Clarke team members and mainstream school staffers connecting with a student as she tours her new mainstream high school.
As teachers of the deaf, we are in schools all day long finding time to connect with classroom teachers and other service providers in the building. Maybe it’s a formal consult, maybe it’s a quick conversation in the hallway or a check-in after class. But what about families and caregivers? After early intervention, service providers do not typically go into the students’ homes. Once children start school, families don’t generally spend the day in the school building. So how can we ensure that families are informed, active members of the educational team? I’ll share some strategies that I use, and I’d love to hear your ideas!
Pre-k / kindergarten are some of the first educational transitions for students and families. Families are often used to the early intervention model where they are involved in every aspect of therapy. When children are equipped for school, families entrust teachers of the deaf to lead that role. As a means of easing this transition, I work to keep families as involved as possible. I have video recorded my sessions (with family permission) and shared the recordings with the families so that they can follow up at home and see their child’s progress. I post my lessons and follow-up activities for home on the students’ ClassDojo (or similar platform) so that caregivers know what I am targeting. Some students have communication notebooks where each service provider hand writes notes. Phone calls are difficult for me since I am always on the road, but email and texting work well, and I make sure that families know they can always reach out if they have questions.
Elementary school creates new transitions and increasing independence for students. Depending on the needs of the student and the comfort of the family, communication may change. Weekly email updates to the educational team, including the family, are the most efficient way for me to keep everyone informed. I describe what we have worked on during the current week and where we are headed for upcoming sessions. I share suggestions for follow-up at home and always invite questions. Not everyone responds to my emails each time, but I have gotten feedback that folks appreciate the updates!
Middle school / junior high is yet another significant transition! Now, the teaching team grows as students often have a different teacher for each subject and begin changing classes. Families often worry about consistency of equipment use, access and myriad other challenges related to the new format. While developmentally appropriate, students may not share as much about their school day with their families, which can also create concern. I work to respect the independence and privacy of my students while still keeping their families informed. I have found email continues to be my best source for communication at this stage.
I also begin to include my students more, encouraging them to connect with their families if things get difficult. There have been a few occasions where I have witnessed something, or a student shared information that I considered to be a safety concern. In each situation, I discussed with my student my duty to share this information with their families, along with helping them role play how to share this information as well.* When I have regular communication with families, I have a better sense of how they will react to difficult news and can guide my students while also reporting in a respectful manner.
High school brings continued academic and social challenges as well as ever increasing independence. There is also the BIG transition to “real life” at the end whether that be college, the job market, trade school or something else. Rather than weekly emails, I communicate with families as needed. I make sure that I’m sending periodic updates so that if an issue does occur, we have a solid foundation to build from. Nobody wants to hear from school only when something bad happens!
Regular communication helps to build strong relationships between school and home. It builds trust between the family, myself and the rest of the school team. When I reach out regularly, caregivers feel more comfortable reaching out to me. This means I’m more likely to get a text or email if a student is going to be out, or if they get new hearing aids, etc. 😊 No matter what the age or ability of the student, families will always be important members of the educational team and deserve to be informed.
* The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires each state to have provisions or procedures for requiring certain individuals, including teachers, to report known or suspected instances of child abuse and neglect. Clarke works with caring adults to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of students, and follows all mandatory reporting regulations.