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How to... Engage with parents who have a different view of their child's needs

When it comes to assessing the needs of a child, parents and teachers do not always see eye to eye. Two educational psychologists offer their advice for overcoming the problem

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When it comes to assessing the needs of a child, parents and teachers do not always see eye to eye. Two educational psychologists offer their advice for overcoming the problem

What should teachers do when parents and schools disagree about the needs of a child? Sometimes parents may push for a diagnosis that doesn’t match how the school sees the child, or they may believe that nothing is wrong when the school feels there is a problem to address.

In these circumstances, the key is to build successful home-school collaboration and to increase awareness of the factors that cause each of us to see the situation in particular ways.

The following strategies will help you manage differences of opinion without causing a breakdown in home-school relationships:

  1. Reflect on your communication style

    Home-school collaboration is at its best when teachers engage in regular communication with parents in a way that shows commitment, respect, honesty, openness, lack of judgement and flexibility. 
     
  2. Be mindful of power hierarchies

    Parent-teacher communication often involves a power hierarchy, which places the knowledge and observations of teachers as superior to those of the parents.  Such hierarchies can trigger parents to act in a way that they feel will redress the balance of power – by pursuing diagnostic labels for their child, for example. Bear these hierarchies in mind to help parents to feel valued and respected.
     
  3. Be thorough in gathering data 

    When collating information about how a child presents at school, consider as wide a set of data as possible. This might include observations, informal discussions with staff, structured questionnaires circulated to staff and findings from formal assessment tools. This will give you more information to draw upon in discussions with parents.
     
  4. Be aware of the influence of a blame culture  

    There is a tendency for those at school to place blame within the home and for those at home to place blame within school. A common response to feeling that one’s professionalism is being scrutinised is to become defensive, but you must avoid this to maintain successful collaboration.
     
  5. Find out how the child presents at home

    Avoid the assumption that a child presents the same at home as they do at school. Many teachers will be familiar with tales from parents of how their child – who is flying at school – melts as they enter the safe zone of home, exhausted from the effort and anxieties of the school day.
     
  6. Seek to understand key influences on how parents interpret the child’s needs

    Our knowledge, experiences and aspirations affect how we interpret the world. These, in turn, are related to our social and cultural contexts. Unpicking the history that leads to each of us framing facts in a certain way allows us to understand and work with people’s views of the world. Key influences to ask ourselves and others about include past experiences of professionals and education, beliefs about special educational needs and disability, aims and current life context.

Poppy Ionides is an educational psychologist and consultant and Maria Ionides is a trainee educational psychologist

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