Slide 1: In some districts communicating with parents is a routine experience among special education paraprofessionals. But in other districts the school board or district administrators have decided that such communication is not part of the role. Whatever the case in your district, this webinar will help you navigate the challenges of communicating with parents.
Slide 2: This is Emily Kresiak. I’m a Research Assistant working for WordFarmers Associates on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.
Slide 3: When you think about communicating with parents, it’s important to remember first that, as a special education paraprofessional, you are part of an instructional team. The team may include you and your teacher, or it may include several parapros and several teachers. Whatever the case, you are not acting alone, but representing that team when you speak with parents.
Slide 4: Some districts are very clear that communication with parents is the responsibility of teachers and administrators, not paraprofessionals. But even these districts recognize that contact between parents and paraprofessionals is frequent and common. These districts tell paraprofessionals not to answer complicated questions, but to refer parents to teachers (or to the team). And they may also remind parapros to share parents’ concerns with their teachers and other instructional team members.
Slide 5: This unit offers three simple principles for communicating with parents that should fit well with nearly all policies adopted by local districts.
Slide 6: Here are the three principles: (1) Refer issues to the teacher or the instructional team—under no circumstances should you speak for the instructional team! (2) When you do chat with parents, stick to topics other than school issues. And, of course, (3) don’t talk about other children—that should go without saying.
Slide 7: These principles put limits on what and how you communicate with parents. And they may feel unnatural at first. You may, for instance, interact with parents who come to the school to drop off their children or to pick them up. Or you may live in the same community as parents and may talk with them informally on many occasions. Or mutual friends may ask about a student or a student’s family.
Slide 8: Such circumstances present challenges for paraprofessionals. Not jumping in and communicating can, in fact, be vexing. For example, if there are difficulties, some parents may want you to side with them. Or, you may hold an opinion you think they should know about. Or you might think that mutual friends would have some good ideas. These are natural impulses in ordinary everyday life.
Slide 9: You are in this situation, however, because of your employment as a paraprofessional. And that changes everything! In your role as a paraprofessional—because it is your job—you have to be much more guarded than you probably would be in everyday life.
Slide 10: As a member of the instructional team, you’ll be part of discussions and you will know things that you might feel parents should know, too. Such communications are for the team to make, however, unless the team specifically enlists your help. Without authorization, your interactions will do more harm than good.
Slide 11: Your communication with parents thus needs to be part of what your teacher or instructional team explicitly plans with you. Of course, not every communication can be planned. But the ground rules for communication with parents can be planned, and the first two principles—referring parents to the team and talking about non-school topics—can help with that planning.
Slide 12: Remember that the work of the team is the important thing and that the team—not you alone—makes decisions about students’ education. You are there to help. It’s tempting to include parents in the help you are providing to their children by talking with them about their children’s performance, behavior, or social interactions. But avoid the temptation: share parents’ concerns with the teacher or team and let the teacher or the team decide how to respond. When you talk with parents, keep the conversation friendly—either purely social or focused on a practical purpose, such as delivering materials to the parent or reminding the parent to send in a permission slip. And always remember to keep information about students confidential.