Effective school-to-home communication has been proven to positively impact academic and emotional outcomes for students. Evidence shows that students whose families are involved are more engaged in the classroom and more likely to succeed academically.

For students with special needs, family involvement is even more critical. However, during the pandemic, it’s been harder than ever to bridge the communication gap between families and schools, especially during remote learning. So, it seems quite clear that effective strategies and tactics are needed to improve such communication.

Removing the Barriers

1. Silent Expectations Regarding Family Engagement

The Barrier

A recent survey of the top obstacles to strong parent and family engagement cited the lack of understanding of the importance of parent involvement as the primary issue. Many parents and families believe their involvement is no longer necessary after students reach a certain age. Some may also feel they lack the knowledge and skills to help with their child’s education.

Some families just don’t see it as their place to be highly involved in their child’s education. They may think it’s their responsibility to get their child to school, and it’s the teacher’s job to teach skills and knowledge. In many cases, that doesn’t mean a family is trying to avoid responsibility. It could be a cultural difference. Or it could be a sign of respect and trust in your teachers.


  • Communicate with your students’ families that their involvement is not only welcomed but encouraged.

  • Let families know you want to work with them toward your shared goal of helping their child thrive. Be explicit in letting them know that they play a critical role in meeting that goal.

  • Ask families how they’d like to be involved and what information they need to support their child’s learning.

2. Work Schedules that are Inflexible

The Barrier

Parents and caregivers who have more flexibility, stability and predictable work hours at their jobs tend to be more engaged. That’s because they can be.

But many families may have trouble getting time off from work to attend IEP meetings and other school events or conferences. They may have inflexible or unpredictable work schedules. And many parents and caregivers may not have access to email or the ability to take a phone call at their job.


  • Be flexible about how and when you communicate with families.

  • Offer to have phone meetings or video conferencing at convenient times.

  • Consider keeping in touch with families by messaging on a communication platform like Remind or Participate. You can use these tools to send quick updates about student progress.

3. A Paucity of Resources

The Barrier

Even if family members are able to take time off from work to visit the school, traveling to the school can put a strain on their resources. For instance, parents and caregivers might have trouble arranging childcare for their other children. Or they might have difficulties with transportation, including limited access to a car or mass transportation.


  • Talk with your administration about the possibility of providing bus, train, or subway passes for families.

  • Suggest organizing a carpool for families to attend school events.

  • Video record your back-to-school-night presentation and email it to all families after the event. That way, families who couldn’t make it in person can still access the same information.

4. Cultural Disparities or Immigration Fears

The Barrier

It can be challenging for families of English language learners (ELLs) or immigrant students to interact with their child’s SPED Director and school. A language barrier may deter some parents and caregivers from engaging with the school. There may also be cultural differences, like the view in some cultures that asking questions of the teacher is disrespectful.

And some families may hold beliefs that having a struggling learner or a child with a disability is not something that should be talked about. In other cases, families may have concerns about their immigration status. Those families may be afraid to engage because they don’t feel safe or are unsure whether they can trust the school.


  • Obtain information about meeting the needs of the families of English language learners and immigrant families.

  • Read these six strategies for partnering with families of English language learners.

  • Employ an interpreter to communicate with families, if possible. Ask your school administration how to request one. Try to avoid using students as interpreters between you and their families.

5. Previous Adverse Educational Experiences

The Barrier

Families of students with special needs may be carrying around baggage filled with years of negative experiences with the schools. These experiences may have produced feelings of intimidation, anger, or distrust of teachers and schools.

And this may be a generational burden that has been passed on from family members way back when, who carry negative associations regarding their experiences in school.


  • Approach these families with substantial sensitivity and empathy.

  • Don’t trivialize these past negative experiences if families mention them. Reiterate that your objective is to respectfully collaborate with them. Let families know you support all learners, and address their challenges to help them thrive.

  • Developing relationships with your students’ families can be quite challenging at times. But it’s an investment that is well worthwhile because it leads to improved student achievement and trust, as well as improved communication with families.

Engage your True Partners

Perhaps what is most critical is to remember that parents are irreplaceable partners in the process. Michelle Lassiter, an Editorial Research and Expert Relations Associate for Understood, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those who learn and think differently, claims that administrators must “be intentional about inviting parents to an active role in a child’s education. This increases parents’ involvement and confidence in the process.”

By seizing the initiative through taking a proactive approach and identifying ways to eliminate any obstacles standing in their way, SPED Directors can improve their communication with parents, bridging the gap between school and home, and thereby promote stronger family engagement and more effective education.