For many kids, the start of a new school year can feel daunting. They enter a new classroom filled with unfamiliar faces and have to adjust to different teaching styles and expectations. For students with special needs, overcoming these unnerving feelings is crucial for their educational success.
Just as every student with special needs is unique, each special education teacher has their own specific approach and training. Some specialize in learning or behavioral challenges, while others are more adept at helping students with speech impairments. Regardless, these teachers are equipped to implement specialized teaching tactics that help children overcome learning and life obstacles, but it’s no easy feat. Special educators have a tremendous task before them, but you can help ease the transition for your child and his teacher.
When you form a strong, open relationship with your child’s special education teacher, you can get a feel for classroom expectations, communicate your child’s specific learning style, and collaborate to drive home pivotal lessons.
Cultivate an Open Relationship
As a single or working parent, staying actively involved in your child’s progress is difficult. But plugging in wherever possible will help you maximize your child’s education experience, and position him for success. Here are a few tips for building strong, trusting relationships with your child’s special educators:
Attend open houses at the beginning of the year. Most teachers hand out supply lists and set classroom expectations at this event, which will allow you to familiarize yourself with their standards. It’s also a great way to get some face time with your child’s teacher early in the school year.
Schedule Q&A time with your child’s teacher. Review your child’s daily work, and look for areas in which he’s succeeding and those that need improvement. During your Q&A session, ask the teacher how they will help your child improve in those areas. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. Special education teachers appreciate parent involvement because at the end of the day, it only makes their jobs easier.
Make an effort to be at scheduled meetings. Make it a priority to attend Individual Education Plan (IEP), 504, and parent meetings. IEP and 504 meetings are invaluable for developing a relationship with your child’s special ed teacher; that’s why your signature is required on the forms. Scheduled parent meetings allow for more one-on-one time with your child’s teacher. If you can’t attend, send someone you trust. This education plan lasts for the entire school year and can be challenging to alter mid-year.
Get involved with your child’s class. Consider becoming a class mom or dad, or volunteering to chaperone class trips if you are able. Taking an active role in your child’s classroom will give you the chance to observe how she’s doing and interact on a less formal basis with the teachers, para-professionals, aides, and therapists assisting in the classroom. Helping with simple tasks, such as making copies or setting up activities that take a lot of prep time, will allow teachers to spend more time teaching.
Establish a system for regular feedback. Every child has some form of an IEP that’s reviewed and signed at the beginning and end of the year. But as a parent, you can establish a more frequent system for monitoring progress.
Try setting up a communication book and sending it in your child’s bag. Encourage the teacher to write about your child’s progress or challenges on a weekly basis. This will help address challenges and victories earlier on and promote an open, direct dialogue. You can also do this via email if that works better for the teacher.
Incorporate Education at Home
In-home activities are vital for helping your child meet his classroom goals. By staying informed about your child’s in-class experiences and reiterating important lessons at home, you can maximize their impact and boost your child’s memory and comprehension.
If you’re crunched for time, squeeze in these education opportunities during dinnertime, bath time, and before bedtime. Spend five minutes going over classroom topics, and use examples found at home to reinforce them. Keeping tabs on your child’s weekly classroom work and gathering examples from movies and books will also help strengthen the pathways in the brain that make learning easier.
Illustrating how your child communicates at home will also lessen the burden on teachers. Communicating the nuances you notice at home — that might not be visible at school — can help teachers better understand and attend to your child’s needs and abilities. For example, if your child is able to manage distractions more effectively when you are close by, the teacher might be able to position her desk to set her up for success.
Special education teachers have the skillsets to tailor educational tactics to your child’s special needs. Don’t underestimate the value in developing close ties with these educators. As you work to build strong relationships, you’ll be celebrating victories with your child and his teacher more regularly.
About Rebecca Dean
Rebecca Dean is the president of Tiny Tots Therapy Inc. (http://www.tinytotstherapyinc.com/) and a partner in Therapy Nook, Kids Blvd, and Fun Factory Sensory Gym. She earned her degree in occupational therapy from Kean University, and she’s certified and trained in sensory integration. Rebecca believes in a holistic therapeutic approach and realizes that alternative methods, combined with traditional therapy, allow children to acquire functional and developmental skills and retain them.