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Collaborating With Community Members in Special Education

To create a strong learning dynamic, educators work with more than just their students. Teachers, principals and other education professionals collaborate with many groups in their school community, including families, administrators and other stakeholders.

For graduates of the online Master of Science (M.S.) in Special Education with a Specialization in Curriculum and Instruction program from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) and special education professionals, this collaboration is arguably even more vital given the different unique needs of special education students.

Those needs, whatever they may be, are typically outlined in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for students. As the name suggests, these plans articulate a specialized approach for each student to provide relevant quality classroom support and maximize their learning capabilities. Of course, every student’s needs are different.

Collaboration is critical to maintaining continuity and consistency for these students, whether going from class to class or back and forth between home and school. Having strong collaboration and communication skills is critical for special education professionals.

How Does Collaboration Benefit Special Education Students and the Community?

At school, students work with many different adults daily, not only teachers, but other staff as well. The ability of these people to work together on behalf of the students is extremely valuable. As the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) explains, “Collaboration creates safe conditions for students and educators to share knowledge and collectively problem-solve.” They can share best practices in academics, behavior and social-emotional learning and ensure that those practices are consistently executed in the same fashion no matter in which classroom students are learning.

The relevance of communication to collaboration is obvious, but what other strategies can improve cooperation between the members of a school community? Let’s take a look at possible practices.

Collaborative Strategizing

Collaborating with colleagues and parents on matters like lesson planning helps give teachers a panoramic view of students’ progress and potential needs. Teachers can share areas where students might need additional support or where they might be enjoying great success and can adapt their lessons appropriately to suit the student. As the NCLD notes, collaborating with stakeholders outside of the school, such as parents or caregivers, allows educators to extend the teaching and learning environments “beyond the bell” and create additional support for learning in their homes.

Family Learning

Working with families also allows educators to gain additional insight into students’ needs, tendencies and behavior. Virtual Lab School (VLS), an online professional development system for educators, says it can be “helpful to ask families for input on how they support their children, especially for children with special needs.” After all, families know these students better than anyone, and they can offer valuable information about how they operate. It’s also helpful for creating an open dialogue and strong relationship: “Through your interactions, you can build trust so both you and families feel comfortable sharing children’s strengths and concerns.”

Communication with families must be handled with care, however. Prior to having these conversations, VLS suggests consulting a trainer or administrator to share information using family-centered practices. Educators should prepare for potentially difficult conversations, but the ability to maintain ongoing communication with families helps foster valuable consistency for students.

Information Sharing

Student IEPs require regular meetings that involve relevant school professionals, administrators and important family members or caregivers for the student. These meetings intend to foster collaboration between all parties to execute the IEP and serve the student.

IEP meetings can often have many parties present, leading to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation on both sides. Educators should make a conscious effort to prepare for IEPs by sharing all the relevant information they have with colleagues and scheduling some type of check-in meeting ahead of the IEP to get everyone on the same page. They should share information with the parents as well, giving them an idea of what options and services they have, as well as potential alternatives if the school cannot provide everything a parent needs. This transparency helps to manage expectations and cultivate a better overall relationship with everyone involved.

Administrators must work with special education professionals to collaborate on teacher responsibilities, build relationships that foster a supportive environment and facilitate the use of IEPs. One article from Mrs. D’s Corner lists 10 things special education professionals want school administrators to know.

A Special Education Program That Fosters Collaboration

The online M.S. in Special Education with a Specialization in Curriculum and Instruction program from TAMIU prepares graduates with the knowledge and skills required to support special education students throughout these processes. The program instills instructional strategies, classroom management tools and curriculum.

Relevant courses, such as the Collaborate & Consult in Educational Settings courses, sets graduates up for success in their careers. Graduates will gain a keen understanding of collaborative decision-making and how collective effort can strengthen conditions for special education students in any setting.

Learn more about TAMIU’s online M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction with a Specialization in Special Education program.

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