How can we build better connections between school and home?
We have never been able to respond, react and converse faster than we can now, but that doesn’t always mean we do it better, says headmistress of St Margaret’s School, Rose Hardy
The general pace of life for families nowadays is so fast-moving that it is becoming even more challenging for schools to build meaningful connections between school life and home. From the way we communicate in our ever-evolving digital world, to the plethora of extracurricular activities and family occasions taking place outside of school, communication between home and school can become disjointed and confusing, which is unhelpful to all parties.
Busy parents will often quickly fire off an email to the school from their iPhone in response to something their child has come home and told them. Our device-led society means it is becoming quicker for parents to respond or react, but often without clarity or sometimes fuelled by the class parents’ WhatsApp group, where the issue or conversation can take on a life of its own.
Most parents appreciate that teachers are usually classroom-bound during the school day and so cannot respond immediately to emails or phone messages. Nevertheless, many parents send out-of-hours emails and still expect a response first thing the following morning.
Responding in a ‘next day delivery’ world
Responding to important issues takes time and staff resource, and responses cannot be instant, which can be frustrating for parents living in our ‘one click’ next day delivery world. For schools, managing the expectations of parents from the outset – and having clarity of the school’s communications policy – is vital in ensuring everyone is on the same page and is confident their request is being handled.
Of course, if the matter is urgent or linked to the safeguarding of a child, a much faster response and action time should be expected, and this should be made clear in the school’s communications policy.
Bridging the gap between school and home life is becoming more important as the way we interact continues to evolve. Schools need to physically ‘induct’ their parents into building effective methods of communication with the right people in the school. Helpful strategies, such as signposting to parents exactly who they should contact for a particular issue, is a really useful exercise.
In fairness, the terminology often used by schools can be bewildering for parents, who can feel as though they are drowning in acronyms, from HOYS to HODS to SEN – schools need to recognise the importance of educating parents so that they are familiar with the educational landscape and the professionals in their child’s school. A common mistake is to assume they know all of this already, which is unlikely.
There are lots of things schools can do to better support parents and foster greater connections between school and home. From running specialist parent sessions to covering pastoral issues – such as cyber bullying, staying safe online, or mental health and wellbeing issues – having consultation evenings with heads of year groups can really help. In these cases, the teaching professionals will be able to make conversations more relevant to the age group of the child and the potential issues that could arise during this period of their young lives.
Schools choose to communicate with parents in a wide range of ways today, from traditional letters to parent portals, blogs, apps and social media platforms. Having so many channels of communication to choose from can present problems with clarity and distribution of information, because you have to be consistent across all platforms. It’s also important for schools to manage and control the messages they are delivering to preserve their reputation and ensure information is accurate and up to date.
In truth, schools need to broaden their thinking to forge and nurture stronger connections between home and school. Many schools are still operating, in some respects, as if they were still operating in the 1970s and 80s, which is outdated and not fit for purpose. The use of social media and personal devices means that the way children are communicating and connecting – with each other and with their parents – is vastly different from days gone by. As schools, we need to consider the full range of tools available to us, even if that means stepping outside of our comfort zones. The most important thing is that we continue to connect and communicate with parents and pupils, no matter what channel is used.
Finding the right approach for now
We have never been able to respond, react and converse faster than we can now, but that doesn’t always mean we do it better. Often, these more immediate responses are very different to the responses we might have given with longer to consider or react.
What is becoming apparent is that parents and schools value the relationships and the layers of communication which draws those all-important correlations between home and school life. The key is not to attempt to find an approach that will work in the future (who knows what form that will take?) but finding an approach to link together and connect that works for now.
It’s important to remember that this is an evolving approach and one that has to move with the times. As long as we remember why we are doing it, and don’t lose sight of the need to build stronger lines of communications between what happens in school hours and outside of them, we are taking the right steps forward.