Intentions, assumptions, and trust
Traits of a successful communicator
Whether in a simple phone call or a CSE meeting, these traits can help you improve your communications:

  • Empathy                   
  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Stamina
  • Fairness
  • Self-discipline
  • Respect
  • Personal integrity
  • Sense of humor
What is helpful for a successful communication outcome?
Emotional control: Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and what pushes your “hot buttons” is vital in maintaining emotional control. When you feel a hot button being pushed, one way you can counter the feeling is by taking a time out. For example, you can take a time out during a meeting by leaving the room briefly; this creates a distance to allow recharging of self-confidence and control.

Recognize the difference between assertive and aggressive behavior: Assertive behavior is open, calm, and positive and essential to good communication. Aggressive behavior is loud, intimidating, and rude and puts your audience on the defensive rather than focusing on the issue at hand.

Preparation includes identifying the intended communication goal as well as setting limits to achieve that goal.

What other skills can improve communication?
Active listening

What it is
Requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said

Why it’s important
Allows you to be a fully engaged communication partner

What gets in the way
  • Preconceived ideas can close the doors to new ideas or ways of looking at the same issue.
  • Blocking out a difficult message: If we perceive uncertainty or danger in a message, we may block it out.
  • Being tired
  • Lack of respect: When we don’t respect someone, it’s difficult to respect anything related to that person, including their ideas or suggestions.

How to break through
  • If fatigue is interfering with the ability to listen, consider calling for a ‘time-out’ and go get a cup of coffee or take a brisk walk. If all else fails, reschedule the meeting to a later time.
  • It is essential that our meeting preparation helps to identify traits of an individual that we can respect, thus improving our overall interaction with that person.

Clarity

What it is
Refers to how clear the message is being delivered or understood

Why it’s important
Delivering a message that is easily understood and not misinterpreted can be difficult but essential to getting a point across.

What gets in the way
  • Fearing rejection: If there is anticipation of rejection, incomplete information may be presented or the information may be modified in such a way that the message is no longer clear.
  • Avoiding hurt feelings: There is always a possibility that a statement may hurt another’s feelings, or be perceived as hurtful. To avoid hurting someone’s feelings, information may be altered at the expense of clarity.
  • Side-bar conversations: In a meeting, side bar conversations are rude, distracting, and can significantly impact clarity.
  • Poor preparation

How to break through
  • Remember, your voice is as important as everyone else’s in the conversation.
  • Whenever possible, strive for accuracy to assure understanding. Use appropriate terminology to facilitate an accurate understanding.
  • Ask questions to help identify key points of the discussion.
  • Keep responses short and very specific to the question.
  • Avoid inserting information that may be interesting, but not necessarily specific to the subject.

Body language

What it is
Body language is an expression of feelings communicated through the eyes, facial expressions, position of the head, arms, legs, and posture.

Why it’s important
Body language communicates just as much as words do.
What gets in the way
  • Crossing the arms and/or legs
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Slouched or tense body posture
  • Facial expressions that are totally absent or neutral. At worst, facial expressions may be frowning and disapproving.
  • Head movement that is distracted or dismissive and issuing a clear message: ‘I’m not listening!’ 

How to break through
  • When body language is signaling ‘open reception’, it is demonstrated through direct eye contact and an alert facial expression that may include smiling.
  • The overall body position is relaxed with attentive posture, or perhaps leaning forward slightly in anticipation.
  • It’s not uncommon for people to nod their heads as they agree with information presented or they may tilt their heads as they consider a new idea.
Challenging People 
Recognizing personalities is a critical factor in meeting participation or any other type of communication. You may encounter adults who are childish, rude, insensitive, passive/aggressive, or manipulative. The ability to recognize specific personalities, and then implement tactics to neutralize the negative impact of their behavior can significantly benefit the overall communication process.

How to communicate with challenging people
  • To control disruptive behavior, try drawing the person into the conversation by encouraging constructive ideas and suggestions, rather than excluding them.
  • If a person tries to dominate the conversation in a team meeting, ask others to discuss the ideas of the dominator and try to build on or improve the idea. In this way, the dominator will feel empowered by watching their idea grow while including others in the group.
  • Try to bring the conversation back to the issue at hand, rather than concentrating on the person’s negative behavior.
Examining parental baggage
As parents, we want what’s best for our kids and can have strong feelings about what that is. While baggage is normal, we sometimes need to ask ourselves if our past experiences might be getting in the way. Here are some questions to help you check your own baggage:

  • Do I believe I am an equal partner with professionals and accept my share of the responsibility for solving problems and making plans on behalf of my child?

  • Do I treat each professional as an individual and avoid letting past negative experiences get in the way of establishing a good working relationship?

  • Do I maintain realistic expectations of professionals, myself, and my child?
Tools you can use to improve communication between Home & School today
Our advocates and family education specialists recommend using one or more of the following to improve communication between home and school:

Apps and websites offer ways to use technology as a link between teachers and parents. Common Sense Media offers suggestions here .

A daily communication notebook or log between you and your child’s teacher or aide is essential, especially if your child has difficulty communicating independently.

A one- or two-page portfolio including a picture of your child can introduce your child to a new teacher or the new CSE team each year.

A letter or email gives you time to carefully review your concerns and also provides emotional distance in a stressful situation.
Additional resources
Apps and Websites for Improving Family-Teacher Communication

Need some help writing letters? See Starbridge documents, Sample Letters – editable word documents you can use now

Starbridge’s ABC’s of a School Meeting webinar

From Emotions to Advocacy: the Special Education Survival Guide, by Peter W. D. Wright, Esq. and Pamela Darr Wright