Conversations with Parents to Determine Needs
Getting to know a student with a disability in the church Christian Education context is crucial to the person’s discipleship and growth in Christ. In addition to spending time with the student, it is essential to have a warm, inviting dialogue with the family. An interview with the parents can effectively start that dialogue. When conducted well, parent interviewing is an affirming process that communicates your commitment to the family.
A different kind of interview. In the disability ministry context, a parent interview should not be confused with other types of interviews, such as a job interview. A family should never feel that the church is deciding whether to offer them a spot in its Christian Education program. The parents need to know that you want to truly understand their family and the impact of disability in their lives spiritually and practically. Understanding the family will help you know how to fully make the gospel accessible to them—in word and in deed.
Interviewing parents is a process not meant for gathering information but for gaining insight. The goal is not to learn about the student only for the purpose of teaching. The goal is getting to know a student so that you may teach well as an expression of loving the student and the family well. That is why the focus is not on an interview session but on an interview process that facilitates open, honest communication.
The interview questions are important. What you ask parents in the interview not only helps you gain insight; it sets the tone for your dialogue and even your relationship with the family. We have created two documents to facilitate your parent interviews. Take some time to look at our Parent Interview and Parent Questionnaire forms (PDF). These forms are designed to introduce you to new students and families, but you may find them helpful for getting to better know students you already have.
The forms are meant to facilitate a dialogue in two ways:
- To help you listen perceptively and ask relevant follow-up questions.
- For parents to tell you what they believe is important for you to know.
We recommend that you have the parents complete the Parent Questionnaire before or during your interview. This way, you can review the Questionnaire with them and clarify any information or add notes. We don’t recommend using the Parent Questionnaire alone, without the opportunity for face-to-face dialogue.
The interview setting is important. Schedule a time with parents at their convenience so that you will not be rushed. Knowing that you are willing to take whatever amount of time is necessary to truly get to know them will go a long way. Ideally, it will be at a time where there are few interruptions, but that may not be realistic. Offer a monitored activity for all the children in the family if possible, but do not be offended if the parents decline. They know what works best for the family and will appreciate your offer. The location of the interview is also important.
Ask where they will be most comfortable. Offer a place to which they can come, such as the church, and also offer to meet them in their home. Let them decide. They will appreciate your flexibility. Make the environment as relaxing as possible. The setting can contribute much to communicating the interview is more about getting to know them rather than getting to know about them.
The interview is all about trust. Some parents will not be comfortable disclosing everything about their student and themselves, especially in the beginning. That is fine. If you sense any hesitation to answer questions, move on to the next questions. It is more important to establish a relationship of trust. An interview that respects the family’s decisions of what and when to disclose builds trust with the parents. This is essential to developing a long-term partnership in the discipleship of their student.
The greatest factor that builds—and can destroy—trust is confidentiality. Many, if not most, families impacted by disability have had experiences where others misunderstand how they are different from others. Often, misunderstanding the behavior, habits, learning needs, and aspects of care unfortunately leads to being judged by others. Families may take a guarded approach to disclosing sensitive information if they feel unsure that you will not disclose it to others without their permission.
Before pulling out the Parent Interview form, let them know you want to make some confidential notes. At the end of the interview, remind them of your commitment to confidentiality. The information from the interview and questionnaire that relates to the Christian Education context may be summarized and shown to classroom teachers or buddies with recommendations for how to best relate to the student. However, it should be treated as confidential information.
The first interview is only the beginning. Since the discipleship of the student with a disability is ongoing, your partnership with the family will unfold over time. Be committed to an ongoing dialogue that builds trust. Be proactive in continuing the dialogue. In your initial interview, schedule a follow-up meeting with the parents 2-4 weeks into the student’s participation in your programs. Let them know that the purpose is to get their feedback on how things are going. Convey to the parents that you are committed to learning how to best disciple and enfold their student.
There will undoubtedly be things that you need to change along the way in how you interact with the student. Scheduling in advance will help prevent any awkwardness—and their fear—that the reason for meeting is because problems have arisen. Many families are conditioned by past experiences with schools, therapists, medical professionals, and even churches to expect to be contacted for meetings to discuss problems with their children. Any problems that arise should be addressed, but doing so in the context of a positive, constructive dialogue will demonstrate the love of Christ and his body for their family.
View or download a copy of our Parent Interview and Parent Questionnaire forms (PDF) to use as you get to know your students with disabilities.
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