Collaborating with your School Team

IDEA (2004) mandates parent involvement in every phase of the special education process, and parents and school staff share a desire to help the child succeed in school. Working collaboratively makes sense!

Guiding principles for promoting a positive working relationship with families:

  • Families are active members of the team. Family involvement is extremely important in the team process because they are a permanent member of the team. Other team members come and go, but the family is there for the lifetime.
  • Conduct collaborative family-school meetings. Build trusting relationships and partnerships that establish high expectations and lead to positive outcomes.
  • Goals should be family-driven and families should be given the opportunity to collaborate in the design of the child's program, including through the IFSP/IEP process.
  • Families need an opportunity to share their hopes and dreams for their child with the team so they can develop goals based on their family values.  
  • The child’s wishes and desires are considered as part of the planning process. Self-determination is defined as a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior.
  • Families are an integral part of the ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of the child’s educational program.
  • Families can also help support learning and generalization of skills to other settings such as the home and community.  

Most important, families and school staff need to listen to each other, work together, and always remember that the child is the focus.

See more information about Key Issues for Families with Children with ASD Across the Lifespan. Families can use this document to plan for their current and future needs, and school staff can use these as guideposts to ensure that they are considering the needs of the child and family at every age level. 

Resolving Differences

Most of the time, when you work collaboratively with your school team, issues and concerns can be resolved. If you have a concern and need to resolve an issue, it is suggested you follow the process outlined below. Understandably, when you are frustrated, you might want to go straight to the top. Instead, consider working through the people who are closest to your child and step up a level only if you are not able to come to an agreement. For more resources, review the Special Education Problem Solving Fact Sheet from the Michigan Department of Education, Family Matters website 

  1. First, talk to your child’s teacher(s). Make sure that you have clearly communicated your goals and expectations to each other – listen and problem solve. This might also involve talking to your child’s school team. Keep in mind – the child comes first and adults need to put aside their differences for the child’s best interest. Talk with your team about using the START Meeting Mechanics process. This is a problem solving process that START trained teams will know about.
  2. If you and the teacher are not able to resolve differences, talk to the building principal. Work on coming to a shared understanding of the issues and how you can solve the differences.
  3. If you are not able to resolve the concerns at the building level, then talk to the district special education director.
  4. Please consider communicating with all of the people above before you contact a superintendent or ISD level administrator since the building and district staff will know your child the best and ultimately, that is where you will need to resolve any issues. 
  5. If you need assistance mediating conversations with your school team, you can pursue mediation through Special Education Mediation Services (SEMS). It is a free mediation service.
  6. Finally, if you cannot come to a resolution after all of these steps, contact the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Special Education Help Line at: (888) 320-8384 or email You can discuss options for resolution, or file a formal complaint with the state. For information on complaint procedures, review the Resolving Differences procedure. 

Other helpful resources about working with your school can be found at Michigan Alliance for Families (MAF)