Parent Engagement in Autism Units
As teachers in self contained classes or Autism Units, we are tasked with being care takes, educators, advocates, surrogates, and darn near family for each student we work with. Sometimes we can start to forget that fostering a friendly relationship with parents is also part of the job. Parent engagement in Autism units is important. So how can you do those little things that help parents feel involved, help you grow a stronger relationship, and provide moms and dads with a full experience as the parent of a school-aged kid.
Happy Calls Make Happy Parents
Early on in my teaching career I had a parent that I called pretty regularly about her son and his behavior at school. One day she yelled at me on the phone saying “Look, from 8:30-3:30 he’s your problem so deal with it!”
I hung up and got upset with her- how dare she. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the only time she ever heard from me was with a problem. I am sure as soon as she heard my voice on the other end of the line she wanted to hang up (or yell). Why didn’t I ever call her with good news? At the very least it would have opened up the happy feelings between us. That was my mistake.
Now, before the school year starts, I call every parent on my caseload. I introduce myself, get and give contact information (including my Remind signup info), and just take a minute to get the communication juices flowing. Then, at least once a semester, I call back with a “just checking in” or “happy news” call so a parent (a la Pavlov) doesn’t start to associate me with only negativity.
Oh, and if you schedule a few parents every month or every grading period, it’s totally manageable to call them all.
The Text is Mightier Than The Note!
Has this ever happened to you? You send a note home for a parent (or maybe permission slips that need signatures) and it comes back the next day just as you sent it- unopened? Used to happen to me all the time. Then I figured out a way to get my parents to at least open what I was sending. I sent them a text through Remind (formerly Remind 101).
Engaging parents in the classroom is easier with this great service for teachers- it allows you to send text messages to parents without having to give them your cell phone number. This at least gets your foot in the communication door and opens things up for more engagement. Besides, a friendly text to let a parent know about a note in a backpack or an upcoming event is so helpful. It’s great communication at work!
If I know my kid might be published (like something they wrote, drew or just a picture of them), then I always keep an eye out. So, why not use that parent instinct to your advantage? Sending home a monthly or periodic newsletter all about your students always gets the communication juices flowing.
I colleague of mine was the master of this- she had the students work featured all over the newsletter (they did all the work), she added important dates and key information she wanted them to know and a short blurb about the month ahead. I also added 2 students of the month and a para of the month so that there was some added ownership and appeal. It doesn’t end up taking as much time as you think once you get a decent layout… I always did mine in Powerpoint so I had an added level of control over where things went, but you can do it in any program you’re comfortable with.
Either way, it’s an added way to get involvement and engagement up. As a BONUS I have a template you can use to get the ball rolling… one less thing to do on YOUR to do list. Get it by clicking the image below. You will be prompted to save the file from Google Drive. Once you’ve done that, you’re all set to edit and make it your own. There are a couple of generic image icons you can play with to jazz it up a bit too. Yay!
A good friend of mine who also works with students with special needs had her class put on a play last week. It was awesome. And it addressed something our students miss out on a lot- they are rarely in band, theater, athletics, or clubs… so they never get a chance to perform, especially in the secondary setting. Putting on a performance will not only engage your students, but parents will see how much you are willing to put into their child and they will love you for it.
Send Home Post Its
I know this sounds corny, but our students sometimes really struggle to answer “How was school today?” If they just had a little insight once in awhile they would feel more connected. Sometimes I throw a post it into a student’s backpack just saying “Had a great day today- just wanted you to know!”
Never negative, always positive- parents will start to be more open to you, engage more, and have better communication.
And this is not just for special needs students- Believe me, a high school kid will react and show parents these little notes too. They are proud to be recognized, even on a post it.
Get Parents Helping
Everyone has a skill or something they do they take pride in. If you can find that in your parents and get them supporting you classroom they will be more engaged with you and what you are doing.
Parent volunteers, classroom parents, chaperones, classroom presenters or special guest, or even a team of parents coordinating an event can tap into your parent’s special skills and talents. All you have to do is find out what they are and then, just ask!
Listen to Your Parents
Be sure you know what your parents want from their children. I had a parent that I loved who ended up butting heads with me. Why? When I was on maternity leave she was promised things that I never knew about. When I returned and didn’t deliver, she held me responsible.
Had we been on the same page from the start, I think it could all have been avoided. It was that year that I started doing a parent survey with all my case students. I wanted to know where they were going so we could work together and move in the same direction. There is a copy of this Transition Planning Worksheet and Parent Survey online- Download the Preview for a freebie of the file. Try it- you will be surprised at what some parents want (for better or for worse).
Parents Want to be Included
As our students get older, it feel like we are needed less and less (and included even less than that). Getting parents back into the routine of engagement is sometimes a challenge, but it is worth it. Have an Open House, hold a fundraiser, get parents attention with clever texts and happy notes home- what you do with the parents of your students is part of the job.
As I sat in the living rooms of grads this past weekend, I knew I must have done something right to garner an invitation. Making those connections is important and is a sure way to get parents more engaged.