A positive relationship between parents and teachers will lead to the best outcomes for every child, but perhaps is even more important when the child has a disability.
Parents bring invaluable knowledge of their child, their insights into their child’s learning, individual interests, strengths and personality, which can help educators make the adjustments needed to include the student in their class and school.
Even though both parents and educators know the importance of communication and collaboration, it is important to keep learning about what builds positive relationships, effective communication and authentic collaboration.
Communicating and Contributing
At the beginning of each year, I prepare a little updated summary for the incoming teachers and support staff about Adam. It includes information about our family, his past schooling, his interests and passions, his successes and achievements, what extra-curricular activities he has been involved in and a bit I call “How to get the best from Adam”… which is about Adam’s needs or challenges but talks about these in a very positive and solution focused way.
I try to paint a picture of Adam which shows him as having lots of ordinary interests, great passions and a whole history of being loved and appreciated for his gifts (not only by his family but by friends and community) – rather than the student with Down syndrome they are likely to see. I work on modelling how I want Adam to be seen and I find it gives teachers common ground when they know Adam outside school. Many of the teachers pick up on those interests (camping, swimming, his cousins) in activities.
I Choose Inclusion, QPPD, 2011.
Parents play a vital role in setting the tone for how their child, and the adjustments and supports they need to be successful, will be seen and discussed by others. Some parents have used a tool known as a ‘one-page profile’ to communicate this positively and clearly.
Other parents have worked with their children to create a little video or PowerPoint to share information about their child in a way that demonstrates vision and gifts, what their interests are, and what they need in their school day to be successful.
Families hold important information about their child’s story. They notice progress when it may not be obvious to newer people and they know what has and has not worked and in the past.
Sharing a one page profile or other positive documentation with the school can frame things well from the start, and help get the right adjustments and supports in place.
Parents and family members can feel anxious or disempowered when challenging the professional authority of educators, or asking for adjustments and supports their child needs to learn.
It is, however, helpful for families to claim their natural authority, to remember they are the constants in their child’s life – and will be there into the future, unlike most professionals.
Marg Ward, who advocated for her daughter Mena’s inclusive education, advises parents:
“Make two lists - In the first column, list all the people who have been constant in the life of your son or daughter. In the other column, list all the people who have come and gone over the same period. Your first list will [likely] be short, naming your family members … perhaps a few faithful friends or ‘extended family’. These are the people who can even begin to claim some authority in your son or daughter’s life. The other list will be enormous and frighteningly irrelevant”
The Natural Authority of Families
Dr Michael Kendrick
"It can sometimes help to remember that families have a natural authority of their own which can go a long way to reducing this imbalance of power and authority. In order for this to happen, however, families need to appreciate this natural authority and be willing to act on it.
What follows is a brief description of some of the common sources of authority that families can call on when they are acting in the interests of a family member"
Reframing weaknesses as strengths and needs
Mary A. Falvey
A key role for families in collaborative relationships is modelling a strengths based approach and countering deficit mindsets.
What is inclusive language and why is it so important?
Associate Professor Elizabeth Walton
In this presentation at the Inclusive Education Forum held at QUT 2019, Associate Professor Elizabeth Walton explains why language matters. Parents will find it is often up to them to model using better, positive language, in order to get better outcomes for their children with disability.
8 Tips for Building a Good Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher
Geri Coleman Tucker
Here are 8 simple tips for establishing a positive relationship with your Child’s Teacher.
Read about: 5 Conversation Starters for Discussing Teaching Approaches With Teachers
Bob Cunningham, EdM
"Here are some respectful conversation starters to use with teachers that ask about teaching approaches."
"Write an email but DON’T send it straight away. Address it to yourself so it doesn’t go to the school. The next day when you have calmed down, read it again and if you need to, make it less confrontational and seeking a cooperative approach to address the issue. This has worked really well for me. I get my anger out in the email but I don’t send it for another day or two until I have calmed down.”
I Choose Inclusion, QPPD.
What to Write in an Email to Your Child’s Teacher
Andrew Lee, Understood.org
"What should you write in an email to your child’s teacher? Email can be a great way to stay in touch and raise important issues. The most effective emails tend to be short and to focus on facts rather than emotion."
Download the Fact Sheet here (PDF) Please note, this is an American resource and refers to American-specific documents.
All students learning together
"This booklet will help you think about the part school plays in the whole life of your child. It is aimed at families who want their child to attend regular class at a mainstream school or are thinking about that option. It will help you talk about why you want your child to have the same school experiences as other children, and it will give you tips and examples to make it happen."
How can families support their child’s inclusion?
Building Effective Partnerships
"I think there should be a partnership between professionals and families. What happens at school impacts on what happens at home and vice versa. Schools will be less able to modify curriculum without a deep knowledge of what the student needs.
Families have that deep, long term knowledge. Also, schools cannot know how families function and do things without their input. Without the benefit of this long term knowledge, professionals cannot be as effective.”
All Students Learning Together. Family Advocacy (2016)
Partnering with Families for Inclusive Education
Community Resource Unit Ltd.
This video shares ideas generated by parents on how schools can work more effectively with families – taking into account families’ perspectives and experiences.
Inclusive High School Education - Jacob's Story
In this video, Jacob’s family and school talk about how they built a partnership to support Jacob to be included at his High School.
Working together to support school-aged students on the autism spectrum
Positive Partnerships is a national project funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training through the Helping Children with Autism program.
How do families create a positive, trusting and collaborative relationship with their school?
"Apparently they have learnt a lot by being challenged by us. I have tried to make the most positive experience it could be for my son’s sake… The great thing is that they were responsive once they got to know us. My son has had some fabulous teachers, but he has taught them also.”
I Choose Inclusion, QPPD
Partnership with Parents
Dr Bob Jackson
Building relationships between parents and teachers
Megan Olivia Hall
Setting Goals and Planning
See Ya Later S.M.A.R.T. Goals!
Individual Plans Explained
Community Resource Unit Ltd.
"Many parents struggle to keep up with the many varied school plans – and their acronyms! To further confuse, names given to similar plans differ widely across states, education systems – and even different schools within the same system!
This guide will assist Queensland parents of students with disability to understand the most commonly used plans."
“I find it hard to work things out and know how to say things without offending people. I find it hard to work with teachers. I’m not naturally good at it. Things can build up and seem very dramatic very quickly. My tip is to talk to other people. It can help you sort out what is important. If it is someone you trust, they can offer another perspective.”
Kate. All Students Learning Together, Family Advocacy (2016)
Your Child’s IEP – Guide for Families
All Means All
"'You are involved to ensure that the IEP outcomes are in the best interests of your child and to bring your long term vision and aspirations for your child to the table.
Don’t undervalue the importance of your role in the IEP process.
Remember, your child only grows up once, so take the time and effort to maximise the long-term outcomes of their schooling experience."
Advancing Partnerships: Parent and Community Engagement (PACE) framework
Queensland Department of Education
Every Student with Disability Succeeding
Queensland Department of Education
"Partnerships between parents, families and schools is an important part of supporting students with disability to succeed.
Our Every Student with Disability Succeeding plan commits to supporting these partnerships and supports schools to engage with parents about their child's education."
Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD)
"Collaboration means working with others to pursue a common goal, such as ensuring that a student with disability participates in education on the same basis as other students.
Consultations can involve more people than a teacher, or a parent, guardian or carer. There are benefits in bringing together a group of people on a regular basis who can work collaboratively to support a student with disability."
Family and School Partnerships
Australian Government, Department of Education
"The Family-School Partnerships Framework was developed to promote and guide partnership building. The Framework was developed by the Australian Council of State School Organisations, Australian Parents Council and the Australian Government, and endorsed by Australia’s Education Ministers in 2008.
The Framework is for use by school leaders, teachers and school teams to support partnerships between schools and families."
Parent Engagement in Children’s Learning
Australian Government, Department of Education
"Parent engagement in education is about parents and carers, schools and communities working together to ensure that every parent can play a positive role in their child's learning, school community, sport, and social life.
Parents and families play an important role in supporting their child's education. Research has shown that when schools and families work together, children do better, stay in school longer, are more engaged with their school work, go to school more regularly, behave better, and have better social skills. Parent engagement also results in longer term economic, social and emotional benefits."