Improving Parent-Teacher Communication
How to defuse tensions, maximize benefits and minimize stress at parent-teacher conferences.
As a parent of a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), educational consultant, former school psychologist and teacher, I have sat on many sides of the educational planning table. I frequently attend IEP or 504 meetings on behalf of parents to help facilitate the process and have a great deal of experience as to what goes on behind the scenes for parents.
Many parents of children with ADHD approach IEP meetings with fear, frustration, and confusion. With each new school year often comes a new teacher — and with each new teacher, the same fears arise:
- You don’t really know and understand their child.
- You won’t select the most appropriate accommodation for their child.
- They will look stupid.
- You will think they are inadequate parents.
As a teacher, you can defuse tensions, maximize the benefits and minimize stress at parent meetings by being flexible, empathetic, and up-to-date on ADHD and learning disabilities. Most of all, you need to assure them that you all have the same goal — to help their child have a successful year.
Set the Stage for Success
Begin the meeting by welcoming the parents and introducing the meeting participants along with their roles. Offer them something to drink. Use comfortable, adult-sized chairs. Preview the meeting for them so they know what to expect. Share an interesting story about their child so they know that you really do know their child. Help them feel part of the team by asking, “What can you share with us to help us be more effective teachers for your child in the classroom?”
Parents May Also Have ADHD
Given the strong genetic link for ADHD, it is likely that one of the parents you are dealing with may also have ADHD. In many cases it may be very minor, but you may notice the behaviors such as not completing papers in a timely manner, needing reminders and/or an extra set of paperwork, missing pieces of information or getting distracted. You may need to gently bring them back to the topic at hand.
Watch Out for House Talk
Refrain from the use of educational jargon. Explain terminology. Even though this may be your 1,000th meeting for the year, this may be the first or one of only a handful of such meetings for the parents. Be patient. Parents become confused, and intimidated when you use common educational terms like 504 vs. IEP plans, resource room vs. instructional support and wraparound services. Try making a guide to understanding special education terms to give to parents, or identify one person at the meeting to decipher educational jargon and explain the terms to parents. Even when the school has gone above and beyond expectations, some very intelligent parents leave meetings angry because they didn’t understand what was said.
Avoid discussing other school-related issues at these meeting amongst other teachers and co-workers. Parents often feel excluded, uncomfortable and less a part of the team as educators discuss other school-related issues.
A Little Knowledge…
Many parents are aware of their rights and accommodations to some extent. They often receive information through support groups, friends or neighbors, websites and sometimes books. Unfortunately, their information is not always entirely accurate or complete.
Allow adequate time for explanations and questions. Many schools have to schedule brief, back-to-back meetings due to time constraints, which hurries the process. In this case, contact the parents to check to see if they have any questions both prior to and subsequent to the meeting. This is often much less intimidating for them, and assures them that their concerns will be addressed.
Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.