Difficult conversation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anna Reinking)

A few years ago I realized that the teacher candidates in my courses were receiving applicable information and having great classroom experiences. However, upon further reflection, I realized the teacher candidates were missing out on one beneficial experience: interacting with individuals in a professional environment when there is a conflict. After realizing this deficit in their education, I began to brainstorm and implement coursework.

First, I implemented email communication with a pseudo parent discussing topics that often come up in early childhood classrooms. All of the emails were direct, to the point, and angry or dissatisfied. The teacher candidates were instructed to respond within 24 hours, which was the professionally agreed upon appropriate amount of time. After the first round of emails, we discussed how difficult the process was, how tone of voice can be conveyed and perceived in written contexts, and the importance of basing knowledge in best practices. After this first reflection process, the teacher candidates were emailed another difficult conversation from a pseudo parent and responded utilizing the knowledge gained from the first round. This project resulted in teacher candidates developing a higher level of comfort when difficult conversations arise in their placements and when they enter the workforce.

Another activity I implemented was engaging in more difficult conversations during parent teacher conferences. While some of our teacher candidates have the opportunity to observe parent teacher conferences, the parent teacher conferences are generally straight forward. In order to better prepare our teacher candidates I wanted to ensure they were ready for difficult conversations. Therefore, we used our virtual lab to implement parent teacher conferences with more difficult conversation topics and parents who were unwilling to negotiate or compromise. Again, this created an atmosphere of learning and developing a higher level of confidence among the teacher candidates.

After taking all of this information and the results from these experiences “on the road” to several conferences, I was approached by a publisher to write a textbook focused on difficult conversations in education. Through our research, we discovered there are few to no books focused on difficult conversations, specifically in the field of education. So, a book titled, Difficult Conversations: A Toolkit for Educators in Handling Real-Life Situations, was created and will be released in June/July of 2019.

The book covers several communication topics, along with applicable toolkits. As part of the writing process I reached out to several professionals to read a draft. One professional I reached out to said this:

‘Difficult Conversations’ is a great resource for teachers and administrators to communicate more effectively. I really appreciate that this book brings these ideas directly to an educator context. The toolkits are great—they are organized around the different types of relationships that educators might encounter, especially as they progress in their career. The real-life scenarios are a great way of explaining the concepts and ideas that you’re developing, and they’re authentic and relatable. Communication is such a challenge for educators who are promoted to administrative roles but don’t receive much training or guidance on effective and respectful communication approaches to use with parents and teachers. This is going to truly help people in the field examine their own practices and reflect on the ways in which they communicate with those around them and the impact that has on the outcomes they get.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

The IFSP and IEP: Two different but similarly required documents in Special Education (Guest blogger: Dr. Barry Birnbaum)

Most people know about the Individual Education Plan (IEP).  This is a document that outlines exactly what the child in school with a disability will achieve during the academic year.  The IEP lists the goals, objectives, and other pertinent material that is relevant to learning.  It is a contract between the school and the student and a great deal of work goes into it. This is a legal agreement that needs to be followed and any changes or modifications have to be made with the parents, the school team, and the student, where appropriate.  These changes need to address any of the problems that the child encountered while in the classroom.

For younger children (aged 0-5), an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) takes the place of the IEP.  This document involves the family and the school and requires that a plan for early intervention is developed.  The IFSP details the home environment and what can be done before the child is of school age.  The parents play a very big part in what happens.  The IFSP outlines the strengths and needs of the child and most of this comes from information provided by family members.

The community and the school have an obligation to refer children with potential learning problems to the school for services before the child is old enough to attend.  The child’s home school is responsible for providing services and developing a plan of intervention that is early and appropriate.  This is known as Child Find and can be started by anyone who identifies that a child has a potential disability that may interfere with school success.  The school must reach out to the community to make sure that parents and pre-schools know who to contact.  The main goal of child find is to make sure that all children are identified regardless of age or ability.

Services in special education help all children learn. If the child is diagnosed with a disability, the opportunities for accommodations or modifications are developed. This involves input from the teachers and all school personnel who might work with the child.  This process supports individualized learning styles and helps the student be successful in school.  Today, education is created truly for all, giving all children the opportunity to learn and be engaged.

Barry W Birnbaum is Associate Professor of Special Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University.  He has been a classroom teacher and school principal.  He is the author of six books and numerous articles in the field of special education.  Additionally, Dr. Birnbaum has presented his research at conferences and schools around the world.