“No school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children’s b est interests. Parents have every right to understand what is happening to their children at school, and teachers have the responsibility to share that information without prejudicial judgement…. Such communication, which can only be in a child’s interest, is not possible without mutual trust between parent and teacher.”
Dorothy H. Cohen
A few weeks ago I read a blog post written by @jordyjax titled ‘Should we label children?’ which was excellent and since then, I have been thinking and reflecting. As people we judge all of the time, even sub-consciously. Everyone makes judgements but the professional side of someone working in education is to keep these judgements to yourself and be impartial. As @jordyjax blog post eloquently alludes to, labelling children, particularly with special needs, is vital to help them progress. So what about when we, as people and professionals, silently judge or label parents?
My precious role working in a PRU had me regularly performing outreach work. When I went into schools and classes that were in crisis with particular children, the staff in those schools were so exasperated that they wouldn’t even keep their judgements of the parents to themselves… they would kind of just blame the parents. They are just like their dad, the parents are useless because they swear in front of them, they are allowed to stay up until 2am, the parents are always late to pick them up, they can’t be bothered/don’t care about their child… and it goes on. If these conversations happen in the staffroom or anywhere else, they have the ability to become toxic and poison the perceptions that other members of staff may have of that child. So when that child finally ends up in the Y6 class, the teacher already knows all about the child but also knows second-hand, all about the parents useless parenting technique and they haven’t even said hello yet!
Engaging parents is awesome and for the amount of effort and time you actually put into it in a contrived manner… the pay off can be seismic. It really does have the power to turn around a child who needs supporting with their behaviour or it also has the power to help bring out a more confident side of a child and after the initial effort, the contrived manner is dropped and it just becomes natural. So why bother? What is the key?
How can I get parents on side?
This is an easy one… talk to them. I recently started a new post in a mainstream in April and I was the third teacher for that class. I knew the parents would be apprehensive about another new teacher so I made an effort to be seen on the playground every night, talking to someone. It was only small conversations but I was consistent, insistent and persistent. I have now spoken to the majority of the parents. It started off by going over, introducing myself and just repeating something that the child had told me that day – “Oh I hear that John is in a rugby match at the weekend?” That is the ice breaker. What it does is it shows the parents that you have listened to their children about things other than school and it also shows that you are willing to open dialogue about it. If you make the effort to talk to them, they will make the effort to talk to you. How many times have you said “well if you/child had told me this was happening, I could have helped.” Now with may parents at the school I work, I will speak formally when I need to and the rest of the time I will speak on a more casual basis with comments etc as I am passing by.
Why bother to make the effort?
This one is simple. There will come a time with most parents where you will have to have conversations that could be uncomfortable. Their children may be being bullied. You may have to ring to say that the child has used racist language. You may have to ring to discuss the recent poor attitude of a child. You may have to ring regarding a safeguarding issue. Think about it, if you haven’t made the effort to build a relationship with the parents… would they always take the bad news gracefully? I’m not saying they always will if you have a relationship with them but in my experience, they will be much more open to talk about difficult issues rather than withdraw. If the parents withdraw from you and their child picks this up… who do you think their loyalty will usually lie with? All it could lead to is a damage in relationship.
How else can I improve the relationship?
Teachers are very busy and generally, if there isn’t a problem, they will leave things sailing along perfectly. There are parents of perfectly well-behaved children who only speak to a teacher twice a year – Autumn and Summer parents evenings. If this happens, teacher simply become reactive and only react when something is brought to them by the parent but what about that first time the teacher needs to say something to the parent and they haven’t built the relationship? See the above section!
Teachers need to flip this on their head and become pro-active. They need to engage the parents for the good and the bad. It takes more effort to phone a parent up and tell them their child has done something awesome because it is not in the teachers direct agenda. It is much easier for a teacher to be encouraged to contact home when little James repeatedly stands up during the maths input and shouts “f**k off!” This is because the teacher would like this to stop. Teachers have a responsibility to inform the parents of what is going on in school to help build trust. Just look at the quote in the opening paragraph. If you want children to trust, believe and care about you, you need the parents to do so to.
There are loads of practical ways – conversations at the end of the day, positive notes home, telephoning home, emailing, texting from a school text service, asking parents to come in – All of these can be used. Try targeting the really well-behaved ones first, the really quiet ones because these are the ones that are usually missed and besides, you will probably be speaking to the rowdy ones parents at some point in the near future!