Parents as Partners: Top Tips to Boost Parental Engagement in Special Education

It’s September and school is back in session!  For educators, it is that magical time of year when anything seems possible.  You’re refreshed and ready to make this year the best ever.  You want all your students to have a successful year!  And you know that a key component to any educational program is parental engagement, especially for children with special needs.  But with the demands of today’s parents, getting appropriate parental engagement can be a challenge, and this is compounded for the parents of children with special needs.

Before we discuss ways to encourage parental engagement, let’s first look at what we mean by parental engagement. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines parental engagement in schools as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents. Schools and parents have the responsibility for educating our children (retrieved from cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/parent_engagement?q=parental+engagement).

There are many benefits to parental engagement across the board, but particularly for students with special needs including:

  • Increased parental involvement and collaboration in the development of their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
  • Greater confidence and ability on the part of the parent to educate their own child
  • Better understanding on the part of the educator as to the special needs of each student
  • Higher student success due to the generalization of skills and consistency between home and school

Unfortunately, barriers to parental engagement do exist.  Some of these barriers are due to: cultural or language differences, special education law that can be difficult to understand, lack of time, past negative experiences, and lack of training on the part of the educator to effectively facilitate engagement (retrieved from hfrp.org/hfrp/search?q=parental+engagement).

What can you do to eliminate the barriers and make it easier for parents to engage? Here are three keys to increasing parental engagement.

Treat Parents as Partners.

Do you respect the role the parent has in the education of their child with special needs?  Do you actively invite parents to meet ahead of the IEP to set goals together?  Do you accommodate their schedules and consider their cultural contributions or differences?  Do you think about how to improve parent participation in the decision-making process?  These are just a few questions that can help you think about parents as partners in their child’s education.

Here are a few ways to help your parents partner with you:

  • Consider your message before the IEP happens. Did you invite them to listen to you and others tell them about their child or did you invite them to participate in the meeting and share their knowledge of their child?
  • Wait for the parents outside the meeting room prior to the IEP and walk in together as a team. That will be much less intimidating for the parents than walking into a room full of “experts” sitting and staring.
  • Understand that some cultures interact with educators and other school professionals differently. A parent may be agreeing with the proposed goals because they want to be polite and respectful.
  • Invite parents to ask questions and give them a platform to suggest goals they have for their child.
  • Take time to educate the parents. Explain any special education jargon, provide them with resources, and connect them with other support programs such as translation services, if needed.
  • Let the parents know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Create tool kits that provide parents with activities and resources to extend the learning into the home. The tool kits may also include tips and strategies for teaching their child or websites they can go to for additional activities or information.
  • Work with the parents to set realistic parent participation goals. They are the parent, not the teacher. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of involvement.

Create an Effective Communication System.

The goal of an effective communication system is to bridge the gap between home and school by providing a way to share concerns, successes, behavioral challenges, stressors, and changes.

There are many ways to implement such a system.  Choose the method that is simple and works best for you and the parent. The easier the system, the more it will be used.  And again, remember, quality of communication is more important than the quantity of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect at the beginning of the year and ask parents what information they want. Perhaps you can come up with a checklist together, that’s easy to use and sends home meaningful information. The same goes the other way too. For example, create a checklist for things you want to know from home such as changes in sleep patterns, nutrition, or family relations.
  • Use a composition notebook that goes back and forth from home to school in the child’s backpack. You can report IEP progress or write anecdotes about the child’s day, etc. and the parent can write back questions or concerns. This can happen on a daily basis.
  • Many teachers use texts or email to communicate (check with the parents first for the most preferred method). They may find this less intrusive and intimidating than a phone call, and allows the parents to think and respond on their schedule. If a phone call is necessary, perhaps send a text to say, “Can we set up a time to chat on the phone?”  This allows the parent to choose a time that works for them.
  • Schedule home visits, if appropriate.  This may help parents who lack transportation or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to school.

Create a Welcoming Climate.

Welcome your parents into your classroom in many ways and for many purposes.  The more you know your parents, the easier it is to work with them as partners.  Inviting parents into your classroom also provides an opportunity for family networking, bringing families together with other parents to share resources, empathy, and support.

Some ways to help parents to feel welcome in the classroom include:

  • Volunteering for special events and holiday parties, field trips, family and friends’ breakfasts, guest speakers, photo shares, parent presentations, etc.
  • Providing ways for parents to volunteer without having to come into the classroom, such as organizing and preparing materials that require cutting, collating, or stapling.
  • Volunteering to read to or with students or provide one-on-one assistance to students in the library or media center.
  • Inviting parents to attend presentations or view displays by the students or to school assemblies when appropriate.

So as you set up for another successful school year, I encourage you to think about your parents as partners. You are the educator! You’re good at it! But reaching out to your students’ parents as partners will help you help your students and make your job a little bit easier!

Discover Best Practices for Preparing Your Classroom for the New School Year

It’s That Time of Year Again!

The new school year has arrived, and everyone is busy preparing for their students. Lesson plans, IEP’s, new curriculums, and training days all encompass our time before school starts. However, one of the key factors of this preparation is the learning environment.

Is your classroom ready for the new school year?

Top 10 Classroom Preparation Set-Up Checklist

❏     Is your classroom clean and orderly?

❏     Is your classroom inviting for your students — Is it a place that encourages students to do their best?

❏     Is your classroom inviting for your team and other adults?

❏     Does your classroom have clearly physically defined areas based on learning activity that will encourage learning and reduce distraction? (i.e. individual desks; small/large group
instruction area; quiet area; play area; technology area)

❏     Does your classroom have clearly physically defined transition area in which movement between classroom stations and/or to outside of the classroom occurs?

❏     Is your classroom well organized to promote student learning and minimize challenging behavior? (i.e. activities and tasks kept in clear/well labeled clear plastic bins; classroom decorations and bulletin boards in an organized and logical layout so not to be distracting or overwhelming)

❏     Does your classroom have a class daily written/illustrated schedule to help your students predict their environment, stay on task, encourage learning, and prevent problem behavior?

❏     Does your classroom have individual daily schedules for your students who need additional support above the classroom schedule?

❏     Does your classroom contain visual instructions for activities? (i.e. picture/word instructions on how to wash hands)

❏     Does your classroom have a classroom wide or individual reinforcement schedule(s) posted and clearly visible? (i.e. token boards for individual student earning)

Congratulations! Your classroom is now ready for the new school year! Just by making these 10 changes to the environment, you have improved the effectiveness of the entire program.

If you would like a formal environmental rating scale to evaluate your classrooms physical organization that will provide suggestions for improvement, you can take the Autism Program Environment Rating Scale of Self-Assessment (APERS). This is a great tool to help evaluate your classroom’s physical layout at the beginning of each school year. Below are some additional tips for creating the most ideal classroom for your students.

Help and Support for Classroom Organization

For visual supports, instructions, and reinforcement systems check out the “My Resources” section of your Rethink account.

Learn tips and real-world examples of classroom set-up, check out the “Setting Up for Success” archived webinar in “My Resources“:

Check out other classroom organization tips and best practices.

View Webinar

SXSWedu 2017: Using Data & Tech to Bring SPED up to Speed

Vote Rethink for SXSWedu’s “PanelPicker”

Rethink is excited and proud to be eligible to speak at next year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) on “Using Data & Tech to Bring SPED up to Speed“.  We are honored to be in the running and excited to discuss how using data & technology will revolutionize special education.

We are asking people to vote Rethink for SXSWedu’s “PanelPicker”. Please take 2 minutes to vote here.  It’s very easy to create an account and then you will be able to give us a “thumb’s up” over on the left-hand side of the page, comments are greatly appreciated!

If selected, Rethink will moderate a panel with district leaders and clients from across the country.

The panel plans to discuss:

  1. Replicable strategies to use technology to enable high-quality professional development throughout the school year.
  2. Best practices on using technology to track IEP data, leading to lower due process costs, and higher parent satisfaction.
  3. Great ideas on how to better incorporate technology into special education curriculum and improve student outcomes.

Please vote today, the voting deadline is Sept. 2.

Vote here!

About Rethink

Rethink aims to place evidence-based treatment solutions in the hands of every educator, clinician or parent working with a child with special needs. We are unique in our footprint, leveraging the power of technology to provide clinical support, best-practice tools, and research-based content to all market segments, reaching more children with special needs than any other solution.

Advanced Training Series- Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)

Advanced Training Series = More Professional Development in Evidence-Based Instruction

With the new school year upon us, schools are clamoring for effective professional development. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and others interested in learning and applying the evidence-based practice of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for learners with significant disabilities have been accessing Rethink’s exemplary Basic Training Series for years. But once people finished the sequence of training modules, we often hear, “We want more!”

Well, you asked for it, we got it! The Advanced Training Series is here! There is always more to learn. Our Basic Training Series is a great introduction to ABA and now with the Advanced Training Series, users can get an even more in depth understanding of the principles of ABA.

You want it, the Advanced Training Series has got it!

The Advanced Training Series provides:

  1. Access to an additional 40-hours of on-demand training
  2. Quizzes and tests are also embedded within each training module, to support learning.
  3. Take your professional development up a notch and learn about everything from reinforcement to motivating operations!

Another bonus of Rethink’s Advanced Training Series, is that it meets the 40-hour training requirement for the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) certification. The RBT is a wonderful first step towards professionalizing the role of the paraprofessional. Paraprofessionals are an invaluable asset in providing special education services, yet so often paraprofessionals do not receive adequate professional development. Paraprofessionals can use Rethink’s Advanced Training Series to fulfill the training requirement, as they pursue their RBT credential.  The on-demand access allows flexibility for busy professionals.

Whether you are pursuing your RBT credential, or just wanting more quality professional development, the Advanced Training Series is for you. Check it out!

Take Your Professional Development to the Next Level and Become RBT Certified!

 

Time Saving Tips-Student Activity Center

The Activity Center is a great place for students to engage students with fun and educational online activities that align with Rethink’s curriculum and IEP Builder. The Activity Center enables students to practice important skills and promotes independence. All activities and progress are automatically tracked and graphed, allowing teachers and parents to see the student’s progress. Embedded within each activity are prompts and scores designed to motivate the student, In addition, the activities can be customized for different subjects and learning levels.

Follow these simple steps to start your student using the Activity Center today!

Step 1. Go to “My Students” and click on the student’s name. Click on “Activity Center “, and then “View Credentials”.

  1. Go to “my students”. Click on “activity center tab”. Click on “view credentials”.

  1. Print out the credentials you need for your student

  1. Go to rethinkfirst.com, enter the student’s user name and password to log into their Activity Center.

  • To promote independence, teach your students to type in their own user name and passwords
  • To promote generalization of skills learned in the classroom, send the credentials sheet home with the student so that parents can help their child log into the Activity Center and practice the games and skills at home

View a Data Collection Webinar On Demand!

Learn Best-Practice Tips for Collecting Data in Inclusive Settings

Watch the webinar on demand to learn why data collection is important. Collecting data not only demonstrates and reinforces student learning, but also informs instruction and supports teachers in being reflective about their own practice.

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Using Applied Behavior Analysis in Everyday Routines Helps Develop Skills

Using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in Everyday Routines to Promote Language, Communication and Social Skills for Young Children with Disabilities

Routines are part of daily life and are a great place to embed teaching and intervention. An enormous amount of learning can take place when children are involved in daily routines such as bathing, feeding, playing, diaper changing and riding in a car – things that parents do with their children every day.  These daily events provide opportunities for repetitive learning in a natural, enjoyable yet structured way.

Family-guided routines based intervention (FGRBI) is a research-based approach in which intervention is consistently implemented by all family members and service providers throughout the day. Routines occur wherever the family is, whenever the need arises, and however the family chooses to complete them.  Instead of scheduling the family activities around the child’s therapy sessions and at home lessons, in a family-guided routines based approach, the family activities become the child’s therapy and practice.

Using the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis and FGRBI parents and caregivers can easily promote language and social skill development with their young child:

1. Use your child’s interests during dinnertime routine to encourage communication-

It’s dinnertime and pizza night! Your child’s favorite food! Let’s use this an opportunity to teach language and socials skills.

Instead of simply giving the pizza to the child, encourage the child to ask for the pizza by pointing, giving you a picture of the pizza, choosing pizza from other foods, or by saying the word “pizza”.

2. Using rewards during bedtime routine to encourage appropriate behavior-

Bedtime is one of the toughest times for parents often with their child exhibiting challenging behavior but is a routine that happens every day. Using rewards can help teach appropriate social skills.

Rewards could be as simple as celebrating or praising the child for putting his pajama’s on without crying.  If you have more steps to complete, use a simple token board along with a reward that your child likes… let’s say story time!  Your child would receive a token (and your praise) for each step they complete without crying (taking a bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, taking medicine, getting into bed) and their big reward at the end would be Daddy reading them a story.

You can find examples of token boards here.

3. Use fun activities during cleaning and gardening routines to promote language-

Routines can be made out of anything that a parent and the child do together regularly. Routines can be created around planting or watering plants, changing a bandage, feeding the cat or baking cookies. The best learning opportunities are the ones that are the most interactive and the most fun.

As you are gardening together have your child identify the color of the flowers to encourage labeling and language expansion. If your child has not yet developed verbal language skills, ask them “show me the blue flower” and they can point to the flower.  If they have some verbal language, you can help them by modeling the answer, and having them repeat, or by starting to say the color e.g. “the flower is bl…” and have your child complete the word.

As you are cleaning up their bedroom, you can engage your child with a clean-up song.  This will promote your clean up routine and will encourage language development for your child.

View a Visual Supports Webinar On Demand!

Learn to Master Visual Supports and understand the “Why” Behind Using Visual Supports and How to Use Them Correctly

Watch the webinar on demand to learn why visual supports help a person with ASD make sense of their environment, understand what is being asked of them, and complete tasks more successfully and independently. During this exciting webinar see real-world examples ranging from early childhood to adulthood that address academic, communication, and social goals, plus daily living activities.

View Webinar


Additional resources:
hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Power-of-Using-Everyday-Routines.aspx
You can find examples of simple visual cues by visiting:
autismspeaks.org/atn
Family Guided Routines Based Intervention (FGRBI): http://fgrbi.fsu.edu/
You can find examples of cleanup songs at http://www.tasteandtellblog.com/10-songs-for-cleaning-up-with-children/
You can find examples of cleanup charts at: http://www.freeprintablebehaviorcharts.com/