Why Communicating Well with Parents is Crucial for your Students
As a school-based therapist, especially specialists such as speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists, the ultimate purpose of your job is to help your students communicate and interact with the world around them. But no matter how many kids you’ve helped do just that during your career, there’s no guarantee that you’re an expert at applying the same principles you’ve imparted on those kids in your own life. Life’s ironies never cease.
When it comes to matters concerning your job, communication is key – especially when it comes to interacting with your students’ parents, guardians, and other family members. No matter how significant the gains you make during the school day are, if you don’t foster a healthy relationship with whoever is looking after your students at home, it could all be for nothing. A mutually communicative relationship with parents helps ensure program continuity once students head home for the day, and everything is going to be a whole lot simpler and more pleasant for everyone involved. For that reason, here are a few tips you can use to build a genuinely collaborative rapport with students’ parents.
Give Them a Call
Start off the right foot by introducing yourself – if not in person, then with a friendly phone call. More than anything, parents just want to know what their kids are up to during the day and that they’re in good hands. Just a simple introductory chat (and subsequent semi-regular check-ins via phone, text, or email) can go a long way toward helping parents feel secure. Talk about the specifics of your experiences with the child in question, both positives, and negatives if necessary – above all, use details that make it clear you’re truly getting to know him or her. And while you should always keep things professional, you should also keep an open and amicable tone – do what you can to make parents feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.
Use Online Tools
Messenger apps, customized classroom blogs, portfolio tools – these days, there are all kinds of ways for you to connect with parents online. So many that you can afford to get creative with how you track your students’ progress. Create personalized, password protected WordPress sites for each student. Print out Buzzfeed-style listicles about what your student accomplished in the day’s therapy session for kids to share with parents or discuss in meetings. Parents will feel secure and involved knowing exactly what’s going on with their child at school, and you will get to exercise your long-dormant web design skills.
Get Your Students’ Families Involved
Whatever progress your students make at school needs to be reinforced in the home. But don’t just give parents rote exercises to go over with their kids. Instead, go further – encourage them to participate in the activities themselves. Not only will the repetition help your students, but it may strengthen the bond between the parents and their kids, especially for students with developmental or other types of disabilities that often impede their ability to relate to others. It will help your students feel more comfortable and accepted, it will help parents better understand what their kids are going through, and it will help all of you feel like you’re on the same team.
Communicating a child’s success and needs in therapy with parents is one of the most important things clinicians do. It truly is a team effort to generalize successful outcomes from the therapy room and carry them over into the home. However, this can be complicated when you do not share a language in common with parents. In many schools throughout the country, there can be dozens of different languages spoken in the homes of students and finding ways to help parents’ access and share information is crucial for continued success.
Connecting with Parents of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
All parents should feel comfortable sharing their concerns with the clinician and sometimes it is harder to facilitate this when there is a language difference. It is important to understand the language and dialect of the language the family is using. In addition to this, determine whether the language has a written form, as this will impact whether you can have forms translated. This is when it’s important to reach out to others in your school community or area for resources and assistance.
Make connections in your larger community to see who is available to assist with increasing your understanding of their culture and language. A bilingual liaison can also help you build your library of resources by helping you find and access materials in the home language. This is a way to get information that can be used with a parent without compromising their child’s right to confidentiality.
When it’s time to have a meeting, be sure that someone is available to assist with interpretation. If you are working in a school district, contact the head of your special education department to determine the procedures for securing a language interpreter. Allot time prior to the meeting, to review your expectations for the meeting and to review any terms that may be challenging. The interpretation process should be explained to parents so that they are comfortable asking any questions which they may have. Be sure to explain any skills or activities that you would like to have parents target at home and provide visual examples to support them. Don’t forget to make sure you schedule meetings when they will be able to attend them. Be flexible and make it work for all involved.
It’s also nice to be able to have the child help share their success with their families. Creating a visual report of what the student did in therapy will help them better be able to communicate their success at home. They can help to document what they did in therapy and come up with a plan for practicing new skills at home.
Assisting with Access to Technology
Technology is also a way to connect with families with who you don’t share a language in common. Not all families have a computer or internet access at home. There may be community groups who can assist with getting them connected. While no internet or computer at home may have been perceived as a roadblock in the past, it isn’t the case now. Many families have access to a smartphone. This means that they can get online or use apps to check-in and to translate materials.
Online access to translators is a starting point. Of course, there are even more tools these days. An app called Bloomz is available to coordinate communication with all families. Bloomz is a free app that you can use to communicate with parents. This will only work on phones that text, a computer, or a smartphone. The beauty of this is that it can translate communication into more than 84 languages. Not only can you share photos of the student’s work and videos of demonstrations, but you can also share a calendar. They will be able to keep up on daily happenings and get invites to events and meetings which they will be able to understand.
Respect Parents’ Points of View
When you encounter parents or guardians who don’t share your particular educational, therapeutic, or general child-rearing philosophies, it can be tempting to dismiss them and declare “I’m the professional here,” while forging onward as you would normally. But parents just want to feel like they have some level of input into their child’s therapy. While it’s true that they didn’t go through the same training you did and their ideas might not always align with the practices you have seen firsthand be most successful in your career, the fact is that they know their child better than you or anyone else.