3 Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement This School Year

It’s September and schools are 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)

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.

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 participatein 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 toeducate 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 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!

3 Tips for Back to School: Teacher’s Edition 2018

Back to School often means entering a new school, meeting new parents, and learning new school year expectations- an intimidating process for everyone. Here are three meaningful ways that teachers can get ready for back to school 2018.

  1. Presume Positive Intentions: Parents want to work with you. They also want what is best for their child at school, at home, and in the future. So often, parents have had negative previous experiences with IEP meetings or team members and that leaves a bad taste for future experiences. Combative attitudes, accusatory words, and cloak and dagger communication are toxic to the team and are often the result of misinformation or unsavory experiences. Keeping in mind the parent’s point of view is instrumental in resetting the relationship and starting everyone off on a positive note.A great technique is for parents to share their vision of the future for their child or if possible, have the student share his hopes and dreams with the IEP team. It will remind everyone why they are there and part of the team.
  2. Address Conflicts and Disagreements:Recognizing that there is always the possibility of disagreements as part of a team is an important fact of the team-based approach. There are a variety of legal protections as part of the IEP process that protect both the student and his/her family and school teams. However, before any formal conflict resolution takes place, teams should commit to informal problem-solving protocols. For instance, a mutually agreed-upon facilitator can listen to both sides and bring clarity to the issue. Again, at the heart of the conflict are the best interests of the student which sometimes requires all team members to take a step backwards and adjust their perspectives.
  3. Involve Early and Often: Going back to Chief Justice Robert’s statement that the IEP is not a form, serves as a great reminder that the IEP is not a “one and done” deal.At the start of the school year, teams should collaborate to determine how to best involve all members, including parents. Communication should always be priority and should include language and interpretation, with ample opportunity to connect via email, phone, or text. Schools need to ask parents their opinions, share student successes, and partner with them to support student through their learning experiences (both good and challenging). Special education team members share a lot of power in the student’s future therefore it is important that everyone is on the same page to ensure the best and most meaningful outcomes for the student.

Stop the Summer Slide

3 tips for teachers to support students & avoiding the summer slide

The Summer Slide is a familiar conundrum for all educators. The term refers to the learning loss many students experience over the summer break. Research done in 1996 concluded that students on average experienced the equivalent of at least one month of learning loss as measured by standardized test scores over the summer. While all students are at risk of learning regression over long breaks, additional research suggests that students with special needs may be more at risk of both regression and slower recoupment of skills when they return in the fall than their general education peers.

Isn’t that what the Extended School Year is for?

While many special education students will have opportunities to attend Extended School Year (ESY) programs over the summer, ESY can present its own unique challenges. For one, students are taken out of their regular routines, which for students with significant disabilities can severely impede their ability to learn. With only 4 to 6 weeks of classes, there is little time for establishing the procedures and routines that these students need to thrive. Additionally, students in ESY programs are often supported by interim teachers and paraprofessionals, many of whom have little-to-no experience working with the students in the program. Finally, ESY staff do not always have access to quality curriculum that is aligned with state standards and addresses the unique IEP goals of each student. As research reveals, “quality is the key to making time matter,” (Aronson, Zimmerman, and Carlos, 1999) and with all of these factors combined, ESY can end up having little impact on learning regression.

What can I do? I don’t see my students over the summer.

Whether or not your students will be attending ESY, there are things you can do now as a teacher to support skill maintenance over the summer for your students and make the inevitable change in routine more manageable.

  1.  Provide easy-to-access learning opportunities using technology

Rethink’s Activity Center provides students opportunities to practice skills they learned during the school year that are tied with IEP goals on mobile devices and laptop computers.

An article on how technology can help prevent summer “brain drain” pointed to the fact that students without access to educational content over the summer are more likely to experience learning loss. With mobile technology, providing students access to educational content on the devices they are already accessing is easy. Spend some time now finding online games, applications, and activities that reinforce the skills your students are learning in the school year and provide students and their families training and practice on how to use and access this content. Your students will be able to stay engaged in learning in a way that doesn’t just feel like homework.

  1.  Prepare students for upcoming changes in routine

For many students with special needs, unexpected changes in routine can be challenging. Preparing students for upcoming changes and helping them know what to expect can make the transition from the regular school day routine to home, ESY, day camp or wherever they may be over the summer more successful and set them up for success when it comes to learning.

Here are a few ideas for how you can start preparing students now:

  • Start a count down! Encourage your students to be excited about summer while also communicating to them that summer means a change in routine. You can review a countdown calendar with your students in the classroom every morning and use this as an opportunity to talk about some of the changes they can expect.
  • Review summer routines: If your student is attending ESY, use a picture schedule to help teach them about the new routine in advance. If ESY is in the building, you can even show them to their new classroom so that when the time comes, it is already a familiar place. If your student will be at home or somewhere else over the summer, find out from their parents and families what their schedule will be, and do the same by creating an individualized schedule that will help them anticipate the change in routine.
  1.  Involve parents and families

Often the one constant for students between the regular school year and the summer, parents and families are crucial to establishing new routines for students over the summer and providing them with opportunities for learning. As a student’s teacher, you can work with parents and families before school is out to support them in preparing their children for whatever the summer may hold. A few ideas for how you can collaborate with families are:

  • Encourage families to reinforce classroom routines at home:Consistency between home and school is key to reinforcing learning. If you are doing a summer count down in class, for instance, encourage parents to do the same at home every morning before school. If you are using a picture schedule to teach a student about their new routine, provide the parent with a copy so they can review at home as well.
  • Help families build learning opportunities into summer routines: Collaborate with your student’s family to create a predictable summer schedule for the student and build in specified times for learning into the schedule. For instance, if you are providing online activities for the student to work on over the summer, coordinate with the student’s parent to find a time in their daily schedule where the student will have access to a tablet or device, so they can complete the activities.

Remember that advanced planning is key to supporting your student in the summer transition, and there are lots of simple things you can do now to make this transition easier on your students and help them maintain all the wonderful things they have learned throughout the school year.

Happy Summer! Enjoy yourselves. You deserve it!

Social and Emotional Learning to Address Behavioral Deficits: 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL

By Jennifer Wilkens MA, BCBA

Research supports the view that curricula should be designed to engage students, have the ability to connect to their lives, and positively influence their levels of motivation (Coleman, 2001; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Sizer, 1999; Strong et al., 2001). The most effective social and emotional learning (SEL) requires a collaborative approach that involves everyone from district leadership, to educators, to families working together to ensure students receive the support they need. Creating a culture to implement social emotional learning (SEL) effectively in a strategic and systematic approach that involves all stakeholders is needed. Below are 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL:

1. Provide Practice:

•Provide opportunities for the students to practice this skill in a safe environment (e.g. role playing with adults and peers, role playing with toys, role model or action hero as props, use of video modeling).

2. Provide visual cues:

•Create a visual reminder of the behavior you want the student to self-monitor and use reminders.
•Place the visual cue on the student’s desk, and draw his or her attention to it, before you begin the self-monitoring exercise

3. Teach in steps:

•Teach the student to monitor another person’s behavior. For example, you can show the student how to record the number of times a peer makes nicecomments to their peers.
•After the peer makes a kind comment, ask the student whether the target behavior occurred and prompt the student to either record or not record it.
•Provide several practice opportunities and fade prompts by no longer asking the student whether the target behavior occurred.
•When the student can monitor another person’s behavior, teach him or her to monitor his or her own responses for the same activity.
•Provide prompts as needed, until the student can self-monitor independently.
•Teach the student to self-monitor a variety of behaviors. For example, if you are having the student self-monitor an attending behavior, you can ring a bell to remind the students to make a check mark, on the self-monitoring sheet, if they were looking at you when the bell rang.

4. Use Reward Systems:

•Use a reward system to reinforce accurate self-monitoring of a target behavior.
•Provide a reward when the student engages in and self-monitors a target behavior at a predetermined rate.
•Attach rewards to a decrease in no desired behaviors.
•Also, provide better rewards for increased occurrences of the target response.
•The teacher should monitor and check the accuracy of the students’ self-monitoring.

5. Provide Tracking Sheets:

•Provide the students with self-monitoring sheets, to track the number of times they engage in a target behavior. For example, you can provide a sheet with check boxes to track one behavior that you would like them to increase
•Provide a self-monitoring sheet, where the students make tally marks every time they engage in multiple behaviors that you would like them to increase.
•Provide a tracking sheet for the students to monitor both behaviors to increase, and decrease.

 

6. Practice with Peers:

•Have the student practice self-monitoring a target behavior with an adult.
•When the student can self-monitor a behavior independently with an adult, have the student monitor the same behavior in the presence of one or two peers.
•When the student demonstrates the target behavior, prompt him or her to record the response. For example, you can gesture to the check box on the self-monitoring sheet. Fade prompts by no longer gesturing to the check box.
•Provide opportunities for the student to practice this skill in the presence of his or her peers, until he or she can self-monitor independently.

Difficulty Educators Have Addressing Behavior Problems: A Quick Look at a Token Economy

By Tranika Jefferson

Token Economies are great tools for educators since they have both an immediate and delayed component. In a token economy the students’ appropriate behavior is immediately reinforced with tokens. Students can later redeem these tokens for preferred items or activities. The token economy is known to be effective because the tokens symbolize reinforcers that they only get for engaging in desired behaviors (Miltenberger, 2008). They are often used with individual students or large groups of students to increase or maintain appropriate classroom behaviors and decrease inappropriate and disruptive classroom behaviors (Gallagher, 1988; Zirpoli & Melloy, 1993).

Identifying tokens is a major component in setting up a token economy. Tokens should be transferable, durable, and not something the student has easy access to on their own. They range from coins, stars, poker chips, or a stamp on a card. Tokens should be kept age appropriate when possible. For example, a younger student may like stickers of Peppa Pig while an older student may like to use a punch card.

Check out some of Rethink Ed’s motivation boards in My Resources. Here is an awesome example of pizza pieces as tokens on a pizza token board!

It is important to remember that as teachers one of your primary responsibilities is to teach positive and adaptive skills. Therefore, even when using a token economy your goal should be to reinforce and help maintain the appropriate behaviors that your student displays. In Myles, Moran, Ormsbee & Downing (1992, p 164) review of token economies, they cite the following:

“Whenever possible, focus should be placed on teaching appropriate, positive skills rather than attempting to prevent the occurrence of an inappropriate behavior. For example, the behavior students must raise their hands before talking is more positive than students cannot talk out in class.”

Too often, we get caught up in focusing on intervening and providing consequences to the problem behavior. However, children repeat behaviors that work for them and that get reinforced, whether appropriate or inappropriate. A simple way to think about this is emphasizing the desired behavior to eliminate the negative behavior. Keep these things in mind when building your token economy in your classroom!

References

Gallagher, P. A. (1988). Teaching students with behavior disorders (2nd ed.).
Denver, CO: Love.

Miltenberger, R. (2008). Behaviour Modification. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing.

Myles, B., Moran, M., Ormsbee, C., & Downing, J. (1992). Guidelines for Establishing and Maintaining Token Economies. Intervention In School And Clinic, 27(3), 164-169.

7 Research Based Facts about Differentiated Instruction

By Jennifer Wilkens M.A., BCBA; Director of Professional Services

August Theme of the Month: Differentiated Instruction

•Contemporary student populations are becoming increasingly academically diverse (Gable et al., 2000; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Hess, 1999; McAdamis, 2001; McCoy and Ketterlin-Geller, 2004; Sizer, 1999; Tomlinson, 2004a; Tomlinson, Moon, and Callahan, 1998).

 

•The inclusion of students with disabilities, students with language backgrounds other than English, students with imposing emotional difficulties and a noteworthy number of gifted students, reflect this growing diversity (Mulroy and Eddinger, 2003; Tomlinson, 2001b, 2004a).

 

•Learning within the inclusive classroom is further influenced by a student’s gender, culture, experiences, aptitudes, interests and particular teaching approaches (Guild, 2001; Stronge, 2004; Tomlinson, 2002, 2004b).

 

•Tomlinson (2005), a leading expert in this field, defines differentiated instruction as a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interests and learning profiles. A chief objective of differentiated instruction is to take full advantage of every student’s ability to learn (Tomlinson, 2001a, 2001c, 2004c, 2005).

 

•Tomlinson (2000) maintains that differentiation is not just an instructional strategy, nor is it a recipe for teaching, rather it is an innovative way of thinking about teaching and learning.

 

•Contemporary classrooms should accept and build on the basis that learners are all essentially different (Brighton, 2002; Fischer and Rose, 2001; Griggs, 1991; Guild, 2001; Tomlinson, 2002).

 

•Research supports the view that curricula should be designed to engage students, it should have the ability to connect to their lives and positively influence their levels of motivation (Coleman, 2001; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Sizer, 1999; Strong et al., 2001).

United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement

Parental engagement in special education is crucial for student success both inside and outside of the classroom. However, barriers sometimes hinder parents from exercising their right to engage. The educational policy and laws surrounding special education can often be difficult for parents to understand and when not explained thoroughly, the assessment and Individualized Education Program process can be intimidating.

Some parents may also have to overcome negative experiences they’ve faced in their own academic career. In these cases, it is important for educators to provide parents with the right resources and support to become active participants in their child’s education. But like parents, educators too face engagement challenges. This is sometimes due to a lack of time for parent meetings or a lack of training on how to integrate parents into the school culture.

Parent engagement is an ongoing process and initial low levels of involvement may not necessarily mean that parents lack the will to be more engaged. Barriers to increased parent engagement often present an “Us vs. Them” mentality and result in an increase in stress and a decrease in student outcomes. In order for parents and educators to ensure that students are getting the most out of the special education process, they must find a common ground. So how do parents and educators overcome these barriers and work together?

The 3 Pillars of Success

1. Knowledge is power!

When parents go through the special education process with their child, it can sometimes feel like they are entering a new country or world. The culture and language is entirely new. This can be intimidating initially  and cause parents to shy away from engaging with the school. The more parents know about special education, the more likely they are to be involved in their child’s education.

2. Communication is key.

An open line of communication can help establish rapport between parents and educators. Just as educators share in student successes and challenges in the classroom, parents should be encouraged to share in their child’s successes and challenges at home. This will allow both parents and educators to see the full picture and help students strengthen weaknesses and enhance their skills. Educators can encourage an open line of communication by developing and maintaining a communication system. This can be accomplished by sending simple notes home to parents and encouraging parents to send their comments in as well. Parents and educators can also establish regular phone calls, or scheduling time to chat during parent-teacher meetings.

3. Consistency is crucial.

Students sometimes perform or behave differently at home than they do at school. For example, a student may be able to set the table at home, but not at school. Or a student may independently zip his coat at school, but fail to do so without assistance at home. In these instances, students struggle with the ability to generalize skills, which means they may not perform in the same way when our actions change.

Here are some examples of things that might change:

Following instructions: A student responds correctly to the question “What’s your address?” but not to the question “Where do you live?”

Identifying materials: A student is able to identify a plastic penny, but not an actual penny.

Responding to instructors: A student who learns to respond to a single person initially may not always comprehend how to respond to another instructor or approach that varies slightly. This is because different instructors may use different materials or phrase questions in different ways.

Applying skills in different locations: Initially, a student might learn to respond to instructions or a request in a single location. For example, the student may learn to line up in the classroom, but is unable to stand in line at a store. Different locations may also have different materials, expectations and instructors.

Following prompts: Parents and educators may prompt or assist students in different ways. For example, when teaching a student to complete a puzzle, a teacher might use hand-over-hand guidance to assist the student in placing a puzzle piece in a specific location, while mom might simply point to the puzzle piece.

Adjusting to expectations: Parents and educators may expect different results from students. For example, an educator may expect their child to zip his coat all the way with no assistance while a teacher expect a student to zip their coat part of the way with no assistance or all the way with some assistance.

Adhering to demands: The number of demands we place on a student might be different in different settings. For example, the student might be expected to complete multiple tasks in a row at school, but minimal tasks at home (or vice versa).

All of these differences may result in the student performing differently at home than he does at school. It is therefore crucial to keep things as consistent as possible. An open line of communication is a great way to ensure consistency across settings. Remember, parental engagement in special education is crucial to student success. When parents and educators work together, there is no limit to how much students can achieve.