Transforming the Parent-Teacher Relationship in Remote Learning

by Brittany Moser

Luke (not his real name) is a Neighborhood Charter Schools kindergarten student diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He typically thrives within the school environment, which is designed to be fully inclusive of students with ASD. Visual schedules are in every classroom, previewing routines and expectations, along with readily available visual resources such as checklists to support executive functioning. However, with COVID-19, the predictable and inclusive environment of school was removed, and Luke had to begin remote learning at home with his single mom. A lot of behavioral and academic progress that had been made in the school year began to slip, and his mother’s mental health was affected. Luke was showing a lot of aggressive, defiant behaviors that were noticed by his classroom teachers. This became incredibly difficult for his mom, who continues to try to balance working from home and managing her son’s behavior and academic growth.

To respond to these issues, I created a resource to partner with families and transfer key components of their child’s school-based ASD program into their homes. While this resource is based on our own ASD program, we believe these strategies can support all kids! Within the first day of our school being closed (and we closed early), Lindsey Hughes, our director of special education, suggested that I make a “one-pager of tips and tricks for remote learning.” I absolutely love making visual supports, and was happy to do so.

This resource, with the key components to our ASD program that enhance learning, gave families the foundation to set up their educational space. This allowed us to dive deeper into individual supports that go beyond the basic features shared through the resource. The goal of creating this resource was to give families the highest-leverage tweaks they could make to their home life—strategies that would make the biggest impact as their kids transitioned to remote learning, while also supporting behavior and relationships at home. The example presented below describes the process we used with Luke’s family to dive deeper into individual support, building on the tips and tricks resource we had previously sent home.

Transforming the Parent-Teacher Relationship in Remote Learning

Learning goals

  • Form a strong partnership with the parent to build capacity in education and managing children with ASD.

  • Present a united front to the student to highlight the seriousness of the current situation.

  • Present and gain understanding from the student through a visual representation of current behaviors, rationale for change, and plan moving forward.

  • Involve the student, paint a clear picture about what is currently happening, why it cannot happen, and the plan for growth.

  • Practice using resources to deliver the plan for behavioral change and academic growth.

Keywords

behavior, social emotional learning, autism, special education, multiple disabilities, elementary

Transition to distance learning

Activities

Face to Face

  • Identify challenging behaviors, potential functions of behavior, and previously implemented interventions.

  • Conduct classroom observations.

  • Provide feedback and strategies to teachers to mitigate behaviors.

  • Follow up to check on implementation fidelity, provide additional suggestions, or reevaluate the situation.

At a Distance

  • Identify challenging behaviors, potential functions of behavior, and previously implemented interventions.

  • Collaborate with parent, teachers, and school-based team (dean and special education team) to discuss and determine a plan.

  • Roll out the plan, including the student and coaching the parent on different strategies to implement.

  • Schedule follow-up meetings to provide continuous coaching, support, and evaluation of the plan.

Materials

Face to Face

  • Visual resources

At a Distance

Strategies

Face to Face

  • Teachers and ASD coach collectively write and read Social Stories that display optimal learning environments while addressing perspective-taking needs.

  • Teachers utilize if-then charts for each component of the day (e.g., “If Luke completes 10 minutes of reading, then he gets a sticker.”)

  • Teachers provide tangible or experiential reinforcements for desirable behavior (e.g., stickers, additional play time, visit another teacher, etc.).

At a Distance

  • Special education team, along with teachers and parent, read a Social Story outlining remote learning, current behavior, impact on thoughts and feelings, and our plan for change.

  • Parent implements if-then charts to break down various tasks and earn rewards.

  • Parent enforces reinforcements according to specific goals (e.g., Luke waited patiently for Mom’s help while she was on a call!).

  • Parent implements visual schedule at home.

  • Parent uses visual timers to support behavior management during academic and non-academic periods, accompanied by reinforcements when timer is adhered to.

What worked well

This experience has been challenging, illuminating, and somewhat transformative. Initially, it felt so strange to be distant from the students, and most definitely uncomfortable to “manage” them from afar (especially for the teachers). However, once we started to get settled into remote learning, it quickly became clear where families needed support. It was eye-opening to see families in their homes, particularly their parenting style and emotions, and the students’ behaviors. We just never see any of that at school! It painted such a clear image of where the parents were struggling, which is sometimes easy to forget as an educator because all day we’re surrounded by like-minded people with similar areas of expertise.

Collaborating with Luke’s family and being an emotional support system for the mom was really heartwarming. The visual supports and language we provided seemed the most meaningful to her. The visuals were helpful when involving Luke, particularly the Social Story. It was hard to explain to Luke that “you can’t hit your mom” or “your mom has to work, and when you scream or hit her while she’s working, she feels embarrassed!” But the Social Story made it easier to communicate in ways that were impactful for the situation at home. He just didn’t realize the impact of his behavior—no kindergartner does!

In terms of language, as we were on calls explaining how to use specific resources, we could see Luke’s mom rapidly taking notes. Even when I said to her, “It’s OK! I’ll email you everything we’re talking about and a script of how we usually say this stuff,” she seemed so appreciative and did not want to forget anything. Overall, bringing everyone together as one united front, truly teaming up for the best interest of the child, was empowering for all. It by no means worked perfectly—we still meet with Luke’s mom every week to talk about how it’s all going, to coach her, and to share more resources. It’s such a strong relationship now! I feel like we were invited into their home and shared a special and transformative connection.

I was surprised by

I was surprised by the power of the relationship between a school and a parent. I didn’t realize we could become a support system, even if just to provide a listening ear or a pep talk. It has warmed my heart to develop such an intimate relationship with a family—and we focus a lot on family engagement at our school! I was also surprised by how this experience with COVID-19 gave me and the rest of our team the opportunity to truly individualize our support. Every single thing we did during this time was differentiated toward this child, his family, and the specifics of what they were experiencing at home during the pandemic. I never expected anything positive to come from this, but I have learned how critical the parent-school relationship is and how we can make really big impacts in our students’ lives, even from afar.

Next time I’ll try

Moving forward, I think I want to tap into the parent experience of raising a child with autism a little more. At our school, we do a lot of parent workshops on many topics, but flipping roles and learning from parents about their experience is something that could influence and transform my practice. This whole experience gave me a little more insight into our parents’ experience, and I was able to more fully tailor the way I provided support. This should be how I always do it!

My big picture takeaways

Don’t underestimate the power of the school-to-home relationship. There’s so much research that backs this up, but COVID-19 truly allowed us into the homes of our students. Also, when you have a family that wants to learn from you, and you’re able to work together, the job is easy! You both want the best for the child. And with this knowledge, it’s easy to collaborate and connect personally in ways that are free of judgment. Families don’t usually know how their child’s school day works. But now that they’re fully in it with us, we need to be there—not only to support the student but also to support the parent.

About the Author

Brittany Moser is the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) coach at Neighborhood Charter Schools. She is from Brisbane, Australia, where she was a teacher in the public school system. She completed her undergraduate degree in primary education at Griffith University, based in Brisbane. She earned her postgraduate certificate in autism studies, also at Griffith University, and is due to graduate with a master’s degree in autism studies at the same university this October. Her true passion is improving inclusive education for students with ASD. She’s working on a book aimed at empowering educators when working with students on the spectrum and bringing the joy back into education.

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