And since this is so important to me, I wanted to share with you a couple of the ways I encourage parent involvement in my classroom. Click on links throughout the post for other posts that go more into depth on these topics.
1. Back to school letters.
In the first days of the school year, I send home one (rather large) packet including permission slips, general information about my classroom, supply lists, etc. Depending on the year, and how long it takes to figure out student schedules, within the first couple weeks, I also send home a copy of the student's schedule along with a letter describing all of the activities in the day.
2. Monthly Calendars and Newsletters.
To keep parents aware of important dates, field trips, cooking activities, I send home a monthly calendar and newsletter. We also used these calendars daily in our classroom as part of our morning group to keep track of important events and work on calendar skills.
In my beginning of the year packet, one of the forms I send home is a general student survey covering information such as student preferences in activities/foods, family situation-sibling names/ages, parent goals for the year, medical information-medication/allergies, etc.). I also ask parents what their preferences are for communication with me.
At the IEP meeting, I give parents a user-friendly copy of all of their child's goals as sometimes the official documents we send home have tons of extra/confusing information. I also include a spreadsheet of IEP minutes to show how much time at each activity their child is working on each IEP goal.
Our school district has 2 report card pickup/parent conferences day each year. For the first round, I offered home visits where me and another special ed teacher would go out to the child's home. Before going, we would send some forms to see if there were any specific concerns (that way we could bring materials/visuals if applicable). Most of our families chose this option over coming into the school. It is often more convenient for families and it allows us teachers to be a guest in our parents' home whereas usually they are the guest in our "home" at school. I think it shows a lot of respect for the parents and honors them as the expert in knowing their child.
We were lucky enough to have a family connection to a camp about an hour outside of the city we lived in. Through their fundraising efforts, we were provided with a full day (on a Sunday) family field trip to their camp. This included transportation, meals, games, activities (nature walks, crafts, scavenger hunts, campfire), etc. We invited all of the students in 2 self contained autism classrooms plus their families. We had awesome turnout on this field trip every year...up to 2 full school busses full of families. This was always one of my favorite days of the year...it is a place where everyone is accepted and free to be themselves. Watching our students and families all together and sharing in this special day of escape outside the city makes me tear up annually! Even since I have left this school, I continue to go back every year for this trip!
A lot of parents are used to only getting phone calls or having meetings when their child has done something wrong...I love to communicate the positives about my students' day through sending home photographs (either printing them our texting them), sending text messages about great accomplishments (as well as reminders), and making phone calls regularly to parents. We also used a "My day at school" sheet that students filled out to bring home.