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Why is Additional Support Necessary?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is meant to promote the collaboration of school personnel and families. Without guidance on how to best implement mandated regulations, they may prove to be an additional source of tension. Fish (2008) said that despite federal law such as IDEA, many parents feel alienated because educators continue to dominate the decision-making process leaving them to be the recipients of information and relegating them to the signing of documents.
As personnel witness that parental participation facilitates quality programming, strategies for resolving problems, parents’ satisfaction, and positive outcomes (Fish, 2008), they may be more willing to digress from a professional stance in order to encourage more collaboration with parents in other school related activities and meetings.
In order for contributions and potentials to be realized, school faculty and families must be in a forum of connection and equality. Whitbread and authors (2007) found that one method of fostering effective collaboration in schools is to train parents and school personnel together because participants in joint parent-professional training have more positive attitudes and higher expectations of students, which is strongly correlated with student success. Training sessions offer the potential for a reciprocated increase in awareness and compassion between school professionals and parents.
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Why Training is an Effective Approach
Special education training needs to place particular emphasis on skill building around the art of crafting agreements that promote accountability and minimize the risk of misunderstandings due to the fact that increased interaction and mutual responsibility for decision making have brought with them a higher degree of expressed disagreement and conflict (Nowell & Salem, 2007). It is important that parents and schools feel supported in special education efforts if they are to collaborate successfully. Training sessions would allow for the practice of employing non-threatening and positive communication strategies, the possession of equitable roles during meetings, and practice that reflects a democratic process (Fish, 2006).
Parents might not feel as isolated in their knowledge and its application if they receive training with special education professionals similar to those they will interact with on a regular basis. Nowell and Salem (2007) said, “Consider not only the issues of today but the also the relationships of tomorrow." Special education training is warranted by the efficient use of time and communication that will follow as a result of increased insight and a strengthened association.
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How Schools Empower Families
Parents are the sole decision-makers regarding their children lives and education professionals need to recognize their own roles in the family’s decision-making process (Murray et. al., 2007), which will allow them to be more effective and helpful. Increased communication and outreach from school personnel can increase family comfort levels during special education meetings. Van Haren and Fiedler (2008) said that communication between families and school professionals, as well as among family members, provides an open, supportive environment and ultimately enhances educational involvement.
Parental involvement cannot be underestimated, as it influences children for years to come. Whitbread and colleagues (2007) found that students whose parents are involved in their education show higher academic achievement; improved attendance, higher aspirations for post-secondary education and career development; improved social competence and lower rates of adolescent high-risk behavior.
These findings were true for families of all races, ethnicities, income levels, and educational backgrounds. The motivation and inspiration that parents can provide their children are indiscriminative.
School district personnel can ensure more meaningful parental involvement or active participation in the individualized education program (IEP) by confirming guardian understanding of procedural rights and proceedings (Fish, 2008). Comprehension of special education knowledge increases a family’s ability to make critical decisions about their child in partnership with the school. School professionals can empower parents to recognize their role of expertise in regards to their child so that the exchange of information is mutual.
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Increased Competency in the Working Relationship
Training opportunities can increase sensitivity and awareness of commonly overlooked influential factors. Unfortunately, according to Fish (2008), collaborative relationships fail to exist in particular for families of low socio-economic status and cultural diversity. Failure to effectively and actively work with diverse populations represents a major deficit.
Parents cannot contribute as efficiently to special education discussions if their family’s perspective of reality is not acknowledged. Sheehey (2006) said that the assumption that knowledge in the form of training, degrees, and credentials begets power is at odds with parent participation as defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the expectation that parents should advocate for their children suggests that all parents adhere to Western values of individualism, equity and freedom of choice.
Through training, teachers and school faculty might acquire new perspectives about their roles and contributions to benefit the culturally diverse practice of both regular and special education. The common experience of special education relevant training can help both schools and parents to be more considerate of the previously unidentified needs of the other.
A variety of factors may influence the creation of successful parent-school partnerships including teachers feeling overtaxed in their jobs and possibly resenting the added burden of dealing with parents who seem underappreciative, adversarial, or as simply lacking interest. Parents may be unfamiliar with special education procedures and relevant language, may lack an understanding of the limitations of the school and teachers, or may be reluctant to question school personnel about the supports and services available to their child (Whitbread, 2007).
Training that allows for open discussion and reflection helps people to consider alternative viewpoints that are often missed once disagreements or misunderstandings are influenced by strong, negative emotions. Established commonalities and respected differences can be fostered by special education training opportunities, which can focus on any topic or skill desired to be improved.
- Fish, W. (2006). Perceptions of parents of students with autism towards the IEP meeting: A case study of one family support group chapter. Education, 127(1), 56-68.
- Murray, M., Christensen, K., Umbarger, G., Rade, K., Aldridge, K., & Niemeyer, J. (2007). Supporting family choice. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(2), 111-117.
- Whitbread, K., Bruder, M., Fleming, G., & Park, H. (2007). Collaboration in special education. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(4), 6-14.
- Fish, W. (2008). The IEP meeting: Perceptions of parents of students who receive special education services. Preventing School Failure, 53(1), 8-14.
- Van Haren, B., & Fiedler, C. (2008). Support and empower families of children with disabilities. Intervention in School & Clinic, 43(4), 231-235.
- Nowell, B., & Salem, D. (2007). The impact of special education mediation on parent--school relationships. Remedial & Special Education, 28(5), 304-315.
- Sheehey, P. (2006). Parent involvement in educational decision-making: A hawaiian perspective. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 25(4), 3-15.