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Standard 8 Meta Reflection: Exceptionality August 23, 2013

Students with unique needs can display a wide variety of behaviors in a learning situation and educators must become familiar with the specific difficulties and challenges associated with their particular situation. Often times, it is the general education teacher who first brings the needs of exceptional students to the attention of a referral team. Identifying and serving students with such needs will require special considerations and purposeful modifications on the part of the educator. Teachers also must familiarize themselves with the legal requirements associated with serving students who are exceptional.

There are several categories of disabilities, each with their own challenges as well as overlapping characteristics. Each category also requires a different set of general modifications, accommodations and instructional strategies.

Students with learning disabilities are usually of average or higher intelligence but are challenged when it comes to information processing. They don’t typically have physical, health or emotional disturbances. Such students might exhibit reading difficulties, high activity levels, short attention spans, poor organizational skills and often fail to recognize subtle communication cues such as body language and facial expressions (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, pp. 52-54). Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can display “inappropriate attention skills, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity.” (p.58) Classroom modifications for this category primarily are related to instructional strategies that involve remediation and compensation.(p. 193)

Students with intellectual disabilities exhibit a slower rate of learning and often have developmental delays in several areas such as language, social and vocational skills. Such students may experience learning difficulties with specific types of learning. For example, reading comprehension will be more challenging than reading recognition or math problem solving will be more difficult than math computation. Instruction is geared primarily towards habilitation in an effort to prepare students for the skills necessary for successful adulthood. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011 p. 210)

Behavioral disorders can affect classroom behaviors, social skills, and academic instruction. It is characterized according to three indicators: “1. If it deviates from the range of behaviors for the child’s age and sex which significant adults perceive as normal: 2. If it occurs very frequently or too intensely; or 3. If it occurs over an extended period of time.” (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 232) Program modifications often are necessary in the areas of classroom behavior, social skills, and academic instruction. This can involve detailed data collection followed by a customized intervention program that seeks to either increase or decrease a behavior or teach a new behavior.

     Communication disorders affect student interactions and are some of the most common disorders. Some common difficulties are mispronunciations, dysfluency, and unusual voice quality which interferes with communication.(p. 250)  The main accommodations teachers need to focus on here speech and language impairments are opportunities to practice what the speech-language pathologist has implemented.

Autism Spectrum Disorder can exhibit a range of characteristics from severe delays to giftedness and can affect verbal communication, non-verbal communication, and social interaction. In most instances, teachers work with the special educator to decide on modifications in the classroom. Motivational systems can be helpful to modify certain behaviors. Additionally, the classroom may need to be physically arranged in order to support the student’s social interactions, maximize participation and decrease problem behaviors. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 264) For example, a student who calms him/herself with pacing can be positioned near an area with clear space along a wall.

In her book, Ellen Notbohm writes from the perspective of a child with autism. One quote reads, “Because I think differently, my autism requires that you teach differently.” (2006, p. xxv) While this is true for many students with disabilities, I believe it is especially true for students with autism. Notbohm suggests the  instruction that is visual/spatial, repetitive, and presented in whole chunks is most effective for students with autism (p. 29-30).

Students with physical and health impairments have a wide variety of conditions such as cerebral palsy, asthma, diabetes or allergies. Some of these conditions require no modifications while others might require extensive services. The Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for this student will address the goals pertaining to a student’s specific needs.  This may include modification of the physical environment, schedule format, and/or the structure of instructional activities and assignments.

Regular progress monitoring is an important component to consider when providing accommodations for students with special needs. Frequent data collection and recording will help inform educators of whether or not students are making progress towards goals, what are areas in need of improvement, and what goals need to be revised. Frequent progress monitoring also allows educators to provide timely feedback to the student, family, and care team.

Finally, it is imperative that a positive and collaborative relationship be fostered with the families of students with special needs. Seligman (2000) references numerous publications that support the notion that school environments that are rich with strong parent-educator partnerships are more likely to foster accelerated academic progress. Current literature also reflects that parents of children with special needs can provide information that is vital to the planning and implementation of their child’s educational program (McCloskey, 2010).  Numerous resources offer strategies and ideas that foster the building of bridges between school and home. Beth Perce (2013) offers several suggestions that educations can follow to enhance communication such as parent surveys, home visits, and weekly communication. Further, student guardians and caretakers are likely fearful for their children as they maneuver through the education system and simply need a compassionate and informed advocate who can offer support and reliable information. I am providing links below to two papers that address this very issue:

Collaboration with Parents of Exceptional Children: The Role of the Educator

Parental Positioning in Special Education

These artifacts illustrate the legal and ethical side of collaborating with parents of children with special needs. They also provide a perspective from the parents’ side that can help promote an atmosphere of empathy and cooperation.

 

References:

Lewis, R. B. & Doorlag, D. H.(2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental positioning in special education.

            International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .

Notbohm, E. (2006). Ten things your student with autism wishes you knew. Arlilngton, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.

Perce, B. (2013, May 21). Teaching Secrets: Learning From Parents. In Education Week. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/05/21/tln_perce_parents.html?qs=IEP

Seligman, M. (2000). Conducting effective conferences with parents of children with disabilities.

 New York, New York: The Guilford Press

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Collaboration with Parents of Exceptional Children: The Role of the Educator March 12, 2012

Filed under: Standard 8. Exceptionality,Uncategorized — lkgale @ 5:50 am
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Most educators would agree that striving for a collaborative relationship between parents of children with special needs and educators is a worthwhile endeavor. Strong partnerships between school and home enable our at risk students to learn from informed, respectful, and invested team members. What I hope to offer in this writing is a deeper understanding as to why parent-educator collaboration is essential in the Special Education setting, how it has evolved over time, what it looks like, how educators can promote collaboration, and what educators can do if collaboration breaks down.

Collaboration is Essential

Fostering effective collaboration as an educator is a purposeful, and often labor intensive, process that is not always smooth and natural. It requires patience, open communication, empathy and respect from all parties. We know we need to do it, but why, exactly? Probably one of the most compelling reasons is simple – It’s what is best for kids and research supports this. Seligman (2000) references numerous publications that support the notion that school environments that are rich with strong parent-educator partnerships are more likely to foster accelerated academic progress. Current literature also reflects that parents of children with special needs can provide information that is vital to the planning and implementation of their child’s educational program (McCloskey, 2010). The more information that is available to teams as they plan interventions for a child with a disability, the more likely it will be that the child’s needs are met. Additionally, as Seligman (2000) states, parents who participate in intervention planning are more likely to honor the plan rather than undermine it.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first introduced in 1990, is another factor to consider when setting up systems that foster parent-educator collaboration. In short, parent involvement is the law. IDEA increased the role of parents in their child’s education and incorporates specific language that requires educators to actively involve the parent in the planning of interventions as well as report the child’s progress on a regular basis. According to IDEA, educators must give parents advance notice of IEP meetings, inform them of the purpose of the meetings, and let them know who will be attending. The meeting time and place must be mutually agreed upon and the school must provide interpretation services if necessary. A copy of the IEP in its entirety must be provided to parents as well (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).

The Evolution of Collaboration

Inviting and encouraging parent participation in the process of developing and implementing an intervention plan has not always been a popular idea. Fine and Gardner (1994) found that professionals in past decades commonly considered parents incapable of contributing useful information to teams and discouraged their involvement. Sometimes they even identified parents as the cause of the child’s problem. The dominating school of thought was that parents should leave such diagnostic decision making to the professionals. Parents who tried to become involved were considered overbearing and domineering.

Parent participation became a bit more common in 1975, after the passage of PL 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, and even more so in 1990 when IDEA came in to play. However, change did not come overnight and there were, and still are, hurdles to overcome. Currently, the timing of meetings is often difficult for parents to accommodate. Parents are frequently intimidated by attendees at IEP meetings and feel inadequate in the presence of professionals in the field. Also, decisions are sometimes made even before the parent joins the meeting (Fine and Gardner, 1994).

Just as parent involvement has evolved over several decades, so can it evolve, develop, and be strengthened throughout the duration of the parent-educator relationship in a specific case. Fine and Gardner (1994) point out that a parent’s perspective during the early stages of a child’s diagnosis is very different from that of a parent who has had time to adjust and gain knowledge about a particular condition. Families of children with a new diagnosis may be overwhelmed and dependent and need encouragement as they move towards a collaborative partnership with educators. As parents interact within the world of special education over a period of time, they often become savvy to the routines of meetings, evaluations, therapy, legal documents, and other aspects of the system (McCloskey, 2010). If parents have had good, collaborative experiences with educators by this point, a firm foundation for continuing a beneficial partnership has been set.

Steps to Collaboration

Setting up a system that invites parent collaboration and presenting a program that reflects this collaboration is an ongoing process and share many of the same characteristics. Most of the steps described in this section serve to both promote increased parent involvement as well as reflect it.

Creating an atmosphere of trust, respect, and open communication from day one is essential if educators wish to promote a partnership with parents of children with special needs. Joyce Reynolds-Ward (2012), a special education professional attending Portland State University, suggests that educators start the year off by putting the families of Special Education students at ease through an informal open house. This provides a venue for parents to interact with school personnel and other families without the pressure of a formal meeting. She also recommends that special education teachers made direct contact with families of students with complex cases at the beginning of the year. This is an opportunity to gather important information on the student regarding any changes over the summer as well as to relay new information about the school and/or program. Teachers should become familiar with community resources in order to be able to refer families to supportive organizations as needed. Attending students’ extracurricular events, encouraging in-class participation, and meeting parents at the door each morning are still more ways that educators can connect with the families of students (Reynolds-Ward, 2012).

A simple and routine communication system is essential to an effective partnership. Reynolds-Ward (2012) advises that one IEP case manager should serve as the main point of contact for the team. The student’s general education teacher will change each year but the case manager remains constant. Also, communication notebooks, planners, newsletters, regular emails and phone calls are additional techniques educators can put into place to keep communication flowing.

It is important to plan and adhere to a timeline as close as possible when planning interventions and setting goals. Communicate with parents when the inevitable disruptions and changes occur. Openly discuss any program constraints, if any, that you think are relevant to a student’s case. Likewise, listen and be understanding if parents also experience time constraints or struggle with program logistics.

Taking the time and effort to understand the family dynamics of a disabled student’s home life can strengthen parent-educator collaboration. It can reveal areas where a family may have strengths as well as areas where the family may be in need of support. Fine and Gardner (1994) describe several factors to consider when professionals work with children with disabilities and their families. Does the family have an adequate support network? Are other stressors present such as financial difficulties, separated or divorced parents, or other siblings? Are there cultural or ethnic factors to consider? Fine and Gardner (1994) point out that, while the cultural background of a family is important to know about, it should be factored in only after the family is considered as individuals themselves. This will help to avoid overgeneralization.

IEP meetings often reflect just how collaborative a relationship is between educators and parents. Fine and Gardner (1994) describe 6 characteristics of meetings that demonstrate effective collaboration. These are:

  1. Participation is voluntary
  2. There is parity among participants
  3. Members share common goals
  4. All members share in discussion and decision making
  5. There are shared resources
  6. There is shared accountability

Discord in any of these characteristics can compromise a partnership.

Fine and Gardner go on to say that only those professionals considered central to the student’s plan should be in attendance at IEP meetings. This will encourage greater participation on the part of the parents and reduce the chances that parents will feel intimidated. The use of professional terminology should be kept simple and care should be taken to avoid language that could be construed as putting blame on others. The careful choosing of words should also be practiced when discussing a student’s case with involved colleagues outside of the IEP meeting.

Mediation and Due Process

Even in a healthy parent-educator relationship, divergent opinions and conflicts are likely to occur. If an atmosphere of mutual respect has been established then it is more likely that participants will feel safe to express different or unpopular viewpoints (Fine & Gardner, 1994). This is beneficial to the team and, ultimately, to the student with special needs because it allows more ideas to be shared, even those considered to be “out of the box”.

What steps should be taken when disputes arise between parents and educators that compromise the progress of the student’s IEP? Depending on what the dispute entails, educators should sincerely try to understand and respect the wishes of the parent if they lie within the parameters of what the school and district can accommodate. Parents may wish to invite a family member, friend, or other advocate to attend the IEP meeting with them in order to further clarify their viewpoint. Schools can also bring in a district representative with specialized skills and a talent for effective communication to provide support for parents and educators both (PACER Center, 2004).

If these attempts to resolve the conflict are unsuccessful, IEP teams may opt to have a specially trained, independent party mediate the process. Mediation is provided through the U.S. Department of Education (2004) and is at no cost to either the family or the school. The process must be voluntary on the part of both parties, must not be used to deny or delay a parent’s right to due process, be mediated by a trained facilitator, and any resolution must be written out, signed by both parties, and legally binding.

If none of the above options are successful, the dispute may necessitate a due process hearing as provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.  Other options to resolve the conflict should be exhausted by this point as due process involves legal expenses, considerable time, as well as additional stress.

Further Research

There is extensive training available that prepares teachers to effectively plan and deliver instruction as well as to assess student progress. There seems to be very little teacher training, however, in effective parent-teacher collaboration and communication, especially as it pertains to parents and teachers of children with special needs. As stated earlier in this paper, current research supports that student progress is enhanced when effective parent-educator collaboration is in place (Seligman, 2000). It would make sense, then, that teacher preparation programs and professional development opportunities would reflect this trend. I anticipate that this will soon be the case.

Conclusion

            As the title indicates, this paper is focused on what we, as educators, can do to enhance the parent-educator partnership. I feel both heartened and empowered as I realize that we have much to offer in this process. I do not, however, believe that it all rests in the hands of the teacher. The notion that parents play an equal and reciprocal role in promoting effective collaboration certainly is worthy of further investigation and research. Such a notion is at the very heart of a partnership, after all.

References

Fine, M. J., & Gardner, A. (1994). Collaborative consultation with families of children with

special needs: why bother? Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 5(4), 283-308.

McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental positioning in special education   International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .

PACER Center. (2004). Facilitated IEP Meetings. Retrieved from

http://www.pacer.org/parent/php/PHP-c90.pdf

Reynolds-Ward, J. (2012, February 15). Re: Building better relationships between schools and

parents of special needs students [Blog message]. Retrieved from http://childswork.com/blog/2012/02/building-better-relationships-between-schools-and-parents-of-special-needs-students/

Seligman, M. (2000). Conducting effective conferences with parents of children with disabilities.

 New York, New York: The Guilford Press

U.S. Department of Education. (2004) Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004. (Part 300, sections D

and E). Retrieved from http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cregs%2C300%2C

Reflection:

As I research the topic of effective parent-teacher collaboration, I realize it is so much more than just good communication. It is a genuine attempt to connect with the families of students, honor their input and vast experience, and recognize that all members of the team have the same goal in mind – that is to bring students to their full potential. It is also recognizing that the knowledge and resources of the group together is much more productive than the knowledge and resources of each person individually.

 

Parental Positioning in Special Education

Parental Positioning in Special Education

I have always paid particular attention to how the ebb and flow of instruction is directly affected by the quality of collaboration and participation with and by the parents of our students. This is especially evident in the educating of children with special needs. There seems to be an elevated level of anxiety and urgency from each participant when parents, teachers, educators and specialists first gather to plan interventions for a child with special needs. I believe it is critical that, at this early juncture, the parent is made to feel valued, respected and knowledgeable when it comes to the well being of their child.  This will set the tone for future interactions and will establish an environment of trust which will be important – especially if an issue must be discussed that is not popular with all parties.

One article I am featuring in this writing, What Do I Know? Parental Positioning in Special Education by Erin McCloskey (2010), sheds light on the efforts parents put forth to advocate for their children with special needs when dealing with the professionals involved, such as physicians, therapists, teachers and administrators. This article points out that parents, as they interact with the various entities that are involved with their children’s well being, frequently position themselves in such a way as to be active participants as team members.  This was referred to in the article as “reflexive positioning” and is often accepted and supported by the providers.

Conversely, positioning may need to be negotiated when the parent encounters resistance or a conflict of ideas. This is called “interactive positioning” because each party actively negotiates his/her position. An example was given in the article when a parent encountered a physician who did not share her enthusiasm for a particular researcher and his therapy techniques and stated as such in a condescending manner. The parent went in to the appointment in “reflexive positioning” mode, but the doctor’s callous comments turned their interaction in to “interactive positioning”.

McCloskey (2010) goes on to say that defining and understanding this theory of positioning has implications on the training of teachers and other professionals who interact with parents of special needs children. It is important for the aforementioned professionals to know that their choice of words and how they conduct a conversation can enable the positioning efforts of parents, or it can render it ineffective and cause the parent to feel belittled and insignificant.

McCloskey’s (2010) research was conducted in a preschool setting. She determined that when parents are empowered at this stage of their child’s education through successful positioning, they are more likely to continue their efforts to be effective collaborators throughout their child’s education. Ultimately, the child benefits from this positive relationship.

The IDEA Parent Guide, put out by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), states that a parent “can become an informed and effective partner with school personnel in supporting your child’s special learning and behavioral needs.” (2006) Additionally, a parent quote in this guide emphasizes that parents of disabled children must know the law, have good communication skills, and be part of a team. I state this here because parents know that they must be effective advocates for their children. They must, therefore, invest themselves in a way that gives them knowledge and position themselves so that they are heard and respected. This is a tall order for a parent who, at the same time, is anxious, uncertain and scared for their children. We, as teachers, can empathize with these parents and engage in conversations that enable parents positioning rather than stifle it.

References

McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental Positioning in Special Education. International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .

National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2006). IDEA Parent Guide: A Comprehensive Guide to your Rights and Responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Retrieved  from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED495879.pdf

Reflection:

When I consider the fear and uncertainty parents of children with disabilities must endure, especially in the beginning of the process, I am saddened by the realization that they must sometimes feel like it is “my child and me against the world”. I am also impressed with the strength and fortitude many parents project as they advocate for their children. The more insight I gain regarding the struggles and celebrations experienced by parents in the world of special education, the more value I place on promoting a collaborative partnership with these parents.