For Families

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Foundations of Communication

Communication is both a natural human process and a skill. It involves the creating, sending, receiving, and interpreting of messages. Consider the following key terms (Cook and Friend, 2013, p.31):

  • Communicator = person who sends and receives messages

                     → sender: creates and transmits messages

                    → receiver: decides what the messages mean


  • Encoding = the process of putting thoughts and feelings into both verbal and nonverbal messages
  • Decoding = producing thoughts or meaning based on received messages (opposite of encoding)
  • Message = spoken, written, or unspoken information
  • Feedback = verbal or nonverbal responses to messages that offers information about how those messages were received

                        → can be internal (our own perceptions) or external (responses from others)

  • Channel = pathway through which a message is transmitted

                     → examples: phone, letter, email, conversation, presentation

  • Noise = anything that gets in the way of the accurate sending or receiving of messages

                    → can be: physical, physiological, psychological, or semantic

  • Environment = physical space, surroundings, or situation that can impact how people understand behavior of others

Interpersonal Communication


“Interpersonal communication is a complex, transactional process through which people create shared meanings through continuously and simultaneously exchanging messages” (Cook and Friend, 2013, p.33).

Some principles to consider (Cook and Friend, 2013, pgs. 36-37):

Interpersonal Communication is Unavoidable →

People are always communicating, whether or not they are doing so intentionally. People communicate with words, facial expressions, gestures, or even through their silences. When communicating with teachers or other professionals who work with your child, keep in mind that your expressions can reveal more than your words!

Interpersonal Communication is Irreversible →

Once we have transmitted a message, it cannot be taken back. People can express their feelings of regret or apology after a message is transmitted, but they cannot undo the message. Practicing the skills of increased mindfulness and self-monitoring can help reduce the sending of messages that produce feelings of regret, but most people experience this feeling at some point. Be careful to review all electronic correspondence and avoid making calls to schools if you are upset.


Interpersonal Communication Contains Both Content and Feelings →

Most messages have two layers – the actual information and the underlying feelings that exist among the communicators. At times, the content layer is the most significant, but at times the underlying emotions will drive the direction of the communication session. As our child’s best advocate, it is important to avoid letting our emotions drive our communication, and to help the teachers and other adults involved also keep their focus on the information being shared.

Interpersonal Communication Effectiveness Is Learned →

Strong communication skills can be acquired and improved over time. While communication styles can be linked to genetics, any willing person can hone their communication skills.

Life presents us with multiple opportunities to refine these skills – in every day interactions, sharing with our children or spouses, and reaching out to education professionals.


Factors that Can Influence Interpersonal Communication (Cook and Friend, 2013, pgs.41-46)

Professional Perspective →

Professional training and day-to-day responsibilities contribute to the ways in which a person sends or receives information. For example, special education teachers might interpret messages differently that regular education teachers. Elementary teachers might interpret a message differently than secondary teachers. As a parent or guardian, if you are meeting with school professionals, you likely bring your own professional training or work experience to the interaction. It is important to keep in mind that your own perspective influences how you interpret communication from school professionals, as well as how they interpret your messages.


Culture and Perspective →

Cultural background and people’s awareness of that background, influences how they send and receive messages. When communicating with school staff, it is a good idea to be aware and reflective about your own cultural influences as well the cultural influences of other communicators. Communication styles and techniques can vary widely across cultures, and impact the interpretation of messages both positively and negatively.


Competence →

Effective communication helps all parties involved achieve the desired outcome. Appropriate communication is modified to fit the situation and people involved.

Some tips for becoming a competent communicator:

  • develop a wide range of communication skills
  • be aware of your setting and environment – adapt communication accordingly
  • be mindful of your own feelings, behavior, and communication
  • communicate with ethics – treat people as individuals, without cultural or any other type of bias
  • remember – less can be more!  Keep communication focused, thoughtful, and meaningful. Use silence effectively.
  • be an active listener


Nonverbal Communication

People communicate with their faces and bodies, as well as with their words.

Body Language


  • body movement
  • posture
  • facial expression
  • gestures
  • eye contact

Vocal Cues


  • voice tone
  • pitch
  • volume
  • rhythm
  • pacing
  • use of silence

Spatial Relations


  • physical distance between or among communicators

Nonverbal communication can enhance or detract from your message. It is necessary to be conscious of your nonverbal communication when you interact with the educators who work with your child, as well as nonverbal messages you may be receiving from others (Cook and Friend, 2013, pgs. 59-61).

Interpersonal Problem Solving


According to Cook and Friend, “Interpersonal problem-solving is perhaps the most fundamental component of successful interactions” (2013, p.109). It is very common for difficulties to appear during our interactions with others. If your child is having a problem at school, YOU have the right and ability to be a part of the problem-solving team.

Educators are often used to tackling issues on their own, without input from other adults, so when situations arise that require interpersonal problem-solving with colleagues and families, the process is not always smooth. If you are conscious of your own communication effectiveness, you can help facilitate that process in the best interest of your child (2013, p.109).

Two Approaches to Problem-Solving

  • Reactive → participants are faced with handling a crisis or issue that needs to be dealt with fairly quickly
  • Proactive → an expected or anticipated difficulty starts the problem-solving process before any problematic events actually occur (2013, p.111)

Steps to Interpersonal Problem-Solving  (Cook and Friend, 2013, p.116)

  1. Analyze the Context

→ Are participants fully committed to solving the problem as a group?

→ Does the group have all the needed resources to tackle the problem?

→ What might happen if the problem is not addressed?

     2) Identify the Problem

→ use data to help describe the problem, if possible

→ use objective language and try to pose the problem as a question

→ ensure that all members of the problem-solving team agree that the issue needs to be addressed

     3) Generate Solutions

→ use brainstorming or brainwriting techniques to develop ideas for handling the difficulty

brainstorming = call out or write down any ideas that come to mind, without any evaluation


brainwriting = individuals write three or four ideas down, then the group exchanges lists and adds to each other’s lists; switching continues until no new ideas are forthcoming (Cook and Friend, 2013, pgs. 122-124)

→ encourage divergent thinking: avoid judging solutions, include unusual solutions, write all ideas down

    4) Evaluate Potential Solutions

→ eliminate solutions that are inappropriate or too difficult to act upon

→ focus on including evidence-based solutions

→ consider advantages and disadvantages of each possibility

→ choose more than one solution to try

→ create specific plans to try out the most advantageous solutions

    5) Select the solution(s)

→ make a final choice of solutions as a group

    6) Evaluate the Outcomes

→ use data to decide if the solution is working

→ if solution is effective, continue its implementation, or discontinue the solution if the problem has been resolved

→ if solution is ineffective, determine why and re-start the problem-solving process at the “Generating Solutions” step

Educational Teams



According to Cook and Friend, “An educational team is a set of interdependent individuals with unique skills and perspectives who interact directly to achieve their mutual goal of providing students with effective educational programs and services” (2013, p.138).

You and your child are an integral part of the educational team and you should have as much opportunity to contribute as the professionals on the team. Effective teams have shared goals, communicate well, and are comfortable working in various roles (2013, p.139).

Psychologist Bruce W. Tuckman developed a model of a team’s “life cycle” in 1965:


Why use teams in education?

  • efficiency
  • high-quality outcomes
  • collaboration
  • combining of specialized skills
  • sense of community (2013, p.144)

Models of Educational Teams (2013, pgs. 145-155)


Type Description Benefits
Multidisciplinary Teams -teams that include participants from a number of perspectives and disciplines, including students and their families -a varied group offers a wider range of -knowledge and experience

more members means that more ideas and approaches are likely to manifest

-participation in the decision-making process promotes “buy-in” from all people involved

group -problem-solving typically results in more communication and understanding of the issues

Interdisciplinary Teams -teams that coordinate the interventions they provide to students

-professionals perform separate, but related functions

– goals are developed collaboratively

-ongoing sharing of information

-more likely to develop and try interventions that enhance each other

-ensures that services to the student are not duplicated

Transdisciplinary Teams -teams in which professionals perform their related tasks interactively

-may share or blend roles

-members are available to consult one another about services

-mutual training typically takes place

-holistic approach

-true integration of services

-most collaborative model

Instructional Teams -teams that plan for, carry out, and evaluate ongoing delivery of services for one or more students -variety of possible structures (co-teaching teams, middle school teams, grade-level teams)

-collaboration by professionals with a variety of specialized skills and training can have better outcomes for students

Problem-solving teams -building-based teams created to help teachers modify instruction or activities for students with behavioral or learning challenges -provide support for both teachers and students

-gather data to drive changes to instruction or instructional settings

-allows for multiple perspectives and approaches to difficulties

-may be proactive or reactive

Special Education Teams -teams that make decisions about a student’s eligibility for services and which services the student needs

-team also monitors, evaluates, and revises services as needed

-combines input from students, families, and professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for students

-provides support for all members

Community Resources     

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General Resources

In Delaware County and Haverford Township:



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