Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Importance of a Strong Home & School Connection

We just finished our second set of conferences for the year and we'll have one more round before the school year ends. This set of conferences really got me thinking about the importance of a strong connection between home and school.
I'd like to present a "case study" so to speak. I want to show you my own success and failure in the world of home and school connections and how they have directly affected the lives of three of my students. I have a co-teacher too, but we tend to divide our kids based on who we connect with the most. Two of these kids are "mine" and one is a kid we share because we love him to death! All three of these kids were considered behavioral concerns when the year started.

Student #1
This student is on the spectrum and in a school that is not specifically focused on spectrum disorders. Many of the teachers love the kid, but few understand him. He has been one of my favorites from the day I met him! Many teacher thought he was being a pain on purpose, when really he was just confused about the world and insanely blunt about his thoughts. He appears so high functioning that it's easy to confuse his disorder for rude/bad behavior. His family and I have a VERY strong connection and have little chats almost every day at pickup or drop off. They often ask questions and confirm that his behaviors at home are what we see at school. They let us know when he's had challenges such as not sleeping the night before a school day.

Since the year started, this student progressed from expressing none of his emotions or there causes at school to expressing himself all the time... perhaps even a little too much some days. Through my connection with his parents, I was able to learn and pass along the information that he likes to write to me when he's upset instead of talking to me. He has since done this at home all the time now! This kid couldn't even spell when he entered our class and he has created the motivation to learn so that he can't write down his thoughts and feelings to us. He has also started using phrases like "I feel ___ because ____." Yes, sometimes his feelings are slightly irrational, but now we know what caused them and can then provide reasonable explanations to him for social situations he doesn't understand. This has significantly reduced his crying and outbursts. He also has learned to preface things with "I'm not trying be rude, but I don't understand why ____." His parents and I have worked hard at explaining what things are deemed rude and he now knows how to ask in a way where we know he doesn't understand a situation and really wants to know about something but knows it may come across as a rude question or "talking back." He is making huge academic and social strides every day and is a happier child because of it! 

Student #2
This student has a learning difference and is very hyperactive. He is very socially smart and well beyond his years in many ways. He is one of the most popular and funny children in the room. In class we have set firm boundaries for him and strict consequences to limit silliness and other behaviors. We've also implemented more interventions than I can count for both his academic and sensory needs. Off the top of my head I can think of 5 different accommodations on/in his desk that we encourage him to use in addition to several brain/movement breaks. He knows the boundaries and expectations at school and is fully capable of following them successfully.

Our home/school connection has been inconsistent. We've made a strong effort and sent home countless update emails. We have had chats at pickup and drop off but they aren't always well received. If the student has a bad day the lead parent finds ways to excuse the behavior. This has since translated into the child making endless excuses for his behavior. He is so smart that he works the events into stories that sound completely rational, although often an inaccurate description of the actual events. The parents often believe the child over the teachers which has caused a huge disconnect between home and school. The family is often mad at events that "happened" at school when they aren't entirely accurate. It has been a struggle to make behavioral and academic progress with this student because his behavioral expectations are so different between home and school. The parents expectations for his behavior are far different and they do not set the same limits that we expect the child to follow at school. We find we spend more time defending our actions than working as a team with the family to find ways to IMPROVE the child's behavior. It has been a struggle to show them that despite his disability, he is fully capable of being a great kid with great behavior which will greatly improve his academics. He has made wonderful progress in many ways since the beginning of the year, but not nearly as much as we know he is capable of. 

Student #3
This child was by far the most challenging student in his class last year. There were debates about if he would last in our school because of his emotional outbursts. We set firm limits with appropriate rewards and consequences in our classroom for all of our students along with a corresponding behavior chart. This child THRIVES on our system. We have successfully eliminated major outbursts at school and greatly reduced minor outbursts which are now few and far between. 

We have the strongest home and school connection imaginable with the family! They are totally on board with our strategies and terminology we use at school. We work closely with their home behaviorist and we are always in the loop for they way things are progressing at home. We keep a firm and predictable set of standards for behavior at home and school. We are constantly emailing the family with both positive and challenging behaviors we see at school and they support us. The same is done in reverse when they have things happen at home. We are a universal front between home and school and this child is like a whole new person from last year. We've had countless specialists and staff members comment on how much this child had changed and improved. This is the epitome of a strong home & school connection and how the system can work when we are a team!

What challenges have you encountered when trying to create a home & school connection? What things have been successful for you?


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