Special Needs and Parent-Educator Partnerships in Jewish Early Childhood Education
by Dana Rosenbloom, M.S. Ed.
Each August early childhood program teachers, and teachers of all ages, keep an eye on their mailbox or their inbox for the roster of children who will be in their class the coming year. Are there any children we know? Parents we’ve had before? Children with special needs? As an educator who works both in a school and in the home, I advise parents to let their school and teachers know if their child is receiving special services. Parents often respond with, “Will they hold it against my child?” “Will my child be labeled?” I say tell! I recognize that this information is not easy to share. I acknowledge that there are teachers out there who, whether because of their own fear or insecurity that they don’t have the capabilities to meet the needs of these students, or because of prejudice, do not respond in a supportive or collaborative manner. I still encourage parents to reach out and give it a try. When you bring your child to school, we hope that you will view the administrators and teachers as part of your team. We are all there to help your child develop, grow and be as successful as he or she can be.
When teachers notice a developmental red flag, it can take quite a bit of time before they share the information with a parent. In my classroom, I like to start the year sharing observations with all of the parents in my class. These observations are not judgmental or interpretive, but help a teacher to begin to form a relationship with parents. These observations tell parents that their teachers are working to get to know their child. This extra bit of effort goes a long way in helping to form an alliance between the parents and the teacher. This relationship will help them navigate any special circumstances that might come up.
The next step is sharing observations regarding the developmental area in which I have concern. I might simply tell a parent what I am seeing and ask if they are seeing anything similar at home. How do they handle it? After that, we typically sit down to discuss, in depth, the child’s development. We make a plan with the parents outlining what we are going to try to do to work on, and hopefully, improve the situation in the coming weeks. During the following meeting we’ll discuss the progress that has occurred or challenges that remain, and consider how to proceed. Sometimes we continue with the plan, other times we look to outside help. I think and hope that parents feel this is a supportive and proactive approach. But again, this approach can require a significant period of time.
Sometimes parents respond at these meetings by telling me that their children are already receiving services. Ideally, when I know I have a child with special needs in my classroom, I speak with parents and therapists before the school year begins. I learn who this child is, what things motivate him or her, what challenges she faces, and what techniques help him be successful. When I have this information, as I begin to collaborate with my co-teachers and administrators, I can take into account what the children in this year’s class may need.
Our goal as early childhood educators is to do our best to support the children and families in our school…all of our families. The goal of our Jewish early childhood programs is to extend a feeling of, and teach: kavod, respecting others; b’tzelem Elohim, we are all made in G-d’s image; and tikkun olam, that we share the responsibility of repairing the world; amongst others. Sometimes that means supporting these families and children in our schools and other times counseling them out to a more appropriate setting. I encourage all parents to share their developmental concerns. If you have a child with special needs, educate your school and congregation, help start a parent support group, and tell your congregation how they can be more inclusive of your child and family. I encourage all educators to do their best to understand their families and children. Ask questions, do some research, offer support to parents and children, ask for support for your self. These are Jewish values. This is the future of our Movement. This is Judaism and Jewish community.
Dana Rosenbloom, M.S. Ed. teaches 2s/3s at Temple Shaaray Tefila Nursery School, New York, NY. She’s also a parent educator and special educator, providing resources and services through www.DanasKids.com.
Spotlight on Communities of Caring and Connection: This month the URJ highlights Caring Community resources and Jewish Disability Awareness Month, including discussions on the blog, “101″ guides and resources for making your congregation more inclusive and connected. Learn more on the URJ website.