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Back to School: A Post for Parents

Set your kid up for success and start the new school year off on a good note.

A teacher with short dark hair in a red shirt looks at a calculator with a student, a young man with Down syndrome.

Back-to-School can be an exciting time for many students and teachers - the promise of a fresh start and a new year!

But what happens when you're the parent of a nonspeaking student? In addition to that excitement, you may be feeling the dread of "here we go again...another year, another disaster!"

We're here to offer five tips to help parents and teachers get off to a great start.

Tip #1 - Be Cautious about First Impressions

It's easy to approach the first day of school with certain expectations, and if they're not met that first day, we sometimes fix our mindset in preparation for a bad year ahead.

The vast majority of teachers entered this profession because of a love of children and a love of teaching. They probably weren't expecting to also be "gifted" the endless administrative tasks, demands on their planning time for things outside their job description, or sludge-like bureaucracy that can stand in the way of getting students what they need.

This additional workload is especially burdensome for special educators. Every year, caseloads get larger, paperwork and timeline demands grow bigger, and support staff hours get axed. A smooth first day (or week!) of school is everyone's dream, but unfortunately the reality is that those first few days are likely to be bumpy, no matter how amazing a teacher is.

Taking a minute to offer some grace to the school team and reminding yourself that it might not be great YET can go a long way toward preventing that fixed mindset trap of thinking "this year is going to be awful."

Tip #2 - Introduce Your Child using a Strengths-Based Perspective

Most teachers love to know more about their students than what they can learn in their school files. We know that those files present a very two-dimensional picture of a student.

A lot of times, the information teachers get about their new students is full of labels (low-functioning, aggressive, level 3 autism, etc.) that don't actually offer that much insight into who their students truly are. Teachers also receive a lot of information about what their students CAN'T do (pay attention, keep their hands to themselves, button their pants independently, etc.).

This information comes from a deficit-based perspective, and it can pre-condition teachers to expect the worst from a child. If a teacher reads or hears that a student constantly stims, chooses not to use a communication device or board when it’s offered, perseverates on things, is aggressive and runs away, can't read or count, it's going to change how they approach that student on the first day.

They might come prepared with a strict behavior plan, be on guard for sudden aggression, and prepare the most basic of academics. In fact, academics might be really secondary in their mind. How often have you heard a teacher say, “we’re going to get behavior under control first, and then we’ll get to academics”?

Using a strengths-based model that focuses on what the student CAN do and what they are trying to achieve with support can help teachers reframe the mindset they have as they start the year.

Want to take a deeper dive into this idea? Our online course might be perfect for you.

Among other topics, we tackle deficit vs. strengths based descriptions and help our participants shift their own mindsets about how the language we use shapes the experiences of our students.

Tip #3 - Seek Out & Share Resources

We talked earlier about how overwhelmed school staff can be. If you have a great resource that supports your child's learning, share it with them! Just remember that if they're overloaded already, they may not have time to explore long books or watch lengthy videos.

Choose a resource that can be consumed quickly as a sort of appetizer to a deeper topic. One of our favorite bite-sized books to give busy educators and administrators is from one of our course contributors: Diego Peña's Anatomy of Autism. This self-proclaimed "pocket guide"concisely shares a look inside the author's experiences, sensory challenges, and communication successes.

Have you ever fallen down an insta or TikTok rabbit hole after viewing just one video that really got you thinking? Take advantage of this idea and share a video or post from an account you love. Help your educational team invite the content you want them to see into their social media algorithms!

Tip #4 - Build Partnerships, not Battle Lines

Most teachers want to be your partners. Most teachers are also working within the confines of underfunded bureaucratic systems with conditions beyond their control. In our course, we spend a lot of time talking about relationship building and how important trust is within the communication partnership between teacher / aide and student.

This same level of trust between teacher and family is equally important.

Most teachers won't admit to it, but contentious relationships with families almost always negatively impact the relationships teachers have with those students at school. It may be unintentional, but it happens.

Partnerships promote cooperation and a win-win mindset. This approach fosters a sense of fairness and equality, making it more likely that students, teachers, and families will all benefit.

Partnership also fosters long-term stability: your kid is going to spend a LOT of years in school! Doesn't it make sense to invest in collaboration that builds goodwill and innovation that will transcend classrooms?

And maybe most significantly...adversarial relationships are stressful. They use up a lot of energy that could be better spent focusing on what matters: education that works for your child.

Tip #5 - Presume Competence

We talk a lot about how this applies to educators and parents presuming competence of their students, and we hope that's first and foremost on everyone‘s mind today.

But we also want to remind parents and families to presume competence of their child's educators. It can be frustrating to step into the first day and not have everything in place support-wise, to have a new team working with your child, and to feel like your child's needs won't ever be met appropriately.

Just remember that it's the first day. The educators at your child's school are managing an unprecedented teacher shortage. They may be severely understaffed, which is a systemic problem, not a fault on the part of teachers. The first day of school is challenging any time, but adding that on top makes things even more intense.

Like so many other educators, we’ve been at the first day of school and have undoubtedly not met parent expectations at one point or another. Sometimes through our own faults, and sometimes through systemic problems with the school systems that are out of our control. How have we bounced back from these mistakes to become better educators to your children?

With your partnership. Presume that your child's teacher is a competent individual who has the capability of learning the best ways to teach and support them. Presume that they want to be your partners in this journey!

Make it a great year.

Happy new school year, friends! We hope it is a great year ahead and all of us at Communication for Education are here to support you. Book a consult, join our online course, or stay in touch to see what’s coming your way next!


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