Preparing Parents for Inclusive Classrooms

by Sue Land

Summer vacation is over. Are you ready for the new school year? How do you plan to inform your students' parents about your inclusive classroom? Will you keep it a secret or be open about the nature of your class?

Results of a study by Daniel and King (1997) suggested that parents of students in inclusion programs express considerable concern about the program. As a result, the authors of this study recommend systematic parental involvement as an essential component of the process of establishing inclusive programs. Parents need to be acknowledged as key stakeholders in this process (Grove & Fisher, 1999).

How do parents receive information regarding inclusion? Parents initially learn about inclusion through teacher conferences, parent newsletters, their children's previous teachers, and from reading about inclusion in magazines. Some parents are not familiar with the term "inclusion." It then becomes the teacher's responsibility to "teach" the parents about inclusion and establish an environment where parents want to be partners in the classroom. Parents want access to information, support for their decisions, and provision of appropriate services (Grove & Fisher, 1999).

Carefully planned activities allow parents to be informed and alleviate their concerns. Parent concerns are varied and range from instructional to friendship issues. As you involve parents in activities throughout the school year, an environment of collaboration and partnership will emerge. A number of suggestions for preparing and involving parents follow.

What is a co-taught class?

Co-teachers can host a parent meeting before school starts or at your regularly scheduled Open House. Let your parents get to know you by sharing your educational backgrounds. Explain how co-teaching works in your class and how both teachers work to meet the needs of all students you serve. Discuss goals for your class and give the parents time for comments and questions. Invite parents to observe or help in your classroom. Place both teachers' names on the door and on all correspondence-show you are partners! Involve your PTA or other parent-teacher groups and plan a program explaining your school's inclusion philosophy and program.

Will the other students tease my child because of her disability?

Develop a disability awareness unit for students and teachers. Creating activities that simulate disabilities will help participants appreciate the challenges that students with disabilities face each day. Reading about successful people with disabilities will help dispel misconceptions that they cannot learn. If a child has a medical condition that may cause concern, invite the parent or school nurse to your class to share information about the condition. If the student feels comfortable, he may share the information with his classmates rather than his parent. Often a frank and open discussion will ease fears and concerns. See the disabilities awareness section of the library on the T/TAC website (http//www.wm.edu/ttac) for resources to support your efforts.

Will my child have individual time with the special education teacher?

Be sure to conduct IEP planning meetings with all the parents of your students with disabilities before the new school year. Based on the students' individual needs, determine the best placement for your students. For example, if the student has a severe reading deficit, he may need small group instruction in the resource room in reading strategies while receiving instruction in all other subjects in the general education classroom with support. Additionally, a separate meeting with the parents of students with disabilities may be planned. At this meeting you may have the parents fill out an information sheet on their child (see insert). This information will help you get to know your students from the parent perspective.

How will the special education teacher communicate with my child's teachers regarding her special needs and general classroom accommodations?

Prior to the opening of school develop an "IEP at a Glance" for each student with a disability (see insert). This document may include a summary of the student's IEP goals, classroom accommodations, behavior characteristics, learning style, and related services. Plan to meet with all teachers (art, music, technology, etc.) who will work with your students and provide them with this information along with sharing the actual IEPs. Establish a regularly scheduled meeting time to share concerns and information or send notes on a regular basis. Communication is the key!

Will my child be treated as a "real" member of the "regular" classroom?

At Back-to-School Night have samples available of the activities in which children will participate throughout the school year (e.g., cooperative learning, special units). Keep a scrapbook from the previous year showing pictures of the various learning activities to share with parents of your incoming students. You might even run a video of special activities you taped. This will allow parents to see how you involve all students in learning activities. You may need to conduct individual conferences with parents whose child has been in more restricted special education settings. Another strategy to calm parents' fears is to invite them to visit or volunteer to assist in your class.

References

Daniel, L., & King, D. (1997). Impact of inclusive education on academic achievement, student behavior and self-esteem, and parental attitudes. The Journal of Educational Research, 91 (2), 67-80.

Grove, K. A., & Fisher, D. (1999). Entrepreneurs of meaning: Parents and the process of inclusive education. Remedial and Special Education, 20 (4), 208-215.

Date: September-October 2000