Collaboration and Communication

Table of Contents

This chapter will focus on the High Leverage Practices (HLPs) in Special Education (1-3), related to Collaboration and communication.

  • HLP 1: Collaborate with professionals to increase student success.
  • HLP 2: Organize and facilitate effective meetings with professionals and families.
  • HLP 3: Collaborate with families to support student learning and secure needed services

Voices from the Field Communicating and Collaborating with Families


Adapted from McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.  (Permission is granted to reproduce and adapt any portion of this publication with acknowledgement)

Key Takeaway

Effective special education teachers collaborate with a wide range of professionals, families and caregivers to assure that educational programs and related services are effectively designed and implemented to meet the needs of each student with a disability.

 Collaboration allows for varied expertise and perspectives about a student to be shared among those responsible for the student’s learning and well-being. This collective expertise provides collaborators with a more comprehensive understanding of each student’s needs, which can be used to more effectively plan and implement instruction and services. Teachers use respectful and effective communication skills as they collaborate with others, considering the background, socioeconomic status, culture, and language of the families and the professionals with whom they work.

Collaborative activities should be focused on (a) designing each student’s instructional program to meet clearly specified outcomes and (b) collecting data and monitoring progress toward
these outcomes. Effective and purposeful collaboration should enlist support from district and school leaders, who can foster a collective commitment to collaboration, provide professional learning experiences to increase team members’ collaborative skills, and create schedules that support different forms of ongoing collaboration (e.g., individualized education program [IEP] teams, co-teachers, teachers–families, teachers–paraprofessionals).

HLP 1: Collaborate with professionals to increase student success.

Collaboration with general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff is necessary to support students’ learning toward measurable outcomes and to facilitate students’ social and emotional well-being across all school environments and instructional settings (e.g., co-taught). Collaboration with individuals or teams requires the use of effective collaboration behaviors (e.g., sharing ideas, active listening, questioning, planning, problem solving, negotiating) to develop and adjust instructional or behavioral plans based on student data, and the coordination of expectations, responsibilities, and resources to maximize student learning.

Collaboration is broadly recommended in special education for accomplishing a wide range of goals, including determining eligibility for services, delivering instruction, ensuring support through paraprofessionals, and resolving student and programmatic issues (see Burns, Vanderwood, & Ruby, 2005). However, collaboration is ethereal in that it is never an end in itself, instead operating as a culture or a means through which any goal can be reached. Collaboration often is indirectly fostered among members of a school work group by arranging time for participants to meet face-to-face, guiding them through the development of positive professional relationships, establishing explicit and implicit procedures for working together, and teaching them about school programs that rely on collaborative interactions (e.g., teams, co-teaching). Collaboration is not explicitly mandated in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act IDEA), nor is it generally part of formal policies related to educating students with disabilities, but the requirements of the law and established school practices strongly infer that it is through collaboration that the effective education of students with disabilities is achieved.

The two most common school structures presumed to rely on collaboration are co-teaching and teams. Co-teaching, research generally has found strong support among teachers, but mixed results for students (Murawski & Swanson, 2001; Scruggs, Mastropieri, & McDuffie, 2007). The most recent examination of the co-teaching research literature, an analysis of six co-teaching and inclusion research syntheses, concluded that when general educators and special educators work closely to coordinate the delivery of curriculum and have resources such as time to plan, small positive effects on student academic outcomes are achieved (Solis, Vaughn, Swanson, & McCulley, 2012). A related study supported this conclusion, finding that elementary-age students with disabilities in co-taught classes made significant educational progress while those in separate special education classroom settings did not, the gap between the two groups widening across time (Tremblay, 2013).

HLP 2: Organize and facilitate effective meetings with professionals and families.

Teachers lead and participate in a range of meetings (e.g., meetings with families, individualized education program [IEP] teams, individualized family services plan [IFSP] teams, instructional planning) with the purpose of identifying clear, measurable student outcomes and developing instructional and behavioral plans that support these outcomes. They develop a meeting agenda, allocate time to meet the goals of the agenda, and lead in ways that encourage consensus building through positive verbal and nonverbal communication, encouraging the sharing of multiple perspectives, demonstrating active listening, and soliciting feedback.

Special education teachers typically organize, schedule, and lead a variety of meetings, including annual IEP meetings as well as ongoing collaborative meetings essential to instructional planning and progress monitoring. IEP meetings involve both parents and professionals (e.g., general education teachers, fellow special education teachers, reading specialists, curriculum specialists, principals, other administrators, outside consultants), as well as students with disabilities. IDEA requires that parents be given opportunities for full participation in the development of the IEP. The way in which the IEP meeting is organized and facilitated should ensure that the family is an equal partner in the development of an appropriate education for the child.

Special education teachers need to facilitate meetings so they run smoothly, involve others as equal participants, and accomplish the goals of the meeting. These tasks require communicating effectively with others, being able discuss aspects of the individual child’s program (e.g., explain the rationale behind behavior intervention plans, describe effective practices), and facilitating consensus among all involved. The partnership principles of equality, choice, voice, reciprocity, praxis, and reflection aid in the development of effective communication skills (Knight, 2007). Using these principles requires specific skills, which may be developed with diligent practice. It may be helpful to solicit feedback from a mentor or colleague as well as team members to improve one’s communication and facilitation skills.

The Council for Exceptional Children’s special education Code of Ethics (2015) includes the following principles relating to organizing and facilitating effective meetings:

  • Practicing collegially with others who are providing services to individuals with exceptionalities.
  • Developing relationships with families based on mutual respect and actively involving families and individuals with exceptionalities in educational decision making. (p. 7)

Collaboration—when teachers work together to diagnose what they need to do, plan and teach interventions, and evaluate their effectiveness—has shown a strong effect size of 0.93 on student achievement (DuFour, 2007; Hattie, 2008).

Meeting agendas should be planned in a way that invites the sharing of multiple perspectives, involves active listening, and encourages consensus building, while maintaining efficiency. Agendas for formal meetings should be developed and shared in advance; the meeting should be scheduled for an appropriate amount of time given meeting goals and participants invited with sufficient advance notice.

Meetings will be more productive if there is trust among participants. Teachers should consider taking steps before meetings to build relationships with professionals and families on an ongoing basis (Billingsley, Brownell, Israel, & Kamman, 2013). At the start of the school year, effective special educators communicate with families via phone, e-mail, or notes home with positive messages about individual children and their accomplishments.

As special educators are primary communicators in the school regarding students with disabilities, they also should serve as models of respectful communication by using person-first language.

In order to promote collaboration between special education teachers and general education teachers and service providers there should be a plan put into place about how often they are communicating with one another about the identified students. If no plan is put into place it can be easy for communication and collaboration to get swept underneath the rug and the student can easily fall behind. During this planned communication time, the team can discuss what has worked and what hasn’t worked for the student and what their goals and vision for that student and whether or not they are being met. Christina Shaughnessy

HLP 3: Collaborate with families to support student learning and secure needed services.

Teachers collaborate with families about individual children’s needs, goals, programs, and progress over time and ensure families are informed about their rights as well as about special education processes (e.g., IEPs, IFSPs). Teachers should respectfully and effectively communicate considering the background, socioeconomic status, language, culture, and priorities of the family. Teachers advocate for resources to help students meet instructional, behavioral, social, and transition goals. In building positive relationships with students, teachers encourage students to self-advocate, with the goal of fostering self-determination over time. Teachers also work with families to self-advocate and support their children’s learning.

The importance of collaborating with families to promote participation in educational decision making has been identified as one of the key principles of IDEA (H. R. Turnbull, Stowe, & Huerta, 2007). IDEA provides for specific rights that enable parents to participate as equal members of the IEP team and to be involved in evaluation, placement, and special education and related service decisions. For families to take on such roles and responsibilities, collaboration between professionals and families is necessary. Using effective partnership strategies has been identified as a necessary element of building collaborative relationships.

Family–professional partnerships have been defined as a relationship in which families (not just parents) and professionals agree to build on each other’s expertise and resources, as appropriate, for the purpose of making and implementing decisions that will directly benefit students and indirectly benefit other family members and professionals. (A. P. Turnbull, Turnbill, Erwin, Soodak, & Shogren, 2015, p. 161)

Seven principles of effective partnerships have been identified in the literature (see A. P. Turnbull et al., 2015):

  • Communication: Teachers and families communicate openly and honestly in a medium that is comfortable for the family.
  • Professional competence: Teachers are highly qualified in the area in which they work, continue to learn and grow, and have and communicate high expectations for students and families.
  • Respect. Teachers treat families with dignity, honor cultural diversity, and affirm strengths.
  • Commitment: Teachers are available, consistent, and go above and beyond what is expected of them.
  • Equality; Teachers recognize the strengths of every member of a team, share power with families, and focus on working together with families.
  • Advocacy: Teachers focus on getting to the best solution for the student in partnership with the family.
  • Trust: Teachers are reliable and act in the best interest of the student, sharing their vision and actions with the family.

In implementing these principles, it is essential to honor and respect cultural diversity and differing communication styles and preferences.

voices from the field

Voices from the Field

What are some of the key points the special educator needs to be aware of when building positive relationships with the families of children with disabilities? What can you do to create a “family friendly relationships” with your students with IEPs and their families?

Collaborating and Communicating with Families

In part, special educators need to be aware of how their own culture may limit their understanding of another culture. Similarly, should our goal be to work collaboratively in the interest of their learner, our interactions with families also need to be mindful of different perceptions and perspectives. Communicating and presenting information in a manner that reflects their culture is an important component of fostering collaborative and favorable relationships with parents. Of note in the Rossetti article was the importance of not solely learning about our student, their family, and their culture but of also seeking out other community members who can act as a “cultural broker” to better understand the cultural and linguistic practices of our families (Rossetti, et al, p. 176). Of critical importance for the special educator would be understanding the impact of culture on acceptable or preferred modes of communication. Kate Appolonia


One’s awareness of themselves and their culture is a fantastic point to address when discussing this particular topic. Given the demographic of NH being over 92% white (world population review, 2022) it is easy to assume that the large majority of teachers in the state are the same. There are certainly barriers that come with not knowing about other cultures that I have experienced even throughout my life. Growing up in a Hispanic household, we were raised with many traditions that my peers simply did not understand. We were taught to not look authority in the eyes as a sign of respect which is common in other cultures, but I can recall a few moments throughout elementary and middle school where teachers would question why I was not looking directly at them, they seemed insulted when I was actually paying them respect the way that I was taught. This led me to be a very shy student, often never asking questions and figuring out lesson concepts on my own at home. It was not until high school where I regained my confidence as a student.

I do not believe the teacher’s were intending to make me feel uncomfortable, as they had no clue about my culture due to the demographic of my school. Understanding that you do not understand other cultures is ok and should make want to go and learn more to make the students and the parents more comfortable.  Jake Muniz


Even from the perspective of being a parent of a child with a disability, I’d say being the liaison between student and family in the special education process is one of the hardest parts of my current role. Having been on the other side, I know what those parents are going through emotionally. We all have dreams and aspirations for our own children from birth. When one of our children requires special education, we worry that they may not ever be great or successful in life. We worry they may struggle throughout life or be unhappy or unsatisfied in themselves. Some parents of children with disabilities might be dealing with the loss of their original hopes and dreams for their child (IRIS Center, 2008). It’s a sobering moment. So when dealing with families I always take these feelings into consideration. I didn’t just read about them, I experienced them. I don’t use this as a catch line when I introduce myself as a case manager, but there are times I’ve pulled it out of my back pocket when working with some families who seem particularly frustrated or unsatisfied with our school or my performance as case manager. Families often come to us very stressed out about their children. For one, families of students on IEPs have to attend a lot more meetings than your general education students. They not only attend all of the General education meetings such as parent/teacher conferences, but there are IEP meetings, progress meetings, Evaluation meetings, and often a lot of meetings in between to address various issues and crises that pop up. A lot of these families attend counseling or private psychiatric sessions and hear from school administrators on a weekly basis. In short, most families come to us and our meetings burnt out. There’s a special kind of fatigue that I’ve noticed working as a case manager in high school. You need to realize you are working with families that have likely been involved with special education for a long time. Arthur Rafus  High School Special Educator


Remember to occasionally say something sincere and positive about what you enjoy about their child or something awesome you noticed. “We enjoy having Jason in our class because he is so kind to his classmates. Just yesterday, a classmate was upset at drop-off and Jason comforted him and asked him if he would like to play.” Say something to show parents that their child is valued for who they are as a person, not just how their disability with be addressed.

We can build trust by being trustworthy. This means truly doing our best for their child, truly welcoming the parents as collaborators, and listening to their input, and protecting confidentiality. Mia Donati


Of the ideas within this week’s reading, there is one that resonated more than others to me. That is, to create meaningful involvement a special educator may encourage parents to participate in PTO meetings, school clubs, or school leadership committees. At XY High School, there is a parent whose son has recently become involved with the mountain bike club I assist. Since the student has an IEP along with significant behavior, his family was initially concerned about his participation. However, the advisor for the club ensured the correct support would be present, and he also invited the parent to become more involved with each club meeting. Since then I’ve witnessed a change not only in the student’s demeanor during the club activities, but also a significant decrease in the parent’s tentativeness. Anonymous


Another crucial aspect to forming an effective relationship with families is trust. Trust is vital in maintaining a positive relationship with special educators and teachers. Being available upon request and making the family feel heard when they are reaching out and being strict about confidentiality to ensure trust in not sharing sensitive information are both very important parts of trust but I think the most important is understanding different perspectives. Special educators should be aware of differences in the way families perceive their child with a disability. Families learning about their child having a disability can react in many different ways and struggle with the news and being aware that the family may have a different perspective about it is important for educators. Families have different backgrounds, cultures, educational levels, and beliefs and all of these can affect their perspective on situations involving their children. Understanding that some families may want more involvement than others is normal and not forcing them into ideas or expectations they are not comfortable with. Madelyn Grierson


Approaches on how to develop family engagement may vary, however all are important in building the bond and developing the trust that is needed for everybody to be successful. Recognizing a parent’s emotions is important. A parent can feel many emotions regarding their child. They could feel angry, sad, fearful, anxiety, depressed, guilty or in denial. Each emotion could prompt a different kind of approach, so being aware of how they feel  is very valuable and helpful it also allows for building positive relationships.

Another important key factor to remember is the time constraints that having a child with a disability can put on a family. Families with a child who has a disability may assume different roles. They become the child’s case manager, medical/insurance expert, advocate, inclusion specialist, transition specialist, as well as personal future planner. These are all the potential roles a parent can hold aside from being a parent, friend, confidant and liaison. Rhonda Cameron


In the article “IEP: Students Benefit When We Collaborate”, Katherine Koch suggests teachers can improve collaboration with parents by:

  • “Being mindful of the curse of knowledge.” As special educators, we must try our best to use terms in which the parents understand and be able to explain any terms that may be confusing.
  • “Being cautious with giving advice.” Instead of giving advice, provide the family with information on resources in which they can access, and empower their decision making for their child.

Sarah Caroll


There are many things about a student’s family a special educator should be aware of in order to build a strong family friendly relationship.  First, the cultural background is important to getting to know the basics of the family dynamics.  Understanding culture can help the special educator better connect with the family.  Culture can determine not just the languages spoken in the home, but most importantly how the family may view and deal with the disability. Second, understanding the family home and financial situation is very important.  This is key to understanding basic stressors the family may be facing and allow the special educator and IEP team can prepare for meetings and important conversations. They may have a hard time having meetings at “normal” times due to work.  They may sound on edge due to stress.  If the special educator is aware of the family struggle, he or she can better prepare themselves to give the family resources and help by lending a sympathetic ear.  Special educators need to build trust, and being sympathetic and understanding, providing resources to help while focusing on the child’s goals, will go a long way with the family.  This can be as simple as providing the family with resources or even giving them meeting times outside of the normal “business hours” if they are working multiple or odd jobs.  Simply caring can go a long way with a family who is already under stress.  Finally, once you have got to know the family, earned their trust and showed them you care, a special educator should encourage them to “meaningfully participate” in their child’s education and IEP process. More often them not, families are lost and often believe the specialist is right and may not express concerns or ideas.  Giving encouragement may mean helping them understand jargon or simply giving them extra time to ask questions.  When someone feels included, they are more likely to be engaged.   Deanna Hanley


Part of having a respectful and trusting relationship with the family involves being able to communicate in their native language. It might not always be possible to speak their language, and having access to translators in the area might be difficult. In those instances, utilizing online or digital resources might be necessary to improve the communication. Translating documents into the native or the preferred language of the family will go a long way in building the trust and respect needed to be successful. In my experience, I have only dealt with English speaking families, but I was raised in a bilingual family. Because of that, I am very conscious of the challenges that can arise when trying to speak with others who do not speak your native language. It has allowed me to learn to be patient and think outside of the box to overcome some language barriers. Amy Welch


When working with parents of students with disabilities, special educators need to be aware of many different factors.  One factor is the cultural background of the family.  The cultural background includes things such as what language is used, how the family views disabilities, and how the culture prioritizes the student’s education.  If the family of the student speaks a different language, then the special educator will need to make sure that all paperwork has been translated properly into the family’s preferred language.  A skilled interpreter also needs to attend all IEP meetings.  According to Rossetti et al (2018), “The interpreter should be a professional who is trained in the role of interpreter and translator, knowledgeable of special education policy and process, and independent of both the school and the family”.  The special educator and the school need to ensure that there are no communication problems or errors.  Communication errors can negatively impact the student’s learning and the relationship between the school and the family. Allison Gibson


Collaborating effectively with families is vital to student success. Many first-year teachers report not feeling prepared to work with families and feel like they don’t have the time or resources to do so (Sears et al., 2021, p. 201). Teaching Exceptional Children recommends starting the school year with a fresh perspective and building positive relationships with families that lead to trust and respect. Several of the readings this week have included the extreme importance of the parent/family’s role in education and showed how the special educator can provide resources to parents, helping them advocate for their child and be empowered. One of my favorite pieces of advice from this week was: “Instead of advice, offer information from several different sources (e.g., one or two books and a couple of verified websites) and empower the parent to be confident in making their own decisions about their child, while still providing them with needed support” (Koch, 2017). It’s important to help parents/families learn to advocate for the child because they are going to be the ones there pre K-12 and beyond, while a teacher may only work with them one school year. Rachel Stoudt


For some of my students, I send home a daily homeschool communication log, which tells the parents what services the student had, what specials the student had, what they ate for lunch, what the best part of the day was, and what the hardest part of the day was. It tells the parents, whether the student had a “not great”, “OK”, “great”, or “excellent” day. Some of my families reinforce great and excellent days at home by providing praise or a special reward.  Anonymous


When I write in my student’s home-school communication book, her case manager advised me to keep it positive. If there’s a serious issue at school, then she will call the family, but I try to write something good and happy on a daily basis – even if it’s just about socializing with other kids or a game we played. While these activities are mundane for “neuro typical” kids, they are special and exciting for this student. If she was my child, I’d want to hear about these successfully inclusive experiences at school. Anonymous


I found that every family has a different communication style and need in the level of frequency of communication. Some want to know everything that happens in a given week or even want day to day progress reports. Some parents want only to be engaged when their children are failing or cannot be managed. One thing I’ve learned to do that helps promote positive relationships between families is to report ALL of the good a student does. It helps soften when I have to communicate more negative information. I also try to not just isolate the negative but also add in positive information as well. For example, telling a parent about all the good choices a student made before he needed to be removed from class, rather than just highlighting and isolating the fact he was removed from class. It’s little things like this that promote better relationships between families and special educators. Arthur Rafus


One of the first things I can do as a special educator is start building the relationship early in the year.  Before school starts, reaching out to parents and letting them know that I am the case manager and that I am looking forward to working with them would be helpful in setting the stage for open communication.  I also like the idea of talking to parents about their child outside of school, his/her likes and dislikes, interests, and any other information they think is important.  It’s good to let families know that we are interested in getting to know their student as a whole person.  I think families feel more comfortable when they feel we really know their child.

Part of knowing a student is being able to identify his/her strengths and to not dwell only on the disability or gaps in achievement.  In addition, reaching out to parents early in the year lets parents know that the educator is available to talk to if questions arise.  In addition, if a parent does reach out with questions, replying promptly lets them know that you take their concerns seriously.  Maintaining confidentiality is also important in building and maintaining trust.  Jessica Warning


Communication is integral to student success. Special educators (wearing their many hats) need to keep communication open, respectful, and timely with the IEP team. Parents, especially need to know that we have their backs. Through our reading and some of our classmates’ posts, we know that parents can feel exceptionally vulnerable throughout the special education process. Consistent, patient and kind communication is key. Heather Roberson


When I worked at a daycare, there was a lot of communication with parents. One of the teachers had an app where she could update the parents with a picture of their child and how their day has been. The parents loved it. I think meetings should always be in person, but a quick email/message is beneficial.  Morgan Chase


Teachers should be willing to meet parents remotely and work on building relationships that way in the current environment (during COVID pandemic). But inviting parents for face to face meetings when it is safe to do so is much better than a phone call. Face to face meetings help parents put names to faces and allow parents to see inside of their child’s school. Teachers and parents need to work together because they both have the same shared interest, they want to see the child succeed in school. Travis Rockett


Something our school does that I really like is a back to school BBQ, where everyone in the school is invited and serves as a sort of informal meet and greet a few days before school starts (we didn’t have it this year because of covid sad but normally when we do, each grade level of teachers and staff wear a certain color shirt and have a table with balloons or something eye catching. Parents and students are told ahead of time what color to look for, and students and their families can go over and meet the teacher in a nice informal way, eat some food, chat, etc. Special ed and support staff are there too to meet families. Its such a great way to begin that relationship!  Caitlin Dubisz


There are many key points that special educators need to be aware of when they interact with the parents of their students with disabilities. “First and foremost, remember to be kind, listen to (not just hear) what parents have to say, and don’t judge them or their decisions” (Koch 2017). Parents trust us with their children and their child’s education, and we need to respect the decisions that they make in regards to their child. Making parents feel welcome and valued is important to building a positive relationship with them. Pointing out their child’s strengths and accomplishments versus only focusing on the things their child needs to improve upon is an important aspect of building that positive relationship. Another key point to be aware of is the fact that parents may not always know all of the things that educators do about the special education process. They may need clarification of definitions and laws and we need to convey those things in a way that is easy for them to understand. Making sure that parents understand the processes involved with their child’s education, will ensure that parents can make informed decisions pertaining to their child. Michelle Shaw


When I was a classroom teacher the first week of school, I called all my parents and let them know how glad I was to have their child in my class. I always seemed to have a lot of involved parents when it came to class activities, etc., since I started doing that! I am always recommending articles and books and webinars to parents and try to follow up as the behavior interventionist when a student is having a rough patch so we can talk about it.  Being able to call parents and help them advocate for their child’s needs is so important to their success. Jacquelin Godin


Emotions can play a big factor for families when dealing with their child’s disability, especially if the diagnosis is new.  Everything feels like it has changed, and they may feel that what they had planned for their child is no longer an option, they may feel they missed something in their child, or that for some reason may feel as if they were to blame.  They may also be struggling with the new demands that come with their child’s diagnosis.  Many families may already have full schedules just trying to keep their daily lives running.  In some instances parent(s) may be working long hours or multiple jobs to  make ends meet, already feeling stretched thin.  It is our job as special educators to ensure that we help families deal with these stressors as much as we can.  Shannon Hubner


Educators should also consider the fact that these families are forced to take on multiple roles because of their child’s disability. They have to be a parent to that child and possibly other children, a medical expert for their child, an ethical and legal advocate for their child, and know all the laws about inclusion and disability rights that relate to their child, in order to meet their child’s needs. To help build the positive relationship with families, educators can “accommodate their schedules, listen and respond to their concerns, help them learn to navigate the education and social service systems, and assist them with finding support networks” (IRIS Center). Caitlin Dubisz


I feel communication logs are an important tool to help educators and families have an open communication pathway where they can communicate daily with each other on how the child is at home and school. This not only informs the educator of anything that might have happened at home but it also allows the family to feel more connected and involved in their child’s daily school life. We need to remember that we only see these children for 7 hours out of a day, for the rest of the day they are at home or out in the community so we rely on open communication to inform us of anything that happens during that time that could impede their learning. Nicole Coonrod


When I work with students in the special education program and they have a home/school communication book, I ALWAYS write down at least one thing that the student excelled at or enjoyed doing that day. I think its extremely important that parents see what their child is achieving/enjoying at school and that it’s being celebrated by the people who work with their child. Chelsea Hoadley


One of the most challenging and important steps to encourage parent involvement is to educate families on how they can help their child with learning when they are not at school. This might look like sharing homework strategies and giving suggestions for setting up a productive study space. Along this same line, it might be helpful to have a communication plan, which is meant to help families and special educators more effectively communicate with each other. The plan gives structure to communication and might include scheduled times to talk that are convenient for the family’s schedule, assigned activities, and goals. While this is a suggestion for remote learning, it might be useful to do all of the time. Rebecca Foss


When speaking with my supervising practitioner (SP) this week, she mentioned a lot of things that special educators need to be aware of when interacting with families. Some of her points were knowing what the primary language is at home, if the parents are together (married or in a relationship), if they are divorced/ separated, or if there is different guardianship. This will help form a relationship with the right individuals as well as making sure that you can communicate with them appropriately. She also said that it is important to always keep the line open for communication to allow for the parent to reach out whenever they need to as well as keeping the team in the loop for things that may be happening at home that could impact the child’s day. The one thing that she stressed the most is to embrace the family as well as nurture it. Many families can have many different emotions when it comes to having a child with disabilities. Some parents will struggle and will need a lot of support to help support their child, where other families may embrace the child’s needs and do as much as they can to help support them while in school and out of school. It is important for the special educator to schedule time to meet with and give suggestions or support for the child as well as asking the parents if they would like suggestions for work, they can do at home with their child. She did stress to make sure that the parent’s did not feel pressured to do additional schoolwork at home. (elementary level advice) Anonymous


Supporting and meeting basic needs

Financial support for families with disabilities is also super important. I often wonder about my student’s parents and how they are able to work a regular schedule while also being available for her. I know that many students get free breakfast and lunch at school, which I think is wonderful. If anything, it saves the parents time from having to make those meals at home. My student also uses a device that was purchased through insurance. A colleague told me that she completed all of the paperwork for that device, because it would’ve been otherwise extremely expensive for the family. Just having someone who knows how to navigate the system is huge. Anonymous


My district has a position in each of our schools called a Family Support Liaison (that’s my job for my school).  All Liaison’s have a background in Social Services as well as are required to be certified Special Educators (hence why I am here).  I love my job… In addition to supporting students’ special education needs, I  get to do so many things to help parents/families to support their child in the best way possible.  I help them sign up for free/reduced lunch, fuel assistance, Medicare/Medicaid, housing, grants for adaptive equipment, I coordinate the End 68 Hours of Hunger program, run food drives, provide gift cards for groceries and gas if families need it… you name it and it’s my job.  I wish every school had a FSL. Anonymous


We actually have a fully stocked and licensed food pantry at our school that is equipped to feed a minimum of 20 families each weekend, plus have on hand extras for long weekends, vacations, and emergency days. It is hard to imagine such wide-spread need, yet I see it every day. Too many people still think that school is just for educating, when in reality, education often takes a back seat to providing basic life necessities to allow for learning. I know many of the teachers that I work with bring “extra” food in their lunches or keep a stash of snacks and juices in their room for students who need it. The two teachers who I share an office space with and myself have kept a small cabinet stocked for all three middle school grades. Some parents even donate to the cause. The students really appreciate knowing that they can come to us when they need to and they also know how to place requests through the food bank. We have staff that delivers food boxes each Friday when it is too much to send home in a backpack. It is so important that the school community be aware of the fact that not every student can be ready to learn when they arrive each morning and that we do our part to help get them to a place where they can. Amy Welch


The IRIS Center. (2008, 2020). Family Engagement: Collaborating with Families of Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from

Koch, K. (2017, Apr 4). IEP: Students benefit when we collaborate. Edutopia. Retrieved from 

Sears, J. A., Peters, B. L., Beidler, A. M. S., & Murawski, W. W. (2021). Using relationships to advocate with, for, and to families. Teaching Exceptional Children, 53(3), 194–204

updateed 3/25/2022 PL