Written by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT, Educational Consultant, LDAO
Parents are vital partners in education. They influence their children’s attitudes about learning, and support learning at home. They are a vital link between home and school. And when they become involved in the life of the school, they make our schools better places to learn, grow and thrive. Ontario’s parent engagement policy recognizes that student achievement and success increase when parents are welcomed and respected as partners, and given the support they need to contribute at home and at school.
- Parents in Partnership, Ministry of Education, 2010
Educators and parents generally agree that positive, supportive and open relationships between home and school, parent and teacher are desirable. Additionally, research has shown that parent engagement and successful parent-teacher partnerships result in improved educational outcomes for students (Ministry of Education, 2010), and this is especially important for students with learning disabilities (LDs). So what can educators and administrators do to help facilitate a positive partnership?
Developing a Positive Partnership
Lynn Ziraldo, Executive Director with the Learning Disabilities Association of York Region, maintains that a positive school climate can help professionals, parents, guardians, and educators work constructively together to address concerns related to programs and services before they become a source of conflict (Presentation, 2016). Ziraldo identifies the following steps to promoting a positive school climate:
- Educators encourage and maintain regular interaction between the school and families.
- Everyone is treated with respect.
- The school culture develops a sense of community and caring relationships.
- Parents are involved in school activities.
- Everyone feels safe and secure.
With respect to the parent-teacher relationship itself, Ziraldo (2016) identifies the following characteristics of an effective parent-teacher team:
- Take time to meet with each other and to listen carefully.
- Treat each other as integral parts of the planning and decision making team.
- Allow each person to express opinions and give suggestions.
- Approach disagreements in a manner that encourages mutual problem solving.
- Encourage a second opinion when there is unresolved disagreement or when there is no answer to a difficult situation.
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC), the key to any successful partnership is to establish a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation. LDAC created a two-page fact sheet, “Effective Teacher-Parent Partnerships”, which outlines tips and suggestions for teachers and parents.
For successful parent-teacher meetings, Ziraldo (2016) offers the following suggestions:
- Focus on the best interest of the student.
- Concentrate on determining a positive course of action.
- Encourage parents to come to the meeting with questions.
- Share information about the students’ strengths, needs, programming goals and instructional strategies.
- Share information with the student; by attending parent teacher meetings, students can present their ideas and perspectives and learn to advocate for their needs.
- Set up a procedure for follow up.
- Summarize the information, as this will be the basis for the next meeting.
- Express appreciation for each other’s participation in the conference.
Lawrence Barns, President & Chief Executive Officer of LDAO, and father of a son with LDs, reflects on his parent-teacher experiences:
Question: What are the key components of an effective parent-teacher relationship?
Answer: The greatest challenge, for both parents and teachers, is to effectively communicate. It may sound simple, but often conversations are disconnected because the teacher is using language that is specific to the field of special education, and may be unfamiliar to the parent. Having worked in the field for a number of years now, I even find myself doing it. It is important that teachers make sure parents understand field specific vocabulary, such as accommodations versus modifications, at the beginning of a conversation. This will make sure there isn’t an inherent misunderstanding that could later cause problems.
The teacher also needs to actively listen to the parent; it is so easy to get caught up in solutions and methods that teachers may miss feedback regarding what is most effective for the student. Parents can help to ascertain which supports are working and which are not, and help to make changes that will impact success. In my child’s case, speech-to-text software didn’t work well, so instead we developed keyboarding skills and made progress via a different route.
Dealing with Conflict
A positive school climate combined with a relationship of mutual respect can help professionals, parents, guardians, and educators work constructively together to address concerns related to programs and services before they become a source of conflict. However, even when approached with the best intentions, disagreement may arise over any aspect of the student’s program, such as IEP goals, instructional methodology, the use of assistive technology, curriculum modifications, etc. Typically, conflict arises during the planning and implementation stages of the student’s special education program. If educators and parents find themselves at an impasse, Shared Solutions, a guide created by the Ministry of Education, may be a valuable resource. Essentially, Shared Solutions is a guide to preventing and resolving conflicts regarding programs and services for students with special education needs.
Shared Solutions is a resource guide intended to help parents, educators, and students with special education needs, work together to prevent conflicts, resolve them quickly, and allow students to develop to their full potential and succeed in school. The guide states that conflict in special education may be based on issues related to the planning and implementation of a student’s special education program. Additionally, poor relationships may develop for a variety of other reasons, leading to conflict between parents and educators. The following are potential sources of conflict:
- Planning conflicts happen when parents and educators do not have access to the same information about the student and/or have a different understanding and ideas about the student’s strengths and needs, and the appropriate special education programs and services for the student.
- Implementation conflicts happen when parents perceive that plans for special education programs and services have not been adequately implemented.
- Relationship conflicts may arise as a result of cultural differences, styles of interaction, breakdowns in communication, and/or a loss of trust between parents and educators.
The guide includes a number of actual case studies with background information, context/steps taken and strategies that were used to resolve the conflict.
Author’s Note: This practice-informed summary focuses on the parent-educator relationship but it is important to note that in Shared Solutions, and in practice, students with LDs are encouraged to be part of the process and partnership and to develop self-advocacy skills. Please refer to the relevant resources section of this article for suggested readings on self-advocacy.
When parents and teachers develop effective partnerships, the benefit for students with LDs is reflected in improved educational outcomes. This practice-informed summary outlines some of the key considerations for establishing a positive school climate and a culture of mutual respect and appreciation, identifies characteristics of a positive parent-teacher relationship, outlines strategies for a successful parent-teacher meeting, and provides an overview of a Ministry resource guide to prevent and address conflict. Educators are encouraged to consult with their respective professional associations for additional information and resources.
Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website
Click here to access the Ask the Expert question and answer, written by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger, "How can educators help parents to support reading skills acquisition and knowledge retention at home?"
Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. Fact Sheet: Effective Teacher-Parent Partnerships. Retrieved from http://www.ldac-acta.ca
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Parents in Partnership: A Parent Engagement Policy for Ontario Schools.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2007). Shared Solutions: A Guide to Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Regarding Programs and Services for Students with Special Education Needs.
Ziraldo, L. (2016). “Working Together: Effective Advocacy and Collaboration”. PowerPoint Slide Presentation.
Morin, A. Why it’s Important to Partner with Your Child’s Teacher. Retrieved from: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/working-with-childs-teacher/why-its-important-to-partner-with-your-childs-teacher
The Parent-Teacher Partnership. Retrieved from:
Building Partnerships between Parents and Practitioners. Retrieved from: