This week, we’re continuing our series all about navigating the start of the school year successfully. 💪
We’ve spent the last few episodes talking about scheduling, setting up your caseload, and building those interpersonal relationships with our fellow teachers and paraprofessionals.
This week, we’re going to branch out beyond the school + classroom and talk about communication with parents!
Parent communication can seem like a “soft skill” or something that’s more of a bonus compared to treatment goals, but it’s a great area to consider working on because they spend an awful lot of time with our students. They are often the ones who know their children best, and they can be such great allies throughout the therapeutic process.
So, if you’re ready to do some work on your communication skills, grab your drink of choice (I’ll have a chai latte!), put your feet up, and listen in!
– Why we should spend time working on parent communication
– Five strategies that we can use to start navigating the process:
– Using handouts with parents
– Mapping out IEPs, and getting parents prepared
– Using technology to keep parents informed
– Having a central hub for information
– Keeping everything organized
Links Mentioned in the Podcast
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Thanks so much!
... to share some examples of that with you. Before we dive into all of the strategies for our parent communication, I think I'm preaching to the choir here, but I just wanted to take a second to think about why we would even spend some time working on this because we have so many things pulling for our attention, and it might not be the goal that you're working on right now and that's okay, but if you're trying to decide which goal to work on or which area of your practice to improve, I think parent communication is a really great areas to consider. They spend an awful lot of time with our students and they know our students best. They can really be our allies and help us reach maybe students who are a little bit more difficult or just help any of our students make progress.
If they can help with that generalization at home, that can make a huge difference in terms of overall progress and generalization to other settings, as well. If we have them on our team, it can be incredibly powerful and huge. So just a little bit of the why behind that. Like, I feel like there's so much research coming out lately that focuses on including parents and intervention. I mean, it's a little bit trickier for us to implement in the schools, but that's something that I'm really excited to dive into and see how I might be able to implement that with my caseload in the future and just implementing what the research is telling us. But there's some really great results coming out of that.
But for today, I have five strategies that we can use to start navigating this process a little bit. The first part is to make it easy, so I'll share some ideas that we can use to make it easier. We want to log our communication and we'll talk about why and how to do that. We want to communicate early, communicate regularly, and one super helpful strategy is to build a handout binder and I'll show you how I do that and what that looks like.
First thing is to make it easy. I confessed earlier that I had a really hard time sending home worksheets. It was just challenging for me to find, like put together the activities that would make sense for the student that matched up with what we're doing that were appropriate for their level that they could do. Because I was really worried about that errorless learning, especially when it came to articulation and I didn't want them to be practicing at the wrong level or practicing it wrong because that meant more work for us. And so there were a bunch of hurdles there just in terms of the time and just the logistics around implementation. So many times I found I would put together these beautiful worksheets and send them home, and then I would just find them crumbled up at the bottom of a student's backpack, and they like rarely got returned. That was challenging for me because I put so much work into it and it didn't seem like it was getting any results.
And I was doing some brainstorming and trying to figure out how I can make this better. I was talking to one of my teachers and everyone at this new school that I was at was using Remind, which is a communication app. They're all HIPAA compliant, they've got all the security in place, and it's really great if your school is already using a communication app, but if not it's something that would be worth looking into some. I'm not sure about the compliance of all of the other tools, but I know, for example, that Class Dojo is another example. There's a couple of Seesaw is another example of an app that I've seen other SLPs use, but I think it speaks to the making it easy component.
Maybe it's not that. I've seen other SLPs use, they set up a Google voice number and they text with parents through there, too. But it's so fascinating to me because when I was using Remind, but I was still kind of in the transition, I would try and call parents and I would leave them a bunch of messages to try and schedule their IEP or to chat about something or whatnot, and I would like call, and leave messages, and try and squeeze it into my schedule and it would just be crickets. Like nothing. Then I was like, "Oh I should try this sending a message on remind because we have that set up." I'd send them a message and they would respond within seconds.
And so I think, I don't know, especially in terms of how I like to communicate, I don't often answer the phone or check my mail. We just get so many notifications and so many things going on that a text is just really easy, low entry. I can be like, "Okay, sure I can respond to that." That's one thing that has made a huge difference for me. Parent communication started being much more doable once I made it easier, and that was just what happened to work best for my parents at that particular school. Different schools and different demographics and all of that will respond to different things, but that just worked out really well.
So think about what would be easy for your parents, and maybe those handouts, like Holly shared the example because her parents come into the session, a handout is probably the easiest thing there because maybe they sat in on the session, then they saw it happening, and then Holly can just share handout or a worksheet for continued practice because they were in the session, they saw it happen, they know what to do, and then they can take it from there.
And even if they weren't, she has the opportunity to check in with them and share a strategy that they can use when completing that activity. So for that example, the worksheet might be easier. So, just think of the different options available to you, whether it's phone calls, text communication apps, worksheets, folders, more regular meetings, whatever it may be, and what feels like it would be easier for you and easier for your parents, and that'll be the best way to maintain that communication and keep that working.
Then the next step, once we find something that feels easy, we want to make sure that we log the communication, because depending on your caseload size, you might be having conversations with over a hundred pairs of parents, and that's a lot. We want to make sure that we're keeping track of what we're communicating about and that we know that we can remember and keep things straight, so setting up a communication log right at the beginning of the school year is so huge. Then when I was using Remind, because you can copy and paste that information, I would, and you can just keep it in Remind and maybe just export it at the end of the school year if you're required to keep conversations, but if it was something really important that I wanted to reference when I was writing the IEP, I would copy and paste it into SLP Now. That's my digital system and that's where I would keep track of my communication logs, because it's just linked to the student's profile, so when I'm reviewing my data and updating my IEP, I can see all of those relevant notes.
I also use that, we'll talk about teacher communication in the next module, but I really liked having that central hub for all of that information. Then when the next time I was having a conversation with a parent or when I was preparing for an IEP, I could just see all of that in one place and feel like a rock star therapist because I can remember all the details.
The next step is to communicate early. I know that I get a little bit anxious when I'm on a deadline, I have to schedule this IEP, and I don't always do my best communication when I'm on a time crunch and when we just have to get this in because the deadline is coming up. That's why I map out my IEP dates well ahead of time and I start reaching out to parents well ahead of time as well so that we can get something on the calendar and make sure that they're prepared to come into the IEP.
Then start to bring up, maybe when I'm on the call with them, if we're going to be talking about any kinds of changes in the service delivery, or the goals, or anything that we might be talking about, I can get a feel for where they're at and we can kind of start moving towards that conversation instead of having it all be a really rushed conversation of, "Okay, let's get in, let's do this," and then the bomb goes off with all the changes that are happening. I think that's when the miscommunication comes in and that's when issues arise is because we didn't give ourselves enough time and space to have those conversations and just give them the time and space that they need.
Then the next step is to communicate regularly. If we're giving ourselves enough time, like if we go to schedule that IEP meeting, we can check in there, and then we can have a quick reminder or a quick Remind reminder using the app, or Google voice, or whatever you're using, but just having a way to check in in terms of scheduling the IEPs. But then when I was using Remind, I would just take a quick picture of the activity that we did in the therapy room. I was like, "Hey, we're reading this book this week," and then maybe the next week I would say like, "We worked on this skill," and just give an example. And so, I would give little snapshots of what we were working on and then I would take a quick picture.
Like if we did the story retell, it's like, "Hey, we worked on this story grammar organizer," and I could even share video and different examples of I could send like a quick voice memo showing how the story retell worked or share a quick strategy, but that was really doable for me to squeeze in those quick messages throughout the week. I wouldn't do it every week for every single student, but I would at least communicate, like, I would communicate way more frequently than I would if I just had the phone, and sending a quick picture is easy to do with multiple students in a group at once, and so that was just one way that I was able to communicate more regularly.
Then another strategy that's been a game changer is just building a handout binder, and I carry to any meeting that I go to with parents or teachers. I'll give you an example of some of the things inside, but I think it's incredibly important because we're really familiar with the IEP process, how special education works. We are really familiar with our content area and we have a good enough idea of what's going on with other specialists, but for parents, it's all new to them, and they're also bringing in all of the emotion that goes with that. They're overwhelmed, they're worried about their child, they're being bombarded with all these acronyms, all of this information. It just goes over their head a lot of the time.
That's why I really like to have these handouts ready to go, because it makes the conversation easier because we can refer to the visual and I can make sure that they're understanding it. So I'll explain whatever I'm explaining and refer to that, kind of like we do with our students, but then I'll let them take the handout home so they can refer to it and revisit it, and I might just like staple my car to it or whatever in case they have questions, but that's just increases their comprehension so much more and it makes the conversation that much more successful.
Here are a couple of my favorites, and these are all free, and there are more generic, but Jenna Rayburn, this is on Teachers Pay Teachers her what is an SLP handout, but I think it's helpful to explain this to parents when we're first starting out so that they know what we do and what we target. This is also especially important for teachers. This is more of a teacher-oriented handout as well, but it shows the expectations for the different grade levels and it's really helpful. This is by an Amanda Newsome from A Perfect Blend and that's also on Teachers Pay Teachers. I just had to plug in these observation checklists, because they are incredibly helpful as well.
But my favorite handout to use when I'm explaining evaluation results to parents because the standard scores and all of that don't make a whole lot of sense. It took me a little while in grad school and I know that some of my parents have no clue, so this makes it much more visual, it makes it much easier to explain, and it includes really nice descriptions of the different bands. I just love how it is visual and shows the number of students so that I can use more parent friendly terminology when describing it.
What I do is I use this in particular when we're going over evaluation results, but I'll pull the standard scores or percentiles from their different assessments and plot them on the bell curve. Then we get a really good overview of where they fall across the different skills. It just really makes a discussion that much easier and it's just really helpful. This is from Pacificcoastspeech.com/resources. It's also free and easy to find. Then if you're looking for more recommendations for handouts, I will also share that link in the blog post for this course.
Then the other things that I like to do to keep this organized, I put all of the handouts in sheet protectors. I think this is an example of sheet protectors from Walmart or Target. You can find them anywhere or in your school's office. But then I put the original handout and then some copies of the handout in the sheet protector so when I'm at a meeting, I don't have to rent in the copy machine, I can just pull one out of the sheet protector and I'm ready to go. I use a highlighter to put an X, a big giant X, on my original so I don't give it out. The magic thing about a yellow highlighter is that if you copy it, it doesn't show up on the copy. Because I don't want to give a parent handout with yellow highlight or all over it, so it prompts me to like go get another copy so I don't lose the original. But it's just a really nice way to keep them organized.
Then I use this ready index, and this is what I was talking about with the assessments, as well. I use already indexed to keep track of the different different sections of handouts so I can easily navigate to the ones that I need for any given meeting or whatnot. That works really well. And just another note, because I got extra wide ready indexes so I could still see the number of tabs stick out, because the sheet protectors are wider than a normal piece of paper, so if you're a super type A like me, you might want to look for an extra wide ready index to keep those organized, or just extra wide dividers so you can still see the tabs, or you can get little sticky note tabs to separate them out. But that organization is definitely a time saver so you're not just flipping through all of the pages trying to find the one that you need.
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