The Importance of Parental / Carer Engagement for SEN Students.
This view is borne out in studies (see links at end of article) and is widely held across education. Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.
Why this partnership is required.
Both parents and school staff each know the student but in vastly different and equally important ways. Teachers and Learning Support Assistants will have information that parents will be unaware of about their child. They will have seen how the child behaves in class, whether they are engaged in their learning and how they are progressing in comparison to their peers.
Parents, on the other hand, know their child in ways that others can never do. They know the background and history that is as relevant to the child’s progress as anything we see in school. They have the opportunity to sit side-by-side with their child, working through homework and other learning activities for extended periods. They have the most complete understanding of a child’s physical, social, developmental and family history.This information can be invaluable to school staff.
School and home must be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ otherwise the child becomes confused by the mixed messages they are receiving from both.
Parents are an integral part of any plan for the child. Schools need parents to support their strategies and recommendations through discussions and sometimes, work at home. Parent feedback on how their child feels about their support and about school in general is vital. This allows education staff to make any necessary tweaks to what is offered in school. Children like to feel safe and when they know that their parents or carers are working closely and in tandem with the school, they are reassured that everything that can be done to help, is.
One way of showing this collaborative approach is to replicate the consequences and celebrations given by the school. This home / school approach clearly shows that you are in agreement and have been involved in the planning of your child’s support. Parents and schools who work together have the best outcomes for SEN students, in terms of grades and personal development.
- Setting goals with children and fostering achievement of those goals;
- Accessing and using children’s academic scores to ensure they’re on track;
- Frequently viewing the parent portal (or whichever tool their school uses);
- Developing a relationship with children’s teachers and keeping in touch with them often; and
- Advocating for improvements in the school building and with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.
The most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success.
What does parental engagement look like?
When I talk about positive parental engagement, I mean regular meetings with the school usually just after any reports come out or when there has been a specific issue that requires the parent or carer to be notified and the matter discussed.
When at a school meeting, be prepared to ask questions, no matter how difficult and ensure you are satisfied with the answers. Don’t be afraid to keep asking for clarification on an issue. Ensure that you are clear about the school’s viewpoint and perspective.
Planning support for a student.
It is important to have both parents, carers, school staff and any other professionals involved with the child attend planning and review meetings. This creates a team around each child that is focused on how to achieve positive outcomes for the child in terms of meeting their academic potential. Parents should strive to attend meetings to ensure participation in decision making and to provide input on all aspects of their children’s programs. Unless both sides can come together and share the above to facilitate a support plan that includes both home and school, the child’s progress may stall.
What if there is a disagreement between the parties involved?
The last thing anyone wants to do is upset parents, but it is only right that all the information (positive and negative) that the school has is shared with the parents. This can, understandably, be difficult for parents to hear. What parent or carer wants to hear is that their child isn’t progressing as expected or that their child is not engaged with their learning? It is important that all parties respect, listen to and understand each other’s point of view. Sometimes, the child that a parent or carer sees at home is very different from the child that presents in school and vice versa. Both parties should accept and understand this and aim to see the situation from the other perspective.
Parents and carers should not let school personnel intimidate them in this process, because their role as an advocate for their child is paramount. It is the school’s role to mitigate such circumstances and work collaboratively with parents and carers to find the best solutions for all students. Many parents bring someone along with them either for specific, professional or moral support. It can be quite intimidating to sit in front of a group of educational professionals and you should do everything you can to mitigate such situations.
Remember to ask for a translator or any other help you might need in helping you understand what is being said.
Therefore, I would urge all parents and carers to engage with school staff even when the message from them is difficult to hear. Having a difference of opinion is fine and in some cases, both necessary and healthy. Teachers are often parents too, and when wearing that hat, can identify and often agree with an opposing view from a parent. However, within their role as educator, they must be honest and upfront if anything positive is to happen for the student’s progress.
Without these two parties wholly engaging, the student will undoubtedly miss out on much needed support. Unfortunately, I have lots of examples of this from my many years of working with parents. In these situations, when there was no collaboration between parties, it meant that the child continued to languish behind the rest of their year group with no progress, and often months and even years of schooling wasted. Sometimes this continued until exam years, when it was far too late to do anything significant about the situation at hand.
Even where parents initially did not want to hear what I (on behalf of the school) had to say about their child’s learning (completely understandable), their commitment to continuous engagement with the school paid off positively in the long term. Unsurprisingly, such situations often took longer to reach the point of cooperation and collaboration. However, in the end, the child was able to benefit from the joint decisions made in their interest and progress could begin. This sometimes meant planning for the child in their current school or, for others, it meant moving on to another provision that could better meet their individual needs. This was usually to work within a curriculum that could offer a different pathway or curriculum.
Subsequently, I have had many parents come to me over the years and thank me for my work with their child, even after many years of disagreeing with me. They eventually understood that everything I did was from a place of caring and understanding, coupled with many years of experience in the field.
I never gave up on working with parents, no matter how hard some of my experiences were. I have had parents insult, shout and physically threaten me but my job was not to judge but empathise with what they were going through. No one wants to hear that their child is different and may need additional help. This news can be extremely stressful for parents and it was always my job to be there to support both the child and them.
Advocating for your child is never easy; it can be a time of great anxiety and it can be physically draining ( see our blog on dealing with parental stress). It is a process that sometimes will have highs and lows, but definitely one that will bring rewards for all parties concerned. The feeling of knowing that a child is now on the path to success and that we have the data and evidence to prove it is what keeps me doing this job. This is one of the reasons why I set up this site: to empower parents and offer them a support mechanism to allow them to keep going through the dark and tough times.