Helping You Become All You are Capable of Becoming
Improving Communications with Your Child's Program's Staff
10. Improving Communications with Your Child's Program Staff Tools for Getting Parents Involved in the Exceptional Education Process By James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.
Improving Communications with Your Child's Program's Staff
A. Cue Questions (These cue questions appeared in the article Communication Skills for Parents by Nye, Westling and Laten in the Exceptional Parent Magazine Vol. 16, #5 September 1986, pp. 30-36.)
Parents have the right to participate in the educational planning for their child with a disability. They often need guidelines for communicating effectively with professionals to insure the best programs for their children.
The following are sample communication cue questions which hopefully can assist you when the need arises.
1. Defining Terms
''Things are going quite quickly here, and I'm still behind one paragraph. Could you slow down and explain what you mean by expressive and receptive language?"
''I know my child pretty well, but I'm not very familiar with the terms you're using. Could you explain some of them, so that I can relate them to my own experience with Jimmy?''
"Wait a sec; could you explain what articulation means."
2. Understanding content
''I'm trying to understand what was just said." There's a lot of new information here. Could you go through it again?''
''Wait a minute. Can you go slower? I want to make sure I understand what you said.''
3. Understanding Procedures
''Let's go through this again. To review Jeff's file, I need to call the special education office and talk to Joe Jones and he'll set up a time to review the file. If I want, a staff person can be available to answer any questions I may have.''
"To cancel the bus when Sylvia's in the hospital, I just call Sue Smith. Is this right?''
4. Getting More Descriptive Information
''Mr. Jackson, you were saying that Sally hasn't been working very hard in school this week. Could you give me some examples?''
''Which subjects isn't she working well in? What does she do when she's supposed to be working? What are other students doing at that time? How long can she work on an activity? What activity does she work on the longest?''
"Mr. Bressler, how are you going to teach Joan (a self-help skill.) I thought I might be able to work with her at home also. What is the first skill you want her to master? How can I help?''
''I would like to help Jenny with her reading flash cards at home. What should I do specifically?''
5. Determining Implications
"I want to know if I'm hearing you right. Do you mean that if we go ahead and start this new approach to speech, we could evaluate it's effectiveness in one month to see if it's working?''
"Now, let's stop for a minute. Are you saying that if we are able to get Sally to comply with our directions using redirection, then she is not having difficulty understanding the language we're using?''
''I have a really long-term question to ask. Will Johnny ever catch up?''
''You've shared the results of the testing and I generally understand what you've said. What I want to know now is how these findings are going to effect her ability to learn at school.''
"Thanks for sharing the results of the testing. What I'm interested in knowing is what they mean in terms of her ability in the future? Will she always need special education?''
''What do the test findings tell you in terms of the kind of specific teaching she will need in reading?''
6. Understanding Differences of Opinion
''I'm confused. Mr. Jensen, you're saying you think Mark should be included and Mr. Langford, you think we should wait. I have not decided yet how I feel. Could you each explain the reasons for your opinion?''
''It's really incredible, we each spend time with Laura yet we have such different opinions on what she's capable of doing. Maybe we should get more specific and talk about each academic/developmental area."
B. ''Cue Questions'' for Parents for Annual IEP Review
Before the annual IEP review Parents can telephone significant team members to help prepare themselves for the meeting.
"How much time are we going to have to develop my child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP?)"
"Who is going to be at the Annual Review and what will be their roles in the meeting?"
"How is the meeting going to be run? Who will chair it? What will we be covering at the meeting?"
"I would like _________________ to be at the meeting (someone from another agency) because she has been so involved with my child. Should I call her?"
"What are your perceptions of my child's progress and what goals are you thinking of for next year?"
At the annual review Parents usually need to know about the child's current school performance, the school's goals and objectives for the future, the extent of the child's participation in a regular classroom, and the child's specific placement in the system.
Current School Performance
"When looking back on last year's goals and objectives, how much progress have my child made on goals and objectives?"
"What goals and objectives does he or she still need to work on from last year?"
"What can we do to help my child make more progress in his or her weak areas?"
Discussing Goals and Objectives
"Should we include in the objectives that my child be able to generalize these skills to the classroom and other school and home settings?"
"How often do the people who are implementors of the goals meet to discuss progress and program planning?"
"How do the goals established for my child relate to the reasons he or she was referred to special education?
"Regarding behavior programming - what kinds of plans are you making to fade the program back to more natural consequences?"
"Will we need to meet in the fall to set more objectives?"
Participating in Inclusion in Regular Education
"What opportunities will my child have to interact with normally developing peers? Language models? Social/behavioral models? Will that be at unstructured or structured times?"
"How are my child's interactions in inclusion going to be monitored and progress documented?"
"Will my child be able to take advantage of regular education extra curricular activities, such as band and after school sports?"
"Given that my child is in a small special class, will he have opportunities to experience a larger group? Do you feel that would be important for my child now?"
"When do you think my child will be ready to be involved in inclusion activities?"
"What are the exit criteria from special education?"
"I would like to observe several of the classes which might be possibilities for my child next year."
"I would like my child's new program to be closer to home if possible."
"My child has changed programs many times. I would like my child to stay in the same program, if possible, for continuity.
"How many years do most kids stay in primary, intermediate, junior high and high school special classes?"
"What can I do to help my child at home? If we do not have time now to discuss this, can we talk at another time soon?"
"Is there anything else I can do to help you help my child?"
C. Getting the Most out of a Parent Teacher Conference
The following guidelines concerning parent/teacher conferences are offered to assist you to become better prepared and relaxed so that you can be an effective advocate for your child and improve your communications and assertive skills.
What to do before the conference:
1. If you are initiating the conference, do so in writing specifying dates and times when you are available.
2. Your conference request needs to specify the purpose of the meeting. Instead of making general statements such as "I want to find out how my child is doing", it is suggested that you ask direct questions such as "What has my child done to have earned poor grades in conduct and what can s/he do to improve it?" and to list your specific concerns so that the teacher can be fully prepared to discuss these matters at the time of your meeting.
3. In your conference request ask the teacher to send home any information which you might need to see in advance such as copies of your child's tests, reports, workbooks, etc. You might also wish to request that other useful information such as a counselor's report or test data be made available to your before the meeting. Additionally, request that the teacher have all pertinent materials available at the conference.
4. If the conference is at the teacher's request, make sure you understand its specific purpose(s) and have the teacher provide you with a list of concerns/questions as well as any appropriate material for you to review in advance. You should not walk into the situation without having a complete understanding of exactly what is to be discussed.
5. In your request for the conference, ask for a written reply.
6. Arrive a few minutes prior to the meeting so that you can review your list of questions and any other information which has been provided to you.
7. Make sure you bring paper and pen to the conference for note taking or bring a tape recorder to record it.
8. Plan how you will greet the teacher and be prepared to say something positive about your child's school experience.
9. If appropriate, gather and bring examples of your child's work to illustrate what you plan to discuss.
10. If you have read about a procedure or materials that you would like to discuss at the conference send a copy of what you read to the teacher.
What to do during the conference:
1. Use the positive conference opening you have prepared.
2. Use your notes, if necessary, and have paper and pen readily available for your use.
3. Make sure you understand what you are being told. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
4. Take notes - don't rely on your memory.
5. At the end of the conference, summarize/review the major points discussed and steps to be taken. Write these items in your notes.
6. If the teacher is planning to do some type of follow-up, make arrangements to check that this has been done i.e., written communications, phone call.
7. If necessary, set up a follow-up conference and set up this time before you leave the meeting.
D. Professionals are Human Too!
Parents often report that, "Whenever I'm meeting with professionals I usually feel so frustrated, angry, guilty and helpless." When professionals have meetings with parents they also feel "frustrated, angry, guilty, and helpless" This was documented at a conference where a group of parents and professionals were separated (with all the parents together, and all the professionals together) into two groups and were asked separately to list their feelings during meetings with parents (in the professional group) and with professionals (in the parent group). Here are the lists each group came up with:
Parent Group List: 'When I'm meeting with professionals I feel ... ''
a desire for honesty guilt, guilt, guilt
run around overwhelmed
dumb, not good about myself good
frustrated by jargon unsuccessful
"I wish professionals were more..."
receptive to professional upgrading
free to be open
"I like it when professionals . . ."
contact/communicate with me
listen to me
come with positive information
show respect for students
become involved in support groups
respect the knowledge of parents
individualize for students
share professional knowledge
treat parents as equal
Professional Group List: "When I'm meeting with parents I feel..."
frustrated incapable of dealing with parents
professional liability unprepared
parents don't care indignant
parents not very informed put down
tired, burned out helpful
needed good about myself
burdened with red tape
"I wish parents were more . . . "
better listeners caring
less intimidated better models
responsible initiating in dealing with problems
'I like it when parents . . . ''
attend conferences, staffing, etc.
follow through with suggestions
both attend meetings
provide feedback regarding the child's "performance"
are supportive of special services
are open with their communication
put their child's education first
show initiative in finding out what their child does in school
understanding of professional perspectives
are open minded
If you remember that professionals are experiencing the same feelings when they are having meetings with you, and that they too are "frustrated, uptight, insecure, threatened, tense, upset, unprepared, put down, burdened with red tape . . ." you can meet them as partners, involved in the same meeting, sharing the same feelings, the same frustrations, the same fears.
Remember, when you are feeling frustrated, that they too may also be frustrated; when you are feeling angry, they too may be angry; when you are feeling afraid, that they too may also be afraid; when you are feeling helpless, that they too, may be feeling helpless. A real partnership can develop between you and the professionals you are meeting with if you can share your feelings with each other.
E. Can You Really Listen?
Effective listening is an important part of communication. It is also an important part of negotiation and assertiveness. Can you really listen when you are meeting with school officials about your child?
To test your listening skills:
1. pair up with another person and have her/him speak to you non-stop for a full minute(about any subject matter)
2. repeat - as closely as possible to the speaker's version - what the speaker just said.
3. have the speaker make appropriate corrections.
4. change roles - speaker is now the listener and vice-versa.
1. Did you listen intently enough repeat the speaker's statement reasonably accurately?
2. Did you find it hard to concentrate, with your mind wandering? How would practicing this exercise before your school meetings help you to be able to listen actively and get the most out of the meeting?
3. How would practicing this exercise with other parents, with members of your parent group, and with professionals help you to become a better advocate for your child?
4. How can a parent-professional pairing be useful in this exercise?
5. How can you become more tuned to the thoughts, feelings, and problems of others?
6. How does this exercise increase your listening skills? How does improving your listening skills, help you to be better able to assert yourself effectively?