Special Education

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

By Marina Whiteleather — November 02, 2021 3 min read
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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.

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