What are some ways to go about building positive relationships with families?
Page 8: Acknowledging Strengths
Another way to build positive relationships with the families of children who have disabilities is for teachers to acknowledge those children’s strengths. When they talk about a child who doesn’t have a disability or an identified need, teachers often focus on the child’s abilities, talents, and progress. However, when they speak of a child with a disability, teachers have a tendency to focus on weaknesses, deficits, or challenges.
Many parents who have children with and without disabilities are amazed by how differently their children are described during conversations and conferences with educators. It is important for teachers not only to recognize that both the child and his or her family have abilities and talents but also to make it a practice to communicate that recognition to the families.
Listen to Luz Hernandez talk about some of the ways that her son’s school has acknowledged her family’s strengths (time: 1:03).
Luz A. Hernandez
Parent of a young adult who has hydrocephaly
Executive Director, Hispanos Unidos Para
Niños Excepcionales (HUNE)
Teachers who acknowledge students’ strengths generally expect their students with disabilities to do better academically. When teachers hold high expectations for their students, the students perform accordingly. The same holds true when teachers hold lower expectations for their students. Principal Morgan and her teachers decide that not only is it a good idea to expect the best from their students but that this notion is also expressed in the sources listed below:
The Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC) Code of Ethics states, “Special education professionals are committed to developing the highest educational and quality of life potential of individuals with exceptionalities” (1983).
The preamble to the National Education Association (NEA) sets the standard that educators believe in the devotion to excellence and that they will teach and guarantee educational opportunity for all. The NEA holds two main principles: that of helping the student reach their potential and that of being committed to the profession.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA ’04) enables students to have an individualized education program (IEP). A team that includes regular and special education teachers, parents, and others develop the IEP. The team meets regularly to set educational expectations for the student, identify goals, and monitor progress toward achieving their goals. This level of partnership between parents and schools helps to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum and are held to high academic standards, as required by law.
Keep in Mind
It is equally important for teachers to have high expectations for the families. Acknowledging the strengths that families have (e.g., knowledge about the child’s disability, experience using strategies that are successful with the child at home) will provide the basis for a more meaningful partnership between schools and families. When teachers begin to view children’s learning as a shared responsibility with families, teachers are more likely to meet the educational needs of the child.
Listen to Anne Henderson discuss how education is changing and how educators must place high expectations on students and their families (time: 0:52).
Anne T. Henderson
Senior Consultant, Community Involvement Program
Annenberg Institute for School Reform