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By Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

Since March 2020, most of your work has been done while reading from or talking into a screen.

How has it been going? Have you developed new technological skills? Learned new jargon? Experienced video conferencing stress or the more popularly known zoom fatigue? Feeling underprepared? Feeling overwhelmed? Feel like if you never saw the thumbnail versions of people, it would be too soon?

If you answered yes to most or some of these questions, welcome to our new “virtually anything” world.

Back to School: Virtual Preparations for Parents & Caregivers

While a lot has changed in the area of communication via technology, many challenges related to back to school for students with special needs remain and are perhaps now are even exacerbated. Parents and guardians still need up-to-date information on navigating special education paths but with the additional considerations for virtual instruction, Individualized Education Planning (IEP) meetings, and at-home curriculum implementation thrown in. Accordingly, service providers still need to provide parents and guardians with the best possible resources but with the additional challenge of communicating effectively over a virtual platform. So how do we do it? How do we ensure that our virtual interactions are accurate, engaging, and effective? What can we do to “re-train” parents to handle virtually anything?

  1. Remind parents to pre-plan:
    • Have questions ready.
    • Practice with available technology.
    • Have alternate means of contact handy (email, phone number, dial-in access to video conferencing, etc.).
  2. Model good video conferencing style:
    • Look into the camera for better eye contact.
    • Speak slowly and use shorter sentences.
    • Reduce jargon and allow for time to ask and answer questions.
    • Consider fatigue – schedule meetings for 30 to 45 minutes.
    • Use tools such as share screen, polls, and break-out rooms (for groups).
    • Ask for feedback though chat or voice.
    • Have virtual resources and answers to potential questions ready.
    • Table topics as needed.
  3. Help parents and/or guardians to pre-prepare for working the school – for e.g. participate in virtual IEP meetings.
  4. Ask parents key questions – What has worked? What do you need right now? What do we need to still address?
  5. Most of all parents and service providers, “Remember to be yourself. You have pre-planned; thus you are likely to be just as effective in advocating for the child even if not in a face-to-face setting”.

Visit Back to School 2021: Getting Ready for Virtually Anything for additional tips, strategies, and resources.

Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist – Special Populations, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.