Empowering Parent Engagement
Posted by Angie Balsley on 9/19/2019 6:00:00 AM
Special education is complex, even for professional educators like myself who have been working in this field for over twenty years. Consider what it’s like for a parent at a case conference committee meeting for the first time. I’ve been told that the experience is often overwhelming, intimidating, and even scary. As professionals in the field, we have the power not only to educate children with disabilities, but we can also educate their parents on the many terms, technicalities, and processes in special education. This article provides educators with five recommendations on how we can empower parents to engage in the interactive case conference process. These five practices include being welcoming, asking & listening, educating, offering support, and requesting feedback.
Be welcoming. Hold the case conference meeting in a comfortable space with adult-sized chairs. Intentionally arrange seating so parents are able to see and interact with key individuals. Refer to parents as Mr. & Mrs. [Surname], not “Mom & Dad.” Parents don’t refer to you by title alone, so make sure to address them by name. Be a gracious host by offering water and materials for the parents to take notes.
Ask and listen. Ask parents about their visions for their son or daughter along with their concerns. Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions. Within the IEP, document parents’ concerns and the plan to address them. Ask for parent input regarding the strengths of their child and what motivates their child to do their best. Incorporate their responses within the child’s present levels of performance.
Educate. Always provide parents with a hard copy of their Procedural Safeguards. Copies of Procedural Safeguards are available in Spanish and seven other languages on our website. In addition, share a verbal summary. As good educators, check for parents’ understanding throughout the conference. It is helpful to observe parents’ body language to gauge their comfort and understanding. Pause the meeting and explain the context and answer questions. Offer parents a copy of Navigating the Course, a parent-friendly companion guide to Article 7. If they have questions on a certain area, point out the section in the guide that addresses that topic.
Offer supports. Share resources for support. In addition to the resources within the Procedural Safeguards such as IN Source, About Special Kids (ASK), and Indiana Disability Rights, also let parents know that we have folks who are happy to answer their questions and explain in more detail. This is why I ask that you utilize the cover letter with the Procedural Safeguards so the parents know they can contact their local director or myself to learn more about special education. If you believe a parent leaves with misunderstandings or frustration, make it a priority to share this with the local director so the parent can be contacted and offered an opportunity to resolve their concerns before they fester into bigger worries and issues.
Request their feedback. It is important for us to know how we’re doing in our service to children and their families. The US Department of Education requires the Indiana Department of Education to find out whether school personnel encourage parents’ participation and makes it easy for them to be involved in their child’s education. We are required to provide parents with a copy of this letter from the IDOE. If parents request a paper copy of the survey, we can provide it to them along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to return the survey. Spanish copies of the letter and the survey are also available.
Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director