working with parents
Looking at ways teachers can get on with
their job effectively and at the same time ensure that parents are working with
them towards the same goals.
Parents need to have
an understanding of the demands on teachers' time and energy that working in schools
brings. Implicit within this challenge is the need for the whole school community
- teachers, parents and children - to feel valued, heard and supported.
media often focuses on instances where parents and schools are in conflict, especially
on cases where communication has completely broken down. There are, however, many
more examples of excellent practice that illustrate how effective positive relationships
between parents and teachers can be.
The complexity of the
Parents have many assumptions about school
life that are naturally based on their own experiences of schooling, often radically
different from those of their children.
A parent who, for
example, attended a very formal school may find it difficult to understand the
educational value of play in the early years. What's more, the language and jargon
used by schools about levels, attainments and curriculum will confuse parents.
For parents of children with special
needs the issues can be further heightened by anxiety. Teachers need to be particularly
sensitive to these parents' needs. Their SEN policy should include the method
they use to communicate with the parents.
Valuing the child
as an individual
Another increasingly relevant factor in shaping parents'
view of teaching and learning is the evaluative information that parents now receive
in relation to their child's "performance" within school.
need to think carefully how to ensure parents are given a breadth of information
that reflects their valuing of the child as an individual, not only as an achiever.
In baseline assessment, for example, parents receive information
after six weeks about different areas of their child's progress. If handled clumsily
this may be very dismaying to parents, causing them to feel that their child is
already being judged negatively having only just started school.
message to parents in such a case is then potentially damaging rather than enabling.
Teachers must think very carefully about the language they use what it conveys.
They need to make sure parents understand the context and the meaning of the information
they receive. The child's well-being and progress is always central to the evaluation
To ensure that parents are secure in their relationship
with the school it may be helpful to open up dialogue with representative groups
to explore the following:
- What do parents want/need to
know from teachers?
- What do schools want/need parents to
- How can teachers ensure that all parents fully
understand what they are saying?
- How can a two-way
communication be maintained and evaluated over time?
One way you can be sure parents receive the information
they particularly need is to have a standard school questionnaire that asks parents
for the information they would like. This could include the following:
- Description and tour of the school
organisation and meeting with staff
- Curriculum objectives,
educational aims of the school (including the emotional well being of all)
- Classroom organisation and layout
with classroom materials
- Assessment and profiling policies
(in terms that can be readily understood)
- School resources
- School policy on behaviour, attendance, racism
- An outline of specific ways parents can help in school
- Advice on what to do if things go wrong
of reporting on pupils progress
- Other agencies that
are attached to the school and may be able to help
expectations of parents within the school building
with non-English speakers
The language used in communication and how it
is understood is the foundation of any positive relationship. If the parents'
language is not English attempts should be made to use interpreters/translators
to assist in communication.
Community support groups often
have facilities for interpreting and also may have very valuable insights into
cultural expectations or norms that can facilitate appropriate communication with
the parents concerned.
The use of a questionnaire may identify
which parents are in greatest need of information, enabling a tailoring of the
information for each individual.
Teachers need to think carefully about the process of communication and the effective
use of time. A weekly surgery for parents may be more manageable than impromptu
discussions at busy times in the school day.
way to alienate parents is to appear unavailable to the parents and be unresponsive.
The sooner there is constructive dialogue the more likely that issues will be
Confidentiality should be communicated and
honoured with parents and should be shared by all staff. In school communities
there is always potential for gossiping or unfounded information that can cause
great anxiety and upset. Parents need to feel secure and trusting in their relationship
with school staff.
Teachers also nreeed to feel secure in their
relationships with parents. Even when many of the issues raised in this article
have been successfully addressed there will always be some parents that are difficult
and potentially aggressive.
Ways of dealing with such parents
needs to be carefully thought through by senior management and the shared with
all staff. It is vital that teachers feel secure within their classes and parents
are not able to threaten that security by unacceptable behaviour.
Corinne Abisgold is an educational psychologist, writer, lecturer
and curriculum developer.
Individual issues relating to
working with parents can be raised directly by emailing her at: mailto:email@example.com