Special Education and Family Involvement

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University offers more than 20 online master’s programs for educators, administrators and school counselors at all grade levels, including Early Childhood Education and Special Ed, Elementary, and Secondary concentrations in the sciences and humanities. Both initial licensure and non-licensure tracks are available.

University of Dayton School of Education
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Fordham University
Fordham University’s online Master of Science in Teaching prepares aspiring teachers of children from birth through sixth grade for initial teaching certification or dual certification in general and special education. Complete in as few as two years.

One of my friends realized school had let out for the summer and asked me what were my plans for my "time off." That always cracks me up. Teachers don't have time off, but that's a blog entry for another day. Anyway, this pal-a retired Special Education Teacher--also asked how my first year went as a Special Education teacher. The more we talked, the more our conversation found its way toward the topic of family involvement.

My friend's teaching experience bridges nearly 40 years and three districts in one state. From her perspective, family involvement was minimal, but she was quick to qualify it by saying though minimal, the families who did participate were extraordinary in their efforts.

As our conversation continued, we realized that our perspectives on family involvement were similar in that as new teachers, we thought that it meant a parent coming to our door, anxious to make copies, sort manipulatives which had been jumbled, put notes to go home into backpacks, and eagerly clean up any messes which may have been made in our classroom. It was fascinating to realize that although her experience was more than double in duration compared to mine, our definition of family involvement had metamorphosed fully from our days as newly minted teachers, fresh out of college with our new teacher zeal.

A paradigm shift was required for each of us; while yes, having a family member come to our classroom and do all those things a teacher places on the back burner makes our load seem lighter, the fact that the child is at school on time, dressed appropriately for the weather, and is fed breakfast also is reflective of an involved parent. Also, the family leader chooses to be informed about the goings-on at school and in the classroom, and willing to discuss, be it by text, email, or phone call any topic requiring discussion is also demonstrative of excellent support.

But my pal Gabby, a novice teacher entering her first classroom this Fall, shared with me that in discussions about family involvement were plentiful in her teacher prep classes in college. The discussions often hit on the tenant that poverty has a huge impact on the education of children, but that with enough parent/family involvement, the poverty gap will even out. She and I agree that there is no "but" big enough to fill the poverty gap…however, if family members make enough effort in and out of school, the gap can be narrowed with a ton of concerted effort.

We all know family involvement in the classroom really speaks to kids. How do we get parents/families into the doors of the school and into our Special Education classrooms?

Hopefully these ideas will yield results for you:

  • *First, are you asking? That may seem like a simple thought, but sometimes we become silos, believing we can do it all on our own...
  • *Create a calendar of events in advance; invite parents to sign up for those dates, then be sure to send several reminders.
  • *Remember, some parents work and want to help out, but may need to do so from home. Finding tasks for parents to do in the evenings (cutting, pre-assembling, doing some Internet research, making fact-finding phone calls for field trips or about items you'd like to purchase but need to investigate, etc.).
  • *Keep in mind that families of special needs children know their children better than anyone, and they are used to being advocates on their behalf. If you establish a rapport with them to learn as much as possible about your student--their child-and their individual needs, you will have built a widely-spanning bridge.
  • *I used to make 5 positive phone calls to families after school while driving my 30 minute route home. Often I'd get voice mail recordings, but making the connection was always received favorably.
  • *Ask families to share their truest concerns about their children with you, but also ask them to share their truest hopes for their children. A word of wisdom on this point-do this after you feel you have a solid, trust-based bond with the family.
  • *Skype with your kids on occasion. They love to engage and what a great way to promote technology!
  • *FaceTime for little ones who are in need of a bit of mom to issue assurances of love and support when the kiddo is having a hard day.
  • *The families of my kids love it when I take a photo of their little one and text them during the day. The kids think it's great to share a smile or funny pose with home, or share their great works of art created at school. Parents love these real-time interactions.

There is no one perfect strategy to get parents/families into the classroom, but I'm convinced by the test of time that involvement can be your forte if you try a few of these tips.

If you have other ones to share, please share them with us!

Learn more about a degree in special education.


Mary McLaughlin