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 conversationsand theirfear 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.


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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

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 Letter to the Editor Schools Must Do Better to Meet IDEA Requirements
More states must follow through on this law.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Special Education Test Your Knowledge: How Does Universal Screening for Dyslexia in Schools Work?
Take our quiz to gauge your knowledge of the language processing disorder—and find links to further reading.
1 min read
 Conceptual image of wooden alphabet tiles scattered across blue metallic surface.
Special Education Letter to the Editor Reevaluating My Language Around Disability
A recent opinion essay encouraged this teacher to unpack her approach to labeling students with specific disability classifications.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Special Education Can AI Write a Good IEP? What Special Education Experts Say
AI tools could ease paperwork burdens and offer new supports for students—but privacy and efficacy concerns are real.
3 min read
Image of a plan with a goal, with a digital texture.
Collage via iStock/Gettty