Communicating with your Child's School and Teachers
Communication between parents, children, and their school is essential to optimize a child’s education, physical development, and social development.
“In a school environment where a variety of individuals need to work together to support one another and learn from one another, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be heard and everyone takes the time to listen.”1
Peer interactions are vital for children with a heart condition, and school is an important location for socialization.1
The team players include the parent, the teacher and the child.
Parents are truly the expert when it comes to identifying their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities. Parents are typically the primary caregivers and will need to entrust the education and well-being of their child, during the school hours, to their child’s teachers and academic leaders. Meeting with teachers and members of the school system prior to the beginning of the school year is an important step in order to introduce their child, explain his or her heart defect, and associated information. In addition, scheduled communication and/or contact during the school year may also clarify and reinforce their child’s needs and progress. Important information to share with teachers are the physical capabilities and limitations of the child, any medicine to be administered at school, and any other information such as expected absences for doctor appointments and to whom information can be given.
Teachers are not medically trained and may not even realize that children can have heart problems. Because there are sometimes very few outward signs of a heart condition, teachers may require multiple explanations in order for them to fully understand the child's physical and emotional needs and/or limitations. Teachers should communicate as often as necessary with parents so that they feel comfortable with their understanding of the child’s condition and/or symptoms. They may feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of having this child in their class. Teachers have a whole classroom of children, and often several have special needs so the teacher must learn about all of them individually. It is important for the teachers to treat all children equally while meeting their social educational needs.
Children, especially if they are going to school for the first time, don't typically understand 'normal' and 'abnormal'. They usually don’t want to be labeled as “different”, and would like to participate with the other children as much as possible. Sometimes limitations need to be set to protect the children, despite their wishes to do everything to fit in. When appropriate, the child should be present at meetings and be aware of the discussions and decisions that are made during the meeting.
During your meetings, there are five areas that should be addressed: Competence, Communication, Consistency, Confidentiality and Compassion
- Provide specific behavior and appearance expectations that are normal for the child and those that should cause concern
- Provide an opportunity for the school to meet with medical professionals to answer questions and provide guidelines.
- Learn all you can about the child’s condition
- Become familiar with the child's normal activity and appearance and what concerning symptoms to watch for
- Develop an effective emergency plan
- Receive CPR and first aid training
- Recognize that teachers have the needs of many children to consider
- Meet with the teachers for plans on absences (short or long term) and homework
- Keep teachers informed on any changes at home with medicines, a bad night, etc.
- Recognize that parents are the expert and listen• Be flexible with homework if needed
- Invite parents to volunteer in the classroom or field trips
- Inform parents of activities that are out of the norm for a typical school day
- Keep parents informed of a bad day at school or if something out of the ordinary occurred
- Get to know all the child's teachers and other school workers
- Provide copies of health records as needed
- Assure that the list of medicines and emergency information is correct and kept updated
- Make sure the following are aware of all the plans in place: Art, Music and Physical Education teachers; Substitute teachers; Administrators; School nurses; Lunch room staff
- Talk with teachers about with whom to share the medical information
- Work with the teachers on the most appropriate time and way to describe the information with others
- Obtain consent/assent prior to sharing information with other school staff, students and parents
- Work with parents on the most appropriate time and way to describe the information with others
- Volunteer at school and be open to suggestions
- Work with the teacher to see if more information about the child needs to be discussed with classmates
- Help the child to feel 'normal' and 'included'
- Be observant of the child's appearance, health and behavior
Suggestions for the plan of care for the child:
Explaining the problem
- Use simple terms: "my child is missing two of the four chambers of his heart”
- Instruct the teachers when to call you with questions and when to call 911.
- Explain which behaviors and symptoms are normal and which are not.
- "Sometimes my son's lips turn blue. If he is not having trouble breathing or complaining of tiredness or pain, he should be fine with rest".
- “If my child is complaining of chest pain, difficulty breathing, doesn’t improve with rest or collapses, call 911.
- Participate in PE in a manner that the student can tolerate (allowed to rest, be the scorekeeper if not able to do the activity)
- Use of elevator if available
- Rolling back packs
- Set of books at home or books available online
- More time to take tests
- Individual Education Plan (IEP)
- Less homework (5 math problems instead of 10)
- Use of a scribe
- Larger font in textbooks, having passages read to student
- Allow a water bottle at desk
- More time to walk to class or allow student to wait until crowd has dissipated
- Time medications with lunch or class change
- Comfort level with confidentiality issues
In conclusion, “In order to create the best school environment possible, teachers, parents and the child need to work together and support one another.”1
1. Roberts J & MacMath S. (2006) Starting a Conversation: School Children with Congenital Heart Disease
. Detselig Enterprises Ltd. Calgary, Alberta