Our school is committed to giving every child a Jewish education and making them a welcome and important part of our synagogue community. However, I find my biggest frustration is communicating this to parents and having them cooperate by sharing information about their child with the school. How can we be expected to adapt our teaching if we don't know what each child needs? Do you have advice on how to encourage parents to work with the staff of the synagogue by sharing information about their children? What are the right questions to ask? What do we really need to know?
You have hit upon one of the most difficult issues in Jewish education for children with special needsestablishing an open, trusting relationship between the parents and the school. Think, for a moment, about the parents perspective. First, they are worried that if they share information about their childs special needs, he or she will be excluded from the program, as has been the case historically in many schools. This is particularly true for students with behavioral and attention issues. In addition, many parents feel that their child is different and isolated in their regular school setting. They want a place where the child can fit in and be normal.
It is crucial that your school reiterate your policy of inclusion, both verbally and in written communication. You need to let parents know that you are on the same team, and that you both want the child to be successful, whatever that will take. Let them know that in order to do that, you need to have as clear a picture as possible of the students strengths and weaknesses. Assure the parents that the information will be kept strictly confidential, and used to create an appropriate program for the child. It would be helpful to draw up an IEP type of document stating goals and modifications to be implemented. This will provide guidance for your teachers and give the parents confidence that the students needs are being addressed. Then you must be prepared to back up that statement with a commitment to sufficient, trained personnel and appropriate materials that can be adapted to meet the students needs.
Take a look at your intake forms to make sure that the questions being asked are stated in the positive. You want to emphasize the students strengths in addition to identifying weaknesses. A formal diagnosis is not as important as an accurate description of learning, attention and behavioral needs. Significant information would include: learning styles, preferred activities, academic and nonacademic strengths and interests, interventions that have been successful, parental concerns, interventions that have not worked, and so on. You need to have specific information about medications and health related issues.
If a parent does not disclose information about a childs special needs and those issues become apparent (as they inevitably will), you should call the parents in for a conference. Reiterate your supportive position and be straightforward in your request for information. Parents will be most comfortable sharing when they feel that the school genuinely likes the child and wants him/her to remain.