Special Education

6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences

By Marina Whiteleather — November 02, 2021 3 min read
network of quote bubbles
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. That network includes two critical players: teachers and parents. During the pandemic, it’s been harder than ever to bridge the communication gap between families and schools, especially during remote learning.

How can these two groups develop better strategies and avenues for effective communication? That’s the central question we invited our Twitter followers to answer during a Twitter chat last month. We tapped Michelle Lassiter, an Editorial Research and Expert Relations Associate for Understood, a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping those who learn and think differently, to co-host the online discussion and provide her expert insights and resources.

Parents and educators joined together, sharing what they saw as some of the biggest obstacles to facilitating these discussions and presented some solutions. Teachers cited their struggles getting parents involved in the learning process for their kids, while parents shared their confusion over when to initiate these conversations and their fear of being judged as a parent.

When it comes to teaching students with learning differences, everyone’s experience is unique. But there are some tips that can help both parents and educators come together to advocate for these students.

Here are 6 key lessons learned about facilitating better communication, as told by the chat participants:

1. Treat parents as partners in the process.

“Be intentional about inviting parents to communicate and play an active role in a child’s education. This helps increase parents’ involvement and confidence in the process.”

- Michelle Lassiter

2. Focus on what the student has been doing well.

Highlighting the progress a student has been making before diving into their problem areas is a great way to show parents that you’re invested in their child’s academic growth, experts said.

“Start with strengths.” 💪

- Tracy Mayhue

3. Authenticity matters.

“Be genuine. If you’re a teacher, allow parents to get to know you. If you’re a parent, bring your true self to the table. If we want to communicate with one another, we need to show each other who we are and make each other feel comfortable.”

- Michelle Lassiter

4. Learn from each other and play into your strengths.

“There has to be a lot of patience on both sides. A parent should learn from an experienced teacher, and a teacher from a parent who knows their child best. The door should be opened for the student.”

- Olivera Stanković

5. Be flexible and adapt to meet each student where they are.

Communication styles and methods can differ between families. Some might respond well to email, while others might prefer phone calls or text instead. Adjust your approach to best fit each family’s needs.

“We have to find a way for parents to engage in those conversations in their ways, not ours.”

- Carmen Kenton

6. Share examples from your own life to connect.

“I always give an example from my life. I insert a short anecdote with my children so that the parent can see that I am also an ordinary person, that I also have a problem, that not everything is very easy for me in life.”

- Olivera Stanković

We’ll be soon revisiting this topic in an online discussion on Twitter Spaces, a new audio feature. We’ll be joined by Understood’s Gretchen Vierstra on November 9 at 5 p.m., EST.

For deeper reading on strengthening communication and collaboration between educators and parents, explore these EdWeek articles:

Coverage of students with diverse learning needs is supported in part by a grant from the Oak Foundation, at www.oakfnd.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Special Education 3 Reasons Why Being a Special Education Teacher Is Even Harder During the Pandemic
Special education teachers were often left to navigate the pandemic on their own, a new survey shows.
6 min read
Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J.
Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J.
Seth Wenig/AP
Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Special Education Opinion 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty