“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. Read the rest of this entry