What are some unique issues related to working with families of these children?
Page 4: Family Engagement: Collaborating with Families of Students with Disabilities
The involvement of parents can be a powerful influence on their children’s educational success and as such is regarded as a best practice in early childhood instruction. In addition to helping them to understand the importance of maintaining their home language, teachers should collaborate with families because families:
- Are important partners in facilitating their children’s overall development
- Advocate for their children’s services from the time they are screened through their transition to kindergarten and beyond
- Are knowledgeable about their children’s skills and abilities in their home language
- Promote the use of the home language in the classroom, at home, and in the community
- Promote the continuity of services, interventions, and practices between home and school
Listen now as Rosa Milagros Santos talks about the importance of collaborating with families (time: 1:45).
Rosa Milagros Santos, PhD
Professor, Special Education
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
DEC Recommended Practices
The DEC Recommended Practices on working with families serve as a starting point for collaborating with a broad range of families, including those who have young DLL children with disabilities. Although all the DEC Recommended Family Practices broadly apply to the families of young DLL children with disabilities, the two listed below specifically refer to this population.
- F1. Practitioners build trusting and respectful partnerships with the family through interactions that are sensitive and responsive to cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic diversity.
- F8. Practitioners provide the family of a young child who has or is at risk for developmental delay/disability, and who is a dual language learner, with information about the benefits of learning in multiple languages for the child’s growth and development.
(DEC Recommended Practices, 2014)
Underscoring the DEC Recommended Family Practices are a variety of strategies that teachers can use to partner with families. Below are three important strategies that can lead to successful parent-professional collaborations, especially those involving young DLLs with disabilities.
Build and maintain rapport with families: Teachers should develop positive relationships with families based on mutual trust, acceptance, and respect. To build rapport, teachers must begin with a sincere interest in getting to know the children and their families. This requires the teacher to know what language or languages are spoken at home and to do his or her best to share information in that language (e.g., important notices from school, daily child updates). Teachers can get to know the families by talking to them at drop-off and pick-up times or on the phone, and when feasible by visiting the families in their homes. Understanding a few key words and phrases in the home language can go a long way in signaling a teacher’s respect and interest. When teachers are required to communicate more than basic information, interpreters can prove indispensable. Teachers should understand that there are often stressors associated with being the family of a young child with a disability (e.g., financial, emotional, medical). Teachers should be non-judgmental in understanding the issues the families are facing, how they affect the child, and how the teacher can use this information to support them.
Learn from families: In order for professionals to learn more about young DLLs with disabilities and their families, they should ask the families questions about what is important to them for their child. These range from broad questions (e.g., “What would you like your child to accomplish in the next year?”) to specific questions (e.g., “What have you tried to help your child sit at the table during mealtime?”). In addition, teachers can learn about the child’s routines and activities in the home, as well as in the community. Teachers can use all of this information to address the child’s needs, plan instruction, and help the child be more successful in the classroom.
Create welcoming classrooms: Teachers should create classroom environments that are welcoming not only to the children but also to their families. Some ways they can do this include:
- Establishing an open door policy whereby families can feel free to drop in anytime
- Creating bulletin boards that include pictures of families or that highlight the multiple languages of the classroom (e.g., the word “hello” displayed in all of the classroom’s languages)
- Ensuring that classroom materials (e.g., posters, toys, dramatic centers) are representative of the student’s diversity (e.g., their disability, culture, ethnicity)
- Inviting families to attend parent-teacher conferences
- Creating volunteer opportunities in the classroom
- Asking families to share their language, culture, knowledge, skills, talents, and hobbies with the class
- Using families’ preferred modes of communication (e.g., emails, texts, phone calls, notes)
A look inside Mrs. Raymond's classroom
At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Raymond asks families to share family photos. In a few cases, Mrs. Raymond takes a picture of the family using her camera phone during her home visit or when the family attends an open house or other school event. Mrs. Raymond carefully posts these photos around the room so that the children can see their families throughout the day. This can be especially effective for children who are experiencing separation anxiety. Displaying family photos also gives families a sense of belonging and makes them feel welcome.