happening with the student. This is a more proactive approach to support than scheduling meetings only when there are serious problems to address. Again, depending on the severity of student needs these meetings may be scheduled more or less frequently during the school year. I advise teams to schedule the entire year of meetings at the start of the school year, or during the annual IEP meeting.
- Daily tracking sheet – Another option for brief consistent communication is a tracking sheet that lists specific goal areas, and indicates how the student did in each area that day. This provides students with immediate feedback about their behavior or use of strategies, and allows parents and teachers to see if progress is being made. For older students as well as those with less significant needs, a weekly tracking sheet can provide adequate information. However, younger students and those with more significant challenges will benefit from daily feedback, even breaking up the day into smaller time frames for each goal area. Check marks, plus/minus signs, happy/sad faces, or numerical rankings can be used to provide quick accurate information.
- Phone and/or Email check-ins – When an effective daily or weekly communication system is in place, the need for regular phone or email communication is reduced. However, there are times when it is more efficient to pick up the phone or write an email about something that has happened. Again, the focus should be on providing positive as well as negative information. It makes a parent’s day to receive a brief phone call or email about something positive that happened for their child at school that day. Likewise, it helps teachers to receive information about something that happened at home that is positively impacting his or her school performance.
- Small group/1-1 meetings prior to large group meetings – It can be overwhelming for parents to attend meetings with a large number of professionals sitting around the table. One way to make this a more comfortable process, and elicit better parent input, is to have a smaller meeting with parents and only the most essential team members prior to inviting the rest of the larger group into the meeting. This allows parents to speak more intimately with 1-2 professionals, ask their questions, etc. before finishing whatever needs to be done with the full team in attendance.
- Extended parent-teacher conference times – Many schools have parent-teacher conferences scheduled once or twice yearly, generally ranging from 10-15 minutes each. This is not an adequate amount of time for parents and teachers to meet about students with learning or behavior challenges. One option is extending the amount of time scheduled for these conferences. Another option is to use one of the regularly scheduled team meetings discussed above in lieu of the traditional parent-teacher conference. Scheduling enough time for discussion ensures that student needs are more appropriately met.
Consistent home-school communication is essential when students have special needs. There are many ways to organize this communication, and both parents and teachers should have input into the communication methods and schedule that works best for them. Whatever methods are used, the goal should be to share the most important highlights and challenges that allow parents and teachers to best support the student.