Effective communication with parents can be a challenge in schools. Not least because everyone is very time poor in schools. The parents are often time poor too. They may have other distractions with their own work or other children or caring roles. How teachers communicate with parents has a lot of impact on how well the parents engage with school, both positively and negatively.
Some common issues
It’s very hard to have effective communication with every parent in a large school., particularly as children get older. Parents are kept physically further away from the classroom. Children start to walk themselves to school, or at least want their parent to stay out of the playground to avoid embarrassing them with friends!
Parental communication can eat time quickly. It’s important that teachers have ways to communicate effectively with parents. This is for the benefit of pupil outcomes. Every teacher knows what it is like when a parent is hovering around the door at the beginning or end of school. Much as they want to talk for ages, they have meetings to get to and books to mark. This can make communications a bit fraught.
Parents who are not doing the drop-off and pick-up may struggle to communicate with school. There are often very few chances for them to speak to school. They have to find time to call from work or make an appointment in advance. Newsletters and information from school is often uni-directional. Parents receive information, but there are seldom chances for them to respond, even to acknowledge what has been sent. Traditional paper output makes it near impossible.
The role of modern technology
Modern technology has improved this. There are now many systems which allow for more effective communication with parents in school. Assessment platforms often have parental reporting areas built in. Some have options for sending regular report updates and others also have messaging services. These can allow messages to be sent to groups of parents, or private messaging between teacher and parent. These make a huge difference in allowing more regular communication, thus saving the teacher having to relay three months’ worth of information in a single parent’s evening slot.
Why do we need to improve communication with parents?
The aim of parental communication is to engage them in their child’s education. Parental involvement and support at home has been evidenced to positively impact pupil outcomes. Good communication is the key element in this. This means that it’ll likely have more impact than dashing off for meetings or marking books. Yet it’s rarely built into the regular weekly work of teachers with so many other pressures on them.
Where do we go from here?
To make parental engagement through technology manageable there are lots of options to explore. Bear these in mind when choosing the platform for you.
Assessment: This is where communication of some sort is happening through an assessment-based system. Can parents clearly see the achievements of their child? Is there a reasonable list of next steps and targets?
Supporting documents: This is where the parent can see targets. Are there any links to supporting resources? These can help them to engage their child in that target as part of home learning.
Messaging: How is messaging possible? Are there choices of 1:1 and 1:many? For example, can a teacher save time sending messages to a group of parents at once? And can they choose to message a parent privately too?
Accessibility: Is the system accessible on a number of devices and browser types? This will allow parents to access the system on laptop or mobile devices. And is it compatible with screen readers and other accessibility tools?
Language barriers: Technology is the easiest way to knock down language barriers. Look for the systems which have in-built translation. At Learning Ladders, our teacher-written parent articles are curriculum-linked and are available in 100 languages, so everyone can have access.
Six top tips for effective parental communication:
- Give lots of options. Not everyone wants to read a letter. Not everyone likes to watch a video. Not everyone can make it to school. Make sure key communication has multiple avenues. This way, parents can receive communication, and send it, in ways which they can access.
- Keep it short. Some messages do need more text than others. Some topics take longer to explain. But no matter what the context or content, you can always make it as short as it can be.
- Have two-way conversations. No-one likes to be talked at all the time. For more effective communication with parents in school, ensure there are equal opportunities for response wherever possible. This could be a chance for parents to ‘like’ a post on the assessment platform, or adding a survey to emails.
- Keep it simple. Education is full of jargon and acronyms. Wherever possible, cut this out. Where it is necessary then add a glossary or links to further reading in layman’s terms.
- Make it regular. A sudden call from school out of the blue will always make a parent assume the worst, but if they know that this is how you often communicate they won’t jump to negative conclusions or worry. Also, no parent likes to feel “left out” of what their child’s school life looks like, just like teachers like to get an idea of what a child’s home life is like. Having that fuller picture helps everyone to work as a team to benefit the child.
- Make it balanced. It’s great to shout about achievements of course! But if then they get a call to say there is a major problem, it might knock the wind out of their sails. So, make sure parents have a balanced and realistic view of life in school for their child. Likewise, parents shouldn’t only ever hear from school because something is wrong. They may get the impression that you feel their child is not doing as well as they may be. Random communications will always skew a picture. Regular updates, no matter how small they seem, build confidence. They show that you know the child well and conversations become much more open.
Learn more about how Learning Ladders can support with effective communication with parents in school with our Parent Portal.