Earlier you considered two important sources of evidence: the best available research, and policies about communication with families. Experience-based knowledge is another source of evidence to help guide your decision-making. Experience-based knowledge is the “know-how” that comes from solving problems, overcoming barriers, and making decisions in everyday life.
CONNECT staff identified parents and practitioners from around the country who have experience-based knowledge on the topic of communication for collaboration and invited them to share their views. These spokespersons are Marshall Peter, Vera Stroup-Rentier, and Barbara Hanft.
- Marshall Peter
- Marshall is the Executive Director of Direction Service, where he began as a parent advocate in 1976. He is the founding Director of the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), funded by the US Department of Education as the National Center on Dispute Resolution. The father of a now deceased child with multiple disabilities, Marshall’s early work as an aggressive advocate evolved into an interest in developing methods for facilitating home school partnerships that are respectful, considerate and yield equally powerful results for children. A renowned expert in appropriate dispute resolution and conflict resolution system design, Marshall has received numerous awards for his work in advocacy and human rights.
- Vera Stroup-Rentier
- Vera is in the unique position of having worked in the field of early intervention for 15 years and then having four children, three of whom received early intervention services in two different states. Her daughter continues to receive special education services in their local school district. Vera has worked in the field of early intervention as a teacher, family service coordinator, and program coordinator, as well as in the field of early childhood as a classroom teacher and center director. Lastly, she has worked at the university level as a technical assistance specialist and lecturer. Currently (2010), Vera is a doctoral student at the Beach Center on Disability.
- Barbara Hanft
- Barbara is a developmental consultant with degrees in occupational therapy and counseling psychology. She has worked in early childhood for more than 35 years as a clinician, lobbyist, educator, and consultant. Currently she co-leads a therapy group for adolescent girls to promote their social and emotional development. Barbara was inducted as a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association and was also awarded the Presidential Citation for her outstanding leadership and advocacy for promoting services and supports to children with special needs and their families. She has published over 25 articles/chapters and 3 books on professional development and early childhood. Her most recent book, Collaborating for Student Success, focuses on effective teamwork among educators, therapists, families and students in school settings.
Now listen to audio clips from phone interviews with these spokespersons and identify important considerations relating to effective communication for collaboration.
Marshall Peter, the father of a now deceased child with multiple disabilities and founding Director of the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), shares advice on communication and stresses the importance of listening (running time: 2 min., 12 sec.).
Probably the single most important piece of advice that I give folks is to (that’s become a cliché) is to seek first to understand then to be understood. My own communication dance particularly when I’m having a strained communication is when the other person is talking to be thinking about what it is that I’m going to say next. And then quite likely when I’m talking the other person is thinking about what it is that they’re going to say next. And so if you have two people who are either talking or thinking about what they’re going to say, the possibility that they are really going to meaningfully connect and reach an outcome that is mutually beneficial is pretty remote. So at the point that I’m in a difficult discussion, if I first commit myself to understanding what it is that the other person’s saying and really communicating to their satisfaction that I understand what they’re saying, that I understand the point that they’re making. When they believe that I do in fact understand what they’re saying, they no longer have to be thinking about what it is that they’re going to say that will cause me to understand and then become available to hear what it is that it’s important to me that they understand. So really the paradox in all of this is that the way that we really get to be heard is by listening. So it’s really that notion that the first task in any strained communication is to understand what it is the other person is saying. That’s the one that I really suggest people bet the house on.
Vera Stroup-Rentier has worked in the field of early intervention as a teacher, family service coordinator, and program coordinator, as well as in the field of early childhood as a classroom teacher and center director. She shares advice on communication and stresses the importance of having an open mind (running time: 0 min., 48 sec.).
Well I think one of that is being open and knowing that we all have something to learn and that we all bring something to the table. It doesn’t matter if you’re a practitioner with twenty years of experiences versus a brand new teacher or an occupational therapist. We all bring something based on our own experiences with families and with children to contribute to the team. So figuring out what those strengths are. And really being open to hearing what people have to say related to their own practice as well as your own practice. Because thinking about, we can always reflect on our own practice and make it better. So thinking about ways that we can do that.
Barbara Hanft, a developmental consultant with degrees in occupational therapy and counseling psychology shares advice on communication. She explains the difference between talking and communicating, the importance of listening and responding with your eyes and ears, and developing empathy (running time: 2 min., 38 sec.).
I have three points that I’d like to make about communication and the first one is that communicating and talking are not one in the same. Communicating is about connecting with others for a common purpose. All people’s perspectives are respected as well as there is a sharing of resources and responsibilities. Picture a collaboration in terms of communication. Talking on the other hand often lacks this collaborative interaction because people focus too narrowly on informing, on explaining, on instructing, and directing. Picture a monologue here. My second point is that communicating blossoms from a give and a take of listening and responding. People listen with their ears and their eyes. Think about the verbal message and body language. About what you hear and what you see. And when you listen with your ears and your eyes, this leads to developing a sense of empathy for what your partner is saying and what they mean. And by empathy I mean understanding where a colleague or parent is coming from and what the significance of what he or she is saying about caring for their child or helping that child make it in a classroom, make some friends, and learn to use their language. My third point has to do with another aspect of listening at the focused level with your eyes and your ears. When you do so, it helps us to develop empathy and communicate effectively. There’s been recent neuroscience research that confirms that we have a mechanism called mirror neurons that help us understand other people’s actions as well as their intentions and emotions so that when we’re listening with our ears and our eyes it helps us develop empathy and understand what’s significant to other people and what motivates their actions and interactions. It leads us to walk a mile in their shoes. When we can do that, our supports and services can then be meaningful to a particular colleague or family member to help that particular child.