When working with kids with special needs, we all strive to take on a team approach in order to help each child the best that we can. The child may have several professionals working with them at the same time like a tutor, occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, neurologist, psychologist, ABA specialist and most importantly, their teachers. As we juggle our crazy schedules and what comes with the day to day routine, it can be challenging to create a successful team intervention approach. With the new school year just around the corner, we wanted to share our top 10 tips for professionals on how to successfully communicate with your kids’ teachers.
1. Wait a little while
When the new school year starts, we are all eager to get started on new goals, to hear how the child is doing and to help the child in any way that we can. Slow down. Not only does your child’s teacher need some time to get adjusted to their new students and routines but the children also need time to adjust. Wait three to four weeks or even a month for everyone to get settled and then Super Therapist can jump in. This doesn’t mean that you can’t provide your contact information as soon as the school year starts. Have the child’s parents give the teacher your business card or a sheet of paper with your contact information. This will be a nice gesture but won’t be another email or voicemail that the teacher will feel obligated to quickly return when they are trying to get the new year rolling and are busy with a million other things.
2. Don’t step on any toes
Try not to be a know it all. This is hard. Chances are, you have been working with your client for the longest period of time and you feel like you have a lot of expertise to offer. You know what the child needs and what works. Even though this is probably all true, we suggest taking a backseat and let the child’s teacher drive the car until you have a reciprocated respectful relationship between the two of you. The teacher will reach out when they are ready. Remember to slow down. After everyone is settled into the new school year, then it is time you can share your tips and ideas. Just try not to overwhelm anyone. One thing at a time.
3. Establish a mode of communication
Ask the teacher what their preferred mode of communication is. Many of us prefer email these days but not all people. I had one teacher that didn’t have time to talk during the school day when I was actually at the school to see the child for therapy. She did not like email and she only wanted to talk on her home phone after 5:00 PM. I was not a fan of this. The key is that you may need to compromise….especially at first. If you respect the teacher’s wishes when you are getting to know them, you will be surprised at how far this will get you. I reached out and called her at her home (after 5:00 of course) and after that, she encouraged me to email her and she then responded to all my emails within the hour. Email worked for us for the rest of the school year. Establish a mode of communication that works for the two of you and remember that you may have to compromise.
4. Establish a communication schedule
Depending on how often you work with the child, you may need to communicate with the teacher on a regular or a long term basis. We see most of our patients weekly, so weekly communication is ideal. This doesn’t mean that weekly communication always works. Each teacher is different. Talk about this openly and honestly. Tell the teacher that you do not want to overwhelm them and encourage the teacher to tell you when they feel overwhelmed. When the teacher does not respond to your phone calls or emails immediately, don’t get upset, but do take a hint. That communication schedule does not work for the teacher. Ask the teacher what he or she prefers? Talking or emailing every week, every other week, every month? Teachers are BUSY and tired. They have tons of other parents and professionals to communicate with after a long school day. Remember this when you are trying to setup a communication schedule with them.
5. What can I work on?
Before you give the teacher a million things that they need to work on with your student, first ask THEM what YOU can work on. Odds are they might have some simple ideas that you can easily incorporate in your sessions or consultations. Again, take the backseat. The teacher will really appreciate this and will feel like you are more of a support system and that you are there to help.
6. What do you need help with?
Not only ask the teacher what you can specifically work on in your sessions, but also ask the teacher what they need help with. The child may be visually and auditorily distracted in the classroom. They might be having trouble with a certain classmate. Ask the teacher what challenges they are seeing or ask if there is anything that you can do to help. You may be able to help this teacher a whole lot just by typing out a list of five to 10 easy strategies or ideas (ways to increase the child's attention, ways to modify the classroom to help with the child’s sensory needs, ways to help the child socially with their peers). Just ask.
7. Provide reports
Reports are great because the teacher can read them on their own time. Many times I have encouraged kids’ parents to provide their teachers with my evaluation and progress reports. Once the teachers have read the reports, then they initiated reaching out to me to discuss things. They served as an open door to communication. Remember to get written permission from the parents before you provide another professional with any form of documentation.
8. Provide examples and simple materials
You can talk, talk, talk until you’re blue in the face. Not all people learn through talking. Give concrete examples of what you are doing. This may be something as simple as an ABC color page, a link to a website, a set of articulation cards, a photo of a visual schedule, a specific pencil grip, a copy of your patient’s completed work, a copy of a certain kind of paper for handwriting practice, etc. Just keep it simple. You may spend hours working on a packet for your child’s teacher. Just remember that they may not have time to use it. Start out slow and give one simple thing at a time. See how the teacher responds. Ask if the item was helpful and ask if they would like more or less. Just be kind and honest and try to put yourself in their shoes. Would you have time?
9. Be polite
This seems like a given. Being kind, friendly and polite will go a long way. Smile, say thank, tell the teacher how much you appreciate them and how great they are doing. Put down the clipboard and have a nice conversation. This is what a team approach is all about.
10. Keep it fun
What we do is serious. When it comes down to it, children’s lives and futures are in our hands. Just don’t forget that they are KIDS and that kids are FUN. You chose to work with children for a reason. Try to have a fun attitude even when the stress reaches its peak.
Everyone is different. What works for you may not work for your child’s teacher and vice versa. Try to get to know your child’s teacher the best that you can and create a simple system that works. Also don’t forget to honor HIPPA and get written permission from the parents to communicate with the child’s teachers and any other professionals.
Happy new school year!