Answered by Linda Houston, OCT and LDAO Educational Consultant
Collaboration between the educator and parents is an essential ingredient to student success. Parents are a valuable source of information about their child and the way in which learning disabilities (LDs) affect their child outside of school.
Yet, meeting with parents to discuss their child is not always easy. Each parent and each situation is unique. There is no magic formula for communicating with parents. Here are some suggestions that may reduce your doubts and apprehension and encourage a positive and productive meeting with parents.
- The student must remain the focus of the discussion. Parents and educators meet for the benefit of the student. The ultimate goal is to improve outcomes for the student, while supporting and reassuring the parents.
- Arriving prepared sets a professionnal tone and allows for the goal of the meeting to be met quickly. Here are some questions that may guide your preparation:
- What is the goal of the meeting? What are my other expectations?
- How can I put the parents at ease?
- What are my observations about the student (successes, strengths, needs, worries, etc.)?
- Do the parents understand their child’s difficulties?
- What are possible obstacles to our discussion (cultural differences, language, perception of the school, parents’ own academic experience)?
- If I were a parent, how would I feel in this kind of meeting?
- What schoolwork can I share with the parents?
- Do I have all documentation related to the topics we will discuss during the meeting?
- Emphasize the positives before talking about the difficulties. Discussing student’s successes, strengths, and skills before presenting your concerns will foster a more positive tone. It is often the case that parents do not hear about their child’s successes. Always be honest and your meeting should have a smooth conclusion.
- Be empathetic of the parents’ worries, and try to put them at ease. To ensure that the meeting opens on a positive note it is essential that you convey to parents that you consider them to be people who are doing their best with their expertise and that you trust them. Parents all have their own personal experiences, positive or negative, related to their own academic history; it is highly likely that these experiences will influence the tone of the meeting. Allow parents to speak, give them time to explain, and listen actively. These are important strategies in order to understand the goal of the meeting from the parents’ point of view, to understand them better, and to avoid passing judgement.
- Often, parents do not know where to begin to help their child, and they may feel overwhelmed. Examples of supports that the student receives at school and suggestions for strategies at home are two ways to reinforce the parent-school partnership and to equip parents for an easier collaboration. Present strategies that work at school, that parents understand and feel capable of implementing, and that the student can use at home more-or-less independently. Be open to the parents’ ideas. They know what they can and cannot accomplish. Encourage them to take small steps toward stronger participation, but do not forget that they ultimately will decide on their level of participation, and you must accept this decision.
- Even if the situation is not sensitive, and the meeting is not difficult, inform the school administrators about developments and ask for their support.
Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website
Linda Houston is the French-language Educational Consultant with the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, working as a member of the LD@school Team and LD@school/TA@l’école Advisory Committee. Linda is an educator with 32 years of experience in special education, as a teacher, Consultant, Coordinator, diagnostician and parent. She has taught in Core french, French immersion and French-language classes. Her professional qualifications include a Teacher's certificate from Université Laurentienne, a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Specialist in Special Education and Principal's qualification from Lakehead University, as well as additional educational assessment qualifications from Centre Jules-Léger. In addition, Linda has been seconded to various provincial agencies as a consultant and teacher-diagnostician. Linda enjoys researching and writing articles for LD@school, connecting with Ontario school district administrators and educators, and assisting with planning for the Educators’ Institute.