Open communication with your child's teacher will make any school year more positive and productive. Experts offer simple but effective ways parents can make that happen.

By Karen Hunt
April 09, 2021
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An image of a mom with her child and her teacher.
Credit: Getty Images.

Starting a new school year is stressful for any parent, but for those who have kids with special needs, there's also the worry about your child getting the support they need. Of course, that worry continues throughout the year. Setting up effective communication with the teachers is key to helping everyone involved. Experts weigh in on five simple things parents can do to really make a difference. You can also adopt a few of these tactics mid-year if you want to reset your relationship with a teacher.

Get Your Child's Paperwork Together

If your kid had any testing or therapy during the summer, get reports from the providers. Drop off copies at your child's school and even the school district's special education office. This way everyone can access the information if needed. Keep copies for yourself. You can scan them, but you might want to also keep paper copies.

That paperwork, with IEPs or 504s, can be overwhelming, but it needs to be available to answer any questions a teacher may have about your child. Janet Callahan, a mom of two children with special needs, has a plan for all the paperwork they generate. "I have a big binder. Even if it's not completely organized, I know it's in the binder," she says. You can grab a large binder online at Amazon or any retailer selling supplies.

Send an Introductory Email

As soon as you know the names and emails of the teachers and the staff working with your child (the sooner you get this information, the better), email them. It can be one email to everyone or separate emails, but don't leave anyone out. Introduce yourself and any co-parent and let them know how to contact you. Write an email that's positive and concise.

"Keep it simple and put, in bullet points, the key accommodations or behavior plan," advises Marcie Lipsitt, a Michigan-based education advocate. "Think what the teacher needs to understand so that the child will feel comfortable and succeed in the classroom."

Schedule a Meeting

If you don't have a meeting with the teachers and staff scheduled for beginning of the year, call the school about a week before classes begin and ask if you can have one—whether virtually or in-person, says Michelle O'Connor-Telinski, LMSW, director of autism and disabilities at the Judson Center, an organization in Farmington Hills, Michigan, offering services to families impacted by autism, abuse and neglect, developmental, behavioral, and physical health issues. Aside from opening "two-way communication," says O'Connor-Telinski, this meeting is helpful in giving the school insights about your child that the paperwork may not explain.

If you can't meet with all of your kid's teachers and staff at one time, meet them in groups or one at a time. Bring the current IEP or 504 and any other important paperwork. Ask if they have any questions. Make sure they know you'll be in contact throughout the year. Encourage them to contact you frequently. After you have the meeting, it's also a good idea to email everyone that attended to go over what was discussed.

Facilitate Regular Contact

Have a system to contact teachers on a regular basis. Rosa Worth, who is helping raise her grandson who has high-functioning autism, says she has reminders to check in with all his teachers. "I set up a calendar on my computer to remind me to send out emails," says Worth, adding these regular emails have helped clear up any small concerns before they became bigger.

On that note, you'll want to set up a system for emails and paperwork sent to and from the school—an electronic file works as does a physical one if you prefer printing out files.

Volunteer at Your Kid's School

If you have the time, volunteering can be a good way to learn more about the school environment. It's also a chance to have informal conversations with teachers about your child. Any kind of volunteering is good but try to volunteer in your child's classroom as often as you can. "You see the kids' friends, the structure of the classroom, and the systems in place," says special education teacher Deb Hawes.

The Bottom Line

Concerns are likely to come up when you have a child with special needs in school. Creating a communication system with your kid's school and teachers from the beginning will open up space for respectful dialogue for problem solving and will ultimately help your child's experience.

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