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For more information on red flags for a variety of learning differences, check out “Red Flags for Every Teacher” under LEA’s archived webinars.

Lutheran Special Education Ministries is dedicated to serving schools, churches, and families in order to advance the success of children who have learning needs. If we can continue to help with this topic or other special education questions, feel free to contact us at lsem@luthsped.org or 248-419-3390.

 

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Red Crayons (Feature)

Encouraging Project-based Learning (ECEnet)

Let's Make It Policy (LEADnet)

 

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LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.

 

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Talking With Parents
About Struggling Students

What parents probably have not heard enough, especially to begin a conversation, is the reminder that despite the learning challenges and behavior, our God uniquely created their child with a purpose.At this point in the school year, and likely even earlier, you have noticed characteristics of some students that seem to be atypical or puzzling. Some teachers may jump at the chance to talk with parents about these potentially sensitive issues while others would like to avoid confrontations at all costs. These conversations can be difficult, but to help each child be successful, they are often necessary. Here are some tips about how to talk to parents regarding an evaluation or the possibility of their child having a disability.

The first point to keep in mind is that each child is fearfully and wonderfully made. In many cases, either parents themselves have concerns about their child or other teachers or adults have expressed concerns to them before. What parents probably have not heard enough, especially to begin a conversation, is the reminder that despite the learning challenges and behavior, our God uniquely created their child with a purpose. Talk with parents about the positive things you see their child doing and the activities in which you notice the student being successful. Ask the parents for examples from home as well. This is always a great way to begin a conversation and turn possibly negative emotions about a child’s actions and needs into positive feelings from the beginning.

When expressing concerns to parents, keep the conversation geared toward the strengths you see in the student and the areas in which the student struggled rather than assigning a label.During the course of the conversation, refrain from playing diagnostician and telling parents what you think their child might “have.” While your purpose may be to help, it is not appropriate for teachers to use these labels without a formal diagnosis that comes from a credentialed professional trained to make those diagnoses. When expressing concerns to parents, keep the conversation geared toward the strengths you see in the student and the areas in which the student struggled rather than assigning a label. If a parent should ask, “What do you think is wrong?” or “What do you think it is?”, you can tell them that you do not have the credentials to propose a label, but you can discuss possible classroom strategies and refer them to the appropriate professional or school district that can make a diagnosis.

Since you began the discussion with the child’s strengths, and the parents shared these from the home perspective as well, you can now talk about areas of concern. In discussing concerns, make sure you have documentation (such as benchmark assessments) and examples of student work on hand to show parents to help put the difficulties into perspective. Discuss strategies you have already tried in the classroom to help their child, and ask if there are any strategies they have used at home that have either been successful or have not helped. Make a plan with parents for strategies each of you will continue or begin, regardless of whether or not there is a diagnosis.

If multiple strategies were consistently attempted and there has been no change over time, it may be time to recommend an appropriate evaluation. Depending on the area of concern, the school district or the child’s pediatrician would conduct this evaluation. Without making possible diagnoses yourself, you can frame this part of the discussion as being another way to help the child succeed. Reiterate to the parents that you care about their child but are struggling to come up with more ways to help the child be successful. A more formal evaluation may provide information that will assist you in the classroom and the parents at home in helping the child be successful. Help parents see that you are on the same team trying to provide the best supports for their child and that an evaluation can be beneficial for both the parents and teachers to address concerns and provide effective strategies to implement at home and school.

In discussing areas of concern, be sensitive to the thought that parents may have already heard this from previous teachers and equally sensitive to the idea that they have not heard these concerns before. You may find it difficult to resist frustration with a parent who has heard concerns repeatedly but has yet to agree to an evaluation. However, expressing that frustration will likely not move the discussion in an appropriate way. Take time to share your concerns, and spend an equal amount of time listening to the concerns and perspective of the parents. After the parents have shared their thoughts, summarize what you heard them saying to prevent misunderstandings.

It is not unusual for some behaviors and difficulties to appear differently at home and school, so give parents’ observations and concerns the same merit that you are asking them to give your thoughts.When you are sharing your thoughts, parents may disagree with your observations and concerns. Rather than becoming defensive, ask them how their own observations of the child differ from what you are seeing. It is not unusual for some behaviors and difficulties to appear differently at home and school, so give parents’ observations and concerns the same merit that you are asking them to give your thoughts. If there is disagreement about behaviors and struggles in either setting, look at this as an opportunity to learn how the child acts at home and discuss with parents why there may be differences across settings. This keeps the conversation productive and centered on the needs of the student rather than the conversation potentially turning into a finger pointing session on either side.

This is not to say that parents will agree or not become upset even if you remain calm and gear the conversation back toward how all of you can work together to help the child. If there is a situation in which parents become upset or angry and you are unable to bring the conversation back toward helping the child in a productive manner, ask to close this meeting with a word of prayer. Once concluded, ask the parents if they would like to meet again in a week or two after they have had time to think about what you have said and what solutions you each plan to try with the child. Follow up the meeting with an email or note that outlines what you discussed during the meeting and what the next steps are from each party.We do not have to have all the answers, and turning these concerns and the situation over to God for guidance can be the best way to support the family. If the next step does involve an evaluation, ask the parents if they would like you to contact the school district for them or if you can help with making any recommendations for a private evaluation if that is more appropriate. As Lutheran educators, we also should not hesitate to pray with parents, not just before and after the meeting, but at any point during the meeting. We do not have to have all the answers, and turning these concerns and the situation over to God for guidance can be the best way to support the family.

God has given all students areas of strength as well as support and comfort in struggles. As educators who often see both, it can be difficult to sit down and broach these sensitive subjects with parents. Have a game plan and understand how to appropriately conduct these conversations.

Kara Bratton is resource center director for Lutheran Special Education Ministries. She is a regular columnist for Shaping the Future. Kara has also done several LEA webinars, which are accessible in the Resources>Archived Webinars tabs at www.lea.org.

Photos © iStock/Steve Debenport