Promoting Effective Communication with Parents in Education
Communication helps us exist within and connect to the world around us. It is an intrinsic part of our lives, and an essential aspect of child development. As well as focusing on how they communicate with students in the classroom, teachers must also consider how they communicate with parents and carers.
In this article, we will address why it is important to build and maintain relationships with parents and carers and consider how schools can communicate with parents more effectively. We will also offer guidance on how to provide effective home-school communication, and uncover top parents’ evening communication tips for teachers.
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Why is it Important to Build Relationships with Parents as a Teacher?
‘Parental engagement in children’s learning and the quality of the home learning environment are associated with improved academic outcomes at all ages.’
Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning, the Education Endowment Foundation
Positive parental support and engagement can have a significant impact on a child’s education, so it is vital that schools do all they can to foster effective working relationships with parents. If parents are as informed as possible, they can support their child through transitions, daily routines, and class work. The benefits are not only linked to academic improvement – a pupil’s personal, social, and emotional development are all influenced by the nature of parent-teacher relationships.
Effective home-school communication can make children feel more confident and valued in their setting, which can improve attendance. It can also help children to foster a love of learning, which can be further enhanced by support from both their parents and teachers.
Home-school communication also helps teachers to teach better. Understanding more about the child’s home environment, and their needs and interests, can help teachers to tailor their provision accordingly. This might include adaptations to curriculum mapping to encompass a particular child’s interests, alterations to the school’s Universal Provision, or targeted interventions.
Effective home-school communication can be particularly vital for children with Special Education Needs and/or Disability (SEND). Parents and carers can work with teachers to relay key information, devise plans, and review actions – doing so will help to ensure that the child receives the best provision possible. The views and opinions of parents and carers are an essential aspect of the Graduated Approach. You can find out more about our SEND in the classroom course here.
Finally, effective home-school communication also helps parents to appreciate teachers’ responsibilities, gain a greater perspective of the school’s efforts and aims, and grasp a strong understanding of the school’s academic program.
How can Schools Engage More Effectively with Parents?
“Schools and parents have a shared interest in doing the best for their children.”
Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation
Be Clear and Consistent
Where possible, communication between teachers and parents should be concise, transparent, and respectful. Clarity can ensure children feel safe and settled in their environment. Therefore, by removing uncertainties which arise through poor communication, schools are relieving any unnecessary anxieties children may experience.
Where communication in schools is clear, administrative follow-up tasks should be reduced, so it is in a school’s interest to make sure their procedures for making announcements and sharing updates are both strategic and well thought out.
Schools should share how they are going to communicate with parents and carers. Where apps or websites are involved, it is crucial that parents understand how to navigate them. Schools can do this easily by sharing demos and quick tutorial videos, or by holding support events.
Staff should be aware of the school’s expectations surrounding tone of voice, as this should remain consistent across all channels, from social media posts to headteacher updates.
Make it Accessible
Communication should be accessible to everyone in the school community. Schools should therefore be aware of accessibility needs to make sure that their communication reaches as many parents and carers as possible. Although electronic methods are most widely used by schools in the UK, they may need to amend their approach for selected families. Group sessions for parents and carers, for example, can help to forge bonds with ‘hard-to-reach’ families.
Schools should also consider the range of languages spoken by the school community.
Where digital communication is prioritised, schools should also consider the importance of maintaining face-to-face contact with parents and carers. This can be through termly catch ups, community groups, curriculum events, webinars, or fundraising events. Although it can be useful to provide paper copies of key documents, schools should be aware of their cost, effectiveness, and the wider environmental impact.
Involve Parents in Decision Making
To find out which method of communication parents and carers find most valuable, schools can send out surveys and questionnaires. This means that decisions made surrounding communication are as informed as possible.
Schools should also ensure that parents and staff are aware of the expectations surrounding direct messaging on school platforms, such as Teams. Parents should not expect an immediate response to a message sent at 8pm, for example. Guidelines should dictate where and when it is appropriate to send direct messages and when to expect a response.
Review and Plan
Where schools are looking to use home-school communication to spark a culture change, reviewing the effectiveness of their current strategy is essential. This process should not be laborious or time-consuming; it should allow the school to work smarter to ensure that their communication has the desired impact. Listening to all parents and carers, including those who are less involved in both their child’s progress and achievement and wider school life, will help schools to pinpoint what is working well, and what is not.
Suggest Ways that Parents can Help
Parents and carers can help children at home in numerous ways. Firstly, they can encourage their child to set goals, manage their time and workload, prioritise their wellbeing, and regulate their emotions. This kind of support will help them to navigate their learning more effectively.
Schools can also encourage parents and carers to be positive reading role models. Shared reading supports language development and literacy at all ages, especially in the Early Years. They can focus on the interactivity element of reading, so parents feel confident discussing texts with their children. Schools can encourage a book swap service, train parents how to use the school library, and involve them in summer reading initiatives.
Schools can also promote fun, collaborative games that families can enjoy at home to support different areas of the curriculum – they can share these on the school’s website and social channels.
Finally, schools can encourage parents and carers to create positive home learning environments. For children with specific learning difficulties, for example, an organised, calm, and clutter-free environment might be particularly beneficial during exam times.
How to Communicate with Parents
Much of the training teachers receive when learning how to communicate with parents and carers happens on the job, rather than as part of a separate unit of study. According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), fewer than 10% of teachers have undertaken CPD on parental engagement. It can, therefore, be very challenging for teachers to grasp a secure understanding of how best to communicate with parents, especially very early on in their career.
Although learning through experience is beneficial, there are some easy ways to build a strong foundation for effective teacher-parent relationships. Our Communication Skills training is designed to support anyone who wishes to improve their communication skills, both professionally and personally. Find out more here.
Tips for Communicating with Parents Effectively
If you are a teacher, then communication is an essential aspect of your role: it is a skill that you can continually revise and improve. Consider these strategies when communicating with parents and carers in your setting:
Be warm and respectful – Adopting a warm, respectful, and professional tone in all face-to-face and written communications will help you to build trust amongst parents and carers in the community, although be sure to follow the guidance set out in your school’s communication policy. As the saying goes, treat others as you would like to be treated.
Value parents and carers – Parents and carers’ views should always be listened to. Children with SEND, for example, may present very differently in both their home and school environments. Clear communication means that teachers and families can be as informed as possible when planning the child’s provision. Similarly, it can be challenging for parents and carers to make the transition from being the child’s main educator, to then handing this responsibility over to a pre-school or reception teacher – whom they know very little about. With the many responsibilities teachers face, it can be easy to forget that parents and carers themselves require support – especially during periods of transition. Thank parents for their support and reinforce the power they have in helping their child to receive the best education possible.
Be aware of individual needs – Try to be aware of the family’s context and situation. Your progress leader or head of year should be able to support you with this. Communication will need to be adapted in some circumstances in order to be most effective.
Listen – In order to gain a true understanding of what a parent or carer is trying to say, try to listen actively. Ask questions and be sure to provide a summary of what has been said in order to avoid misunderstanding. For example, ‘what I understand from what has been said is… Am I right?’ Acknowledging parents and carers’ thoughts and feelings helps them to feel valued.
Be positive – Home-school communication is more likely to be effective if it celebrates success and is linked to learning. Positivity is contagious. Teams who are positive achieve better outcomes, so remember to share successes often and focus on the positive of every situation – if you are able to.
Provide advance notice – Parents and carers welcome advance notice of key dates and deadlines, so be sure to make this clear. Many will have work and caring responsibilities to manage, so forewarning is almost always appreciated. If you are sending out notifications, make sure that parents understand how to turn these on and off.
Proofread – Try to ensure that you proofread communication that is going out into the community. Spelling and grammar checks can be carried out easily on most software. Colleagues with additional needs should be supported with this via a personalised support plan.
Ignore contact – It is vital that you respond in a timely manner to parents and carers’ emails. Even if you respond with, ‘Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will get back to you with more information on Monday.’ Doing so will help them to feel valued, and give you time to consider how best to manage the situation, if it is not something that requires immediate action.
Focus on the negative (even when it is hard not to) – Try to remain positive, even if you are dealing with a difficult situation. For example, if you are replying to an email of complaint, start by thanking the sender, stating what you are grateful for, and what you look forward to. For example, ‘Thank you for taking the time to send this email. I appreciate you sharing this with me, and I look forward to resolving this together.’ If you focus on the negative, you are more likely to discourage parents and carers from being involved in school life.
Use complex language – Using language that is overly complicated or filled with abbreviations does not help inclusivity. In fact, it can alienate your audience, so keep your communications concise and accessible.
Be reactive – If you are faced with a challenging situation, and you are unsure how to manage it, try to avoid providing an immediate response. When emotions are high, it is difficult to have a sense of perspective. Speak to your colleagues and consider the best course of action moving forward.
Have a 24/7 approach – Nurture a method of communication that works for you, in line with your school policy. Once you start to reply to messages at 11pm, this will quickly become expected. Set a timeframe for when it is best to contact you and ensure parents know when they are likely to receive a response.
You can find out more about communication skills for teachers in our designated article here.
Guidance on Parents’ Evening for Teachers
Parents’ evenings are meetings between parents or carers and their child’s teachers. They provide teachers with a fantastic opportunity to communicate with the most influential and important people in their students’ lives. Parents’ evenings are an opportunity to discuss the child’s strengths and areas for improvement, their latest report, progress data, behaviour, and any key concerns.
How to Talk to Parents About Their Child
Begin by welcoming the parents and carers and thanking them for their time. If the child has been a joy to teach, share it. State that you are very excited to have the opportunity to celebrate the child’s effort and achievement.
Starting meetings by relaying examples of when the child showed exemplary behaviour, kindness, or manners can help to alleviate tension. Beginning on a high sets a positive tone for the rest of the meeting, and helps the attendees to appreciate the role you play in supporting their child’s progress and achievement.
Similarly to the strategies we have listed above, respect is the foundation to a successful parents’ evening. Be prepared to listen to parents or carers’ concerns or queries, validate them, and then state how you will respond. For example, if a parent shares with you that their child is having friendship issues at school, perhaps say: ‘Thank you for sharing that. I understand that you feel X. What I would like to do is speak with X in the morning to find out how they are feeling, and then meet with the progress leader to work out the best course of action. I will let you know where we are up to by Friday.’ Try to always adhere to the deadlines you set, and suggest a follow-up meeting if issues are not addressed.
If the child is displaying a lack of effort or behaviour that challenges, then express this in a calm and respectful manner. Remember that difficult behaviour is very often the manifestation of a need. Outline what has been done already in school to support the child and what you intend to keep doing. Welcome the parents or carers’ feedback, and see the meeting as an opportunity to solve problems and find solutions, together. You can find out more about our Challenging Behaviour course here.
The child’s needs and best interests should be at the core of any home-school communication strategy. By nurturing relationships built on respect, schools can create a thriving community of engaged and committed parents and carers. Working with parents can be challenging at times, but if all parties understand that the child’s needs are at the heart of their ethos, then together they can have a positive impact on both wellbeing and academic success.
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