Communicating with Parents as Partners
Building relationships with the families of the children you teach is imperative if you expect parents to support their children and the school. Communication with parents and caregivers must be a responsibility for all school staff. No one designated role or person can be expected to do that alone, nor should they. Talking with parents and caregivers is not a specialist skill; it is just part of being a community member focusing on learning and well-being. Our work with school reception staff tells us that they often feel frustrated that their role in supporting and welcoming parents to school is undervalued. Frequently having to ‘deal with’ aggressive and confrontational parents is the reason most often cited as to why schools seek training for their front of house staff. However, the problem is not lack of training. Office staff usually live in and understand the school’s community and have great interpersonal skills and good relationships with parents. The aggression and confrontation usually arise because appropriate and open lines of communication do not exist for concerns to be dealt with before they escalate. A useful school website will be easy for parents to navigate and easy to read with acronyms and ‘Edu-language’ explained or not used. A good newsletter will be regular and relevant. Think about the purpose and the audience, and remember that consistency is key. If you’re sending it out by email, check how often it is being opened and read and by whom. Information boards should be placed in areas of the school that parents have easy and frequent access to. Think about the audience, what is being communicated, and how often the information is changed. Have a focus and stick to it; if parents know what information they can find and where they will look for it. Letters are used less these days but are still important and sometimes necessary. Your letters should be clear, concise, and written in an appropriate language and tone. Make it clear where parents should go if they don’t understand the content and don’t make it the only way you communicate important information or something you need a response to. Emails and texts are an easy and expected form of communication. Although not without cost, they can allow schools to see who has responded. Make sure they contain clear, concise information, especially if you are asking parents to carry out a specific action. Telephone calls are used much less often. Time commitments and lack of resources are the most-cited reasons for this, but fear and risk are barriers that are hugely unacknowledged… by both staff and parents. Address these fears and work to reduce the risks. In place of face to face contact, the telephone is your best tool for making positive connections. Face to face contact is the best form of communication. A quick chat on the playground before or after school makes parents feel that staff are accessible and is reassuring; make space for this wherever possible. Be open, honest and approachable, but be clear about your availability and boundaries. Building positive relationships with your parents will pay off tenfold. A school app offers a whole host of communication possibilities. Make sure you fully investigate all its features and, before you invest in one, make sure it has the facility for parents to share the learning that is happening at home. A good App can help make things simple by keeping everything in one place and reducing the costs associated with having multiple apps; parents are more likely to stay engaged and up to date if they only need to check in once. PEN recommends Weduc. Parent consultations are evolving, but the long-needed change has been expedited by COVID-19 and is not happening in the planned way it needed to. Often resented by all parties, parents’ evening saw parents and teachers commit a whole evening for just five tired, hungry, rushed minutes together. Frequently there was time only for teachers to relate academic progress with little opportunity for meaningful engagement. Now, we have to change. Utilise all your tools for planned and targeted communications with opportunities that will be beneficial to all parties. The traditional format of a school information evening of teachers talking and parents listening is another area to make change. At PEN, we advocate the Model, Mentor, Coach approach. Bring your parents into school (physically or virtually) and let them experience the learning to understand better how to support their child. Communication is a two-way street, and the correct tools are needed. Other than these practical tools that schools can employ, there needs to be a bedrock of good personal communication. Everyone connects differently, and we cannot always control the way others receive and process the information we give them. With self-awareness and practice, and a whole-school approach to parental engagement, improvement can be made in presenting and sharing information and listening better to what others are saying. If you want more information on our model for change and how you can implement it at your school, come and join our network.