Building Strong Parent Teacher Relationships in Your Special Education Classroom

As teachers, one of our greatest resources can be the parents of the students we work with.  It takes time and effort to foster strong relationships with parents, but it is often more than worth it in the end.

I've worked with parents that are ready to jump right in and become a partner right away and others that needed more coaxing.  There are several things you can do to create a welcoming environment that produces parent allies or even parent partners.



This list is going to contain things I have done in my classroom, things my friends have shared with me, and things that I have thought about implementing when I get back into the classroom after my parental leave is over.  Do not feel the pressure to do all of these things at the same time.  You know your classroom and the parents you're working with best.  You want to include them without overwhelming them.  Do what feels right to you!

Reach Out Right Away

The easiest was to open a positive dialogue is to send a letter home before school even starts.  Include something in the envelope for the student and something for the parents to introduce yourself.  Give them your contact information and when you're available to take phone calls.

Something I have not done, but I will consider doing in the future is including a photograph of myself and any other adult working in the classroom.  My daughter's teachers did this and it lessened a lot of her anxiety as she prepared for the new school year.

Teach Them About the Programs

Often times, our parents have been out of the classroom as a student for years and have never been in the classroom as a teacher.  Some of the programming may be confusing or overwhelming.  I like to share which reading and math programs we will be using, along with any websites that may be helpful for them to use at home.

Another thing I like to share with the parents I am working with is some information about the special education program their child is in.  I created a Parent's Guide to Co-teaching that has been very helpful and well-received.  If you're co-teaching, I encourage you to check it out!

Accept Help When it is Offered

How many times has a parent offered to help you and you politely declined?  I know that sometimes it feels like it can be more work to find something for them to do, but often times the parents are literally willing to do anything to help!  At the beginning of the year, create a list of things that you would be willing to hand off to a helpful parent, should they ask.  Some of the help I have accepted (and offered as a parent) are running centers during rotations, organizing the classroom library, making copies, making play-dough, cutting out lamination pieces, and creating bulletin boards.  

Regular Communication

Regular and expected communication is so important.  Whether you send home a communication log, behavior charts, or newsletters, it is important to be consistent.  When you have consistent positive communication, it will be easier to approach a parent about any issues that may arise.

For some of my less verbal students, that means a daily communication log.  I found that a lot of parents felt that the book was mine and they didn't feel comfortable writing in it so I created a printable version that I love!  Not only does it encourage the parents to write in it every day, I can easily check off information and add in details as needed.  Having a layout to write in saves me a lot of time when I have multiple logs to fill out at the end of the day.

Newsletters are also great for communication!  I know that as a parent, I love knowing what is going on in the classroom.  I like to include a lot of photographs in my newsletters so that it makes the families I work with feel like they are a part of the classroom.  

Encourage Questions

Welcome questions!  Most of the time, when a parents is questioning something that you're doing in the classroom, they are honestly wondering the reasoning or research behind it.  They want to know more so they can understand what is working and not working for their child.  Take the time to answer their questions and alleviate their concerns.  Make yourself approachable!

Put Your Listening Ears On

Do you know what goals the parents in your classroom have for their children?  Are you aware of their short term and long term concerns?  You may be the expert in education, but they are the expert in their child.  They are a valuable resource and you will learn so much if you just listen.

Before special education meetings, I like to ask for parental input.  You can either call or ask on paper.  I like to send home an IEP Parent Input sheet a few weeks before a meeting which gives the families enough time to really think about any questions, concerns, or goals they have.  

Do Not Judge or Take Offense

Every family situation is different.  Do not be judgmental if something is going on at home that you do not agree with, such as a child being allowed to stay up until midnight on a school night.  You do not know the reasoning behind that decision or the parent may not know that is difficult for their child to focus after those late nights.  Present your concern.  Listen to the parent.  Offer suggestions if opportunity arrises.  Just like you, they are more likely to share their difficulties when they are confident they will not be judged.  

Do not take things personally.  You are working with humans and sometimes it can become stressful for everybody involved.  Sometimes harsh words are thrown in your direction.  Do not take critiques or negative words personally.  Take a deep breath and move on.  Don't forget, that you are the professional. 

Of course, sometimes the negative comments can get out of hand.  In this case, ask another teacher or an administrator to sit in on any contact you have with that parent to protect yourself.  You can read more about how I handle difficult meetings in this blog post.  

Share Data

Teachers are not the only ones that like data!  When you do an assessment, send it home.  If you are progress monitoring, keep the parents informed on how things are going.  I have checklists upon checklists that are helpful in these situations.  The parents you work with will thank you for the constant educational updates!




I am always looking for more ways to involve parents in my classroom!  I would love to hear what else you do to encourage parent involvement!  









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