As I was finalizing my research on the partnership between families with children who are deafblind and educational professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was struck by the the critical need to keep open and frequent lines of communication to insure IEP success. Here are my takeaways.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of communication this past year based upon my personal and professional experiences. When I was analyzing interview transcripts for this recent research study, communication was a recurring theme. Every parent I interviewed mentioned how important communication has been - although sometimes poor - this past year.
As you’ll read in my brief and synthesized summary, this past year, when communication broke down or was nonexistent, parents became frustrated. Parents appreciated when teachers and IEP teams went out of their way to do individual check in’s, send text messages, etc. The increased communication helped the teams problem solve, individualize, and address accessibility issues.
These findings shouldn’t be that surprising to me since I teach an undergraduate course in IEP collaboration, but they were. One of the topics I teach are the 7 Principles of Partnership (Blue-Banning et al., 2004). In this past research, one of the factors that has been shown to increase parent satisfaction in IEP meetings is communication.
Communication is complex, however. As parents, we often feel that communication is lacking or communications are in a format that doesn’t work for us. That is why I always suggest that IEP teams create a communication plan with each family every year, asking families:
If IEP teams develop a communication plan that works for each individual family, I think a parent will ultimately be more satisfied - and feel more of a valued part of the team. For families of children who are deafblind, communication is even more important because of the heterogeneousness of the disability. Families have such important knowledge to share with the team about their child's individual needs.
I conducted a research study about two years ago (I’m writing up findings now) where I surveyed 73 families of children who are deafblind about the factors that increased their satisfaction with IEP meetings. One research question was: Is there a relationship between parent perception of the importance of adequate communication and the satisfaction they have with their child’s IEP teams?
What I found was very interesting and ties into what I’ve already mentioned. IEP team members can increase parent satisfaction by 68% by just responding to parents quickly. Just think about how we, as a field, have the opportunity to increase parent satisfaction by just focusing on communication - and more specifically by just responding quickly to parents.
The pandemic has highlighted existing challenges in special education. Communication challenges are not new and in fact, we know that stress makes communication both more important AND more difficult to sustain. All of us have been stretched to the limits this past year. I imagine that good communication is sometimes the last thing on our minds. I know that I’ve had many days when I’ve wanted to crawl back into bed and not talk with anyone.
But, I urge us to think about communication in new ways. Some schools saw the pandemic as an opportunity to increase family engagement and family communication - by use of new technology such as Class Dojo. During the pandemic, I've been hearing more positive stories about parents being able to text their child's teachers if they need anything, and more one on one check ins.
If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that family engagement is incredibly important and communication is at the heart of building a trusting relationship with families.
Family involvement is mandated as part of IDEA but what is put into practice if often not what was envisioned. Communication is a bit part of improving family engagement and family-professional partnerships.
Parents, if you have a moment today, reach out to an educator to tell them you appreciate them. Educators, reach out to families to check in - to make sure they know that they have an important voice and make sure they have what they need. Being a year into this pandemic has impacted our mental health and a quick check in can go a long way.
I am constantly amazed about what the field of educators focused on deafblindness has been able to accomplish this past year. We still have accessibility and access issues to address but we’ve come a long way. I imagine that much of the success has been because of good communication and strong collaboration.
Lanya (Lane) McKittrick is the Chair of the Board of the Usher Syndrome Coalition, founder of the Hear See Hope Foundation, and deafblind education researcher and founder of Lane of Inquiry. Lane received her PhD in Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado. Her research, advocacy and family support work are rooted in her personal experience as a mom to four sons, including two who have Usher Syndrome, the leading genetic cause of deafblindness.