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Teaming with Parents for Student Success

by Dr. Marla J. Lohmann

Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education


As special educators, we are always looking for ways to help our students be successful, both in the classroom and in the outside world.  According to the research, one of the most effective practices for this is building collaborative relationships with parents (Epstein & Hollifield, 1996), which involves more than simple parental involvement in the school (Epstein, 2010).  Collaborative relationships between families and schools benefit children in a variety of ways, including (a) increasing student academic achievement (Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014), (b) increased student school attendance (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004), (c) decreased behavior challenges (Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014), and (d) an increased school climate (Epstein, 2002).  In addition, teaming with parents can reduce teacher workloads (Epstein, 2002).  Who doesn’t want that!

            While we know that teaming with parents is critical, doing so can be harder than it sounds!  The good news, though, is that there are some evidence-based practices for enhancing partnerships with parents.  These practices include (a) welcoming parents, (b) becoming culturally competent, (c) viewing parents as partners, (d) regular parent communication, and (e) being flexible in the process of collaboration. These practices are outlined in more detail in the table below.

Evidence-Based Practices for Teaming with Parents
Strategy
Details
Welcome parents
When parents arrive at school, say hello and take the time to talk to them about their children and about the school.  Call parents and invite them to school events or meet them at their car after school to invite them to come inside.
Become culturally competent
Learn about the cultures of the students/families in your school.  Discover the cultural norms and expectations.  Learn about the holidays. Learn how families from that culture like to work with schools/teachers – you may find that the family’s culture views their role in the education process differently than you view their role.
View parents as partners
Ask parents for their input on educational decisions, particularly IEP goals and student placement decisions.  The input of families should have a significant impact on the decisions that are made at IEP meetings.  Ask parents to tell you their short-term and long-term goals for their child – be sure that the educational decisions that are made will help the child to eventually achieve those goals.
Regular parent communication
Establish a system for regular parent communication.  Ideas might include a daily notebook that goes from home to school, emails to parents a few times a week, weekly phone calls to parents, talking to parents when they pick up their children from school, and quarterly scheduled meetings.  Be sure that communication with parents includes both positives and negatives.  A good rule is 5 compliments about their child to every concern/negative statement.
Be flexible
Your partnership with each family will look different.  Be flexible in your formation of these partnerships and be willing to make each one unique.  Also, be willing to change the partnership based on the needs of the student and family.

            While this list may look daunting, making the time to implement a few of these strategies will have a significant impact on your relationships with the parents in your classrooms and the success of your students.



Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education

Teaming with Parents for Student Success         by Dr. Marla J. Lohmann
As special educators, we are always looking for ways to help our students be successful, both in the classroom and in the outside world.  According to the research, one of the most effective practices for this is building collaborative relationships with parents (Epstein & Hollifield, 1996), which involves more than simple parental involvement in the school (Epstein, 2010).  Collaborative relationships between families and schools benefit children in a variety of ways, including (a) increasing student academic achievement (Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014), (b) increased student school attendance (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004), (c) decreased behavior challenges (Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014), and (d) an increased school climate (Epstein, 2002).  In addition, teaming with parents can reduce teacher workloads (Epstein, 2002).  Who doesn’t want that!
            While we know that teaming with parents is critical, doing so can be harder than it sounds!  The good news, though, is that there are some evidence-based practices for enhancing partnerships with parents.  These practices include (a) welcoming parents, (b) becoming culturally competent, (c) viewing parents as partners, (d) regular parent communication, and (e) being flexible in the process of collaboration. These practices are outlined in more detail in the table below.

Evidence-Based Practices for Teaming with Parents
Strategy
Details
Welcome parents
When parents arrive at school, say hello and take the time to talk to them about their children and about the school.  Call parents and invite them to school events or meet them at their car after school to invite them to come inside.
Become culturally competent
Learn about the cultures of the students/families in your school.  Discover the cultural norms and expectations.  Learn about the holidays. Learn how families from that culture like to work with schools/teachers – you may find that the family’s culture views their role in the education process differently than you view their role.
View parents as partners
Ask parents for their input on educational decisions, particularly IEP goals and student placement decisions.  The input of families should have a significant impact on the decisions that are made at IEP meetings.  Ask parents to tell you their short-term and long-term goals for their child – be sure that the educational decisions that are made will help the child to eventually achieve those goals.
Regular parent communication
Establish a system for regular parent communication.  Ideas might include a daily notebook that goes from home to school, emails to parents a few times a week, weekly phone calls to parents, talking to parents when they pick up their children from school, and quarterly scheduled meetings.  Be sure that communication with parents includes both positives and negatives.  A good rule is 5 compliments about their child to every concern/negative statement.
Be flexible
Your partnership with each family will look different.  Be flexible in your formation of these partnerships and be willing to make each one unique.  Also, be willing to change the partnership based on the needs of the student and family.

            While this list may look daunting, making the time to implement a few of these strategies will have a significant impact on your relationships with the parents in your classrooms and the success of your students.
References
Arllen, N.L., Cheney, D., & Warger, C. (1997). Recapturing the promise of a future imperiled:
Ways tomake community-based collaboration work. In L.M. Bullock, R.A. Gable (Eds.), Highlights from the National Invitational Conference on children with severe emotional disturbances and theirfamilies: Making collaboration work for children, youth, families, schools, and communities. (p.39-43), Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Bryan, J., & Henry, L. (2008). Strengths-based partnerships: A school-family-community
partnership approach to empowering students. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 149-156.
Epstein, J. L. (2010). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share.
Phi Delta Kappan, 92(3), 81-96.
Epstein, J. L., & Hollifield, J. H. (1996). Title I and school-family-community partnerships:
Using research to realize the potential. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk, 1(3), 263-278.
Epstein, J. L., Sanders, M.G., Simon, B.S., Salinas, K, C, Jansorn, N. R., & VanVoorhis, F. L.
(2002). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Office of Educational Research and Improvement: Washington, D.C.
Hands, C. (2005). It’s who you know and what you know: The process of creating partnerships
between schools and communities. School Community Journal, 15(2), 63-84.
Rothengast, A. (2016). Partnerships with parents transformed our school climate. Leadership,
45(5), 8-11.
Sheldon, S. B., & Epstein, J. L. (2004). Getting students to school: Using family and  
involvement to reduce chronic absenteeism. School Community Journal, 14(2), 39-56.
Wang, M., & Sheikh-Khalil, S. (2014). Does parental involvement matter for student
achievement and mental health in high school? Child Development, 85(2), 610-625.

Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University.  She can be contacted at MLohmann@ccu.edu
Arllen, N.L., Cheney, D., & Warger, C. (1997). Recapturing the promise of a future imperiled:
Ways to make community-based collaboration work. In L.M. Bullock, R.A. Gable (Eds.), Highlights from the National Invitational Conference on children with severe emotional disturbances and their families: Making collaboration work for children, youth, families, schools, and communities. (p.39-43), Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Bryan, J., & Henry, L. (2008). Strengths-based partnerships: A school-family-community
partnership approach to empowering students. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 149-156.
Epstein, J. L. (2010). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share.
Phi Delta Kappan, 92(3), 81-96.
Epstein, J. L., & Hollifield, J. H. (1996). Title I and school-family-community partnerships:
Using research to realize the potential. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk, 1(3), 263-278.
Epstein, J. L., Sanders, M.G., Simon, B.S., Salinas, K, C, Jansorn, N. R., & VanVoorhis, F. L.
(2002). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Office of Educational Research and Improvement: Washington, D.C.
Hands, C. (2005). It’s who you know and what you know: The process of creating partnerships
between schools and communities. School Community Journal, 15(2), 63-84.
Rothengast, A. (2016). Partnerships with parents transformed our school climate. Leadership,
45(5), 8-11.
Sheldon, S. B., & Epstein, J. L. (2004). Getting students to school: Using family and  
involvement to reduce chronic absenteeism. School Community Journal, 14(2), 39-56.
Wang, M., & Sheikh-Khalil, S. (2014). Does parental involvement matter for student
achievement and mental health in high school? Child Development, 85(2), 610-625.


Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University.  She can be contacted at MLohmann@ccu.edu