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Getting Schooled via Virtual Parent-Teacher Interactions

Matt LaFave stands in the command center of the Patient Safety and Clinical Competency Center at Albany Medical College, where student teacher interactions with "simulated parents" can be observed. (Photo by Beth A. Skrobela)

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 10, 2016) — Real-life parent-teacher interactions regarding a student with special educational needs can generate uncertainty and even anxiety for the new educator. It’s an important aspect of a special ed teaching career that isn’t always addressed before entering the field.

Now, because of a new partnership with Albany Medical College (AMC), UAlbany students in the master’s programs in Special Education and Literacy have the opportunity to participate in realistic simulation situations where the face-to-face interactions are real, but the children are not.

Using AMC’s state-of-the-art simulation at the Patient Safety and Clinical Competency Center, School of Education students get a chance to practice communication skills and build confidence. Highly trained educators, also called “Simulated Parents” (SP), meet one-on-one with the students in 20-minute sessions and bring important, and often challenging issues to the table.

Such parent-teacher situations this past year included meeting a proactive parent who wanted to develop a plan to address social and emotional challenges their child may face in school. “Each simulation includes key details that need to be addressed, but there is flexibility for the SP to respond and react to the student in a natural way that keeps the exchange authentic,” said Matt LaFave, the School’s coordinator of special education field experience.

During an exchange, LaFave and other staff observe and listen in a command center via live camera feed. After the “parent-teacher conference” is over, the student self-reflects while the SP records his/her own feedback. Then the student and the SP — now back in the role of educator — reconvene, with the SP offering comments and suggestions.

“Using the SP debriefing process as a means for candidates to self-identify strengths and weaknesses of their performance becomes a powerful mechanism for change,” said LaFave.

The experience culminates with a group debrief among LaFave and all the participating UAlbany students. Here, students reflect upon their performances and share high and low points with each other.

“Through this power of peer-learning paired with a reflective process, students have the potential to increase efficacy when facing ‘real life’ parent-teacher interactions,” said LaFave.

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