Two women engage in a conversation in front of a laptop showing a collaboration effort.

Collaboration with Families: Bringing Research to Practice

Author: Samantha Goldman; info@ciddl.org

At our last and final meeting of the CIDDL/CEEDAR Affinity Group, we discussed the importance of considering the family as part of the educational team. Through a facilitated discussion with presenters Drs. Maya Israel and Sean Smith, a breakout session for small-group discussions, and a Q&A session with a parent and advocate, Jill Reffett, Affinity group attendees explored various ways to build collaboration with families to support student learning in online/hybrid environments.

Why Should We Collaborate with Families?

First, the Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) mandates that parents participate and contribute to their student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). But, effective collaboration means that the partnership must continue long after the IEP meeting is over. A recent article makes three recommendations for preparing pre-service special education teachers to interact with parents: develop courses in parent involvement, provide fieldwork opportunities for parent interaction, and provide pre-service teachers with the resources IDEA provides. The High Leverage Practices (HLPs) state that special education teachers need to collaborate with families to support the needs of students with disabilities and to inform parents of their rights and special education processes.

Participant Recommendations

In breakout rooms, participants were asked to describe the types of experiences with which teacher candidates need to engage parents within the virtual and hybrid spaces. One group discussed building relationships between teachers and parents before the school year begins. At these meetings, the group recommended discussing what families need from teachers, or don’t need, sharing tools with one another, and swapping ideas. Another group mentioned following other parents on social media to build empathy and understand their perspectives. This helps teachers understand what is going on with families once students leave their classrooms. A separate group brought up the importance of giving preservice teachers the opportunity to practice communicating and building relationships with families through multiple modes (e.g., email, text, phone calls). The importance of bringing in guest speakers from the parent perspective into preservice teacher education courses was also discussed. 

Hearing It From Someone Who Lives It

The parent perspective is often left out of preservice teacher education programs. To address this challenge, one study embedded parents into pre-service special education teacher programs by giving them the chance to participate in courses. This provided both parents and teachers the opportunity to change their perceptions of one another in terms of their desire to create connections, confidence, and trust in one another. Another study offered pre-service teachers the opportunity to learn from parents about their experiences of having a child with disabilities and the home lives of families.  

Jill Reffett, a parent and advocate of children with disabilities, discussed the importance of bringing families into the conversation through her lived experiences. She discussed some of the “wins” that came from remote learning. She shared that for some of her daughters’ therapies, doing them virtual was more beneficial. But, it is important to make sure that families have all the necessary tools for the lessons. She shared that one of her daughters is about to undergo surgery. Prior to the pandemic, this would have meant that her daughter would have to miss weeks of school. Now, she and her daughter’s teachers have a system that will allow her to participate in and complete some activities, as her recovery allows. Jill alluded that she is her daughters’ biggest advocate and that she prioritizes the relationship with their teachers. She is willing to have an open dialogue about what is and what is not working.

How Does Your Institute of Higher Education Teach Collaboration?

Let’s continue the dialogue in our community about building relationships with families. What innovative ways have you used in your classes to encourage these important conversations? What are some hesitations, concerns, or questions preservice teachers have brought up with regard to parent collaboration? What areas do we need to further explore to build better bonds with parents?