by Aimee SkidmoreHigh School and IGCSE English Teacher @College du Leman
We use a variety of tools for communications between our school and our student’s parents/guardians. Firstly email is a big part of this strategy; parents are able to connect directly with teachers and have extensive visibility through our internal learning management tool. However nothing quite beats that face-to-face interaction. For parents (and teachers), making that personal connection with a teacher is vital, and something that our parents even request, so we have started doing a ‘meet and greet’ session at the beginning of each year for them to meet teachers and staff. This has been an incredibly successful initiative, as parents are willing to be more open when you meet them in person.
We’ve also developed parent-teacher-student conferences, both face to face and virtually. With these events, we found that the virtual ones are much preferred by staff and parents as it eliminates time spent rushing from building to building, and also makes the conversations more concise due to the time scheduled time limit with the online meeting forum. We also have an internal portal where parents and guardians can monitor their child’s extra-curricular activities and courses which also has an inbuilt meetings function. Our parents additionally run events and have their own groups including active parent faculty associations which are quite effective at keeping engagement between them and the school.
Regarding key school-parent communication pressure points over the school year, there are two main bottlenecks. The first is running up to their final exams, and the second is the end of year. I find that the period around their final exams has a lot lower engagement from parents than I would expect for such a crucial time, and I’m not quite sure why this is. This has a knock-on effect of students potentially not feeling as supported as they could be, I see this as a major issue that needs to be addressed especially as we now see the importance mental health and general wellbeing. At our school we send out reports twice a year to parents, and for our boarders, we even have an internal ‘traffic light system’ that flags how they are getting on. This tracking system was a huge challenge during 2020 without the boarding house structures and support from boarding house parents that they are used to.
We also host a student-led conference twice a year, where our students present what they have enjoyed and learnt over the course of their school year, which we find is a key part in maintaining engagement from both students and their parents. We’ve also found that in-person school/parent meetups around leisure activities have been really successful, including BBQ’s and sporting events. The focus is then around bringing the community together in a more informal setting.
Parents & Guardians Newsletter
A key challenge of ours is finding new ways to connect and keep parents/guardians engaged, while not making them feel like they are being bombarded with information. We do have an official parent email list that we use to send out regular newsletters each month, but I do feel the amount of communication from the school sometimes errs on overkill. Additionally, it is important for these email lists to be updated and curated based on year group. This can be an added challenge, especially if the school miscommunicates to the wrong parent. Another challenge is when there is an issue that needs to be communicated to the student, be it academic or extra-curricular; teachers will often go to the boarding house parent rather than the actual parent, partly due to them often being in another country or language barrier issues. This could pose a problem as both teacher and boarding parent are members of staff at the same institution, so there are potential conflicting and vested interests.
We’ve generally found that parents really struggle with, and don’t tend to access internal communication systems, such as portals. The academic language around scoring that a school uses internally can be very confusing for parents. All they really want to know is, is their child learning and are there any problems they should be aware of?
Overall, I think communication between the school and parent/guardian is an incredibly important topic to raise as it is a complicated aspect to get right and so easy to miss the mark. Often what we intend is not what is heard. This is also true about the communications between teachers and students and their families.
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