• School leaders and teachers have always known that strong, two-way communication between home and school is important because it results in high levels of parent engagement, which have a positive impact on student outcomes.
• The chief benefit of the pandemic lockdowns has probably been a heightened appreciation of the value of strong home–school relationships.
• The more parents understand about their child’s learning experience, the more engaged they will be and the better they are able to support their child’s learning.
• Regular surveys will ensure that parents feel they have a voice, and a stake, in the success of the school.
Relations between schools and parents entered a new phase in March 2020 when the first of our national lockdowns came into jarring effect. With learning shifted entirely online for most pupils, parents and carers had to step up to become proxy teachers, especially at primary level. It was a strain for many adults who were trying to balance these new responsibilities with their own pressurised lives, but some good has undoubtedly emerged from it.
The chief benefit has probably been a heightened appreciation of the value of strong home–school relationships. School leaders and teachers have always known that strong, two-way communication between home and school is important because it results in high levels of parent engagement, which have a positive impact on student outcomes.
Encouraging and supporting this relationship will only help to strengthen it. For some schools it is already a given, but for others it may still be an ambition and a challenge to achieve. However, there are some simple steps, captured in a new e-book published by Firefly, which schools can take to simplify the process and bring parents more fully into the learning conversation.
Enlist parental support from the outset
When a child starts at a new school, there’s a honeymoon period when both parent and child are excited by all the rich possibilities of a new learning environment. This is a teaching moment: the ideal time to promote good communication habits and a collaborative approach. Investing time in induction will save hours in the long term. Positive interactions with parents from the start will ease the way for more challenging conversations later on.
Parents will become more engaged in school life if they receive messages and information from the school that are relevant and interesting. Thinking carefully about the information you send to parents will help you avoid ‘spamming’ them with unnecessary information. Make sure that your communications reflect your school’s messaging, and remember to use different information channels for different types of information. For example, text messages and social media are better for urgent communications.
Make learning visible
The more parents understand about their child’s learning experience, the more engaged they become and the better they are able to support their child’s learning. This requires teachers to make sure that parents can access their child’s curriculum and learning resources. It’s also important for parents to understand the progress their child is making and the challenges they face. A continuous reporting approach, using technology to share learning goals and achievements on a rolling basis rather than waiting for the school report, will deliver big benefits in the long run, allowing parents and teachers to collaborate more effectively in the learning process.
Get their feedback
Understand the value of listening to parents. Good communication is a two-way process and people are more invested if they feel that their voice is heard. Many schools have a variety of forums for this sort of process, such as a PTA, but it is not always easy to get the thoughts of the wider parent community on a regular basis. Understanding the concerns of the school community allows schools to be more proactive with their communications, to head off issues before they escalate, and to track the impact of school strategy. Regular surveys will ensure that parents feel they have a voice, and a stake, in the success of the school.
Plan around weekly and termly communications
Newsletters, published at the same time every week, go a long way to keeping parents up to date with what’s going on at school, as do communications to mark the start and end of each term. Parents welcome these reminders. They don’t always have the time, or the inclination, to access online school calendars or trawl through letters and forms. Modern technology does the sorting for parents, filtering emails for sets, year groups, genders and activities, so parents receive only what is relevant to their child. The alternative is bombarding them with a barrage of irrelevant information.
Make communications readable
Let clarity and brevity be your watchwords. Parents are busy. Say too much, and you’ll overwhelm and lose many of them. Structure emails so the most important information is prioritised. Highlight key details so they can be understood at a glance, especially if action is required. The capacity to send targeted SMS messages to inform parents about last-minute cancellations or a minibus that’s stuck in traffic on the way home saves teachers and parents a lot of time and frustration.
Simple guidelines can enhance readability no end. Bullet points, bold text, capitalisation and other presentational features are easy to implement and hugely helpful to parents. Photos bring messaging to life and make it all the more memorable. Encourage departments to save time setting up and sending out communications by using templates with the same design, logos and brand guidelines.
Outline clear expectations for a learning partnership
Parents want to get involved and join the learning conversation, but they don’t always know how. Outline clear expectations. Parents can help their children by establishing clear boundaries and routines, as well as goal setting and time management. They can also monitor reading, revision and homework activities. As a school you can help parents with easy access to timetables, shared resources and exam specifications. Clear communication circumvents myriad questions and misunderstandings about what’s on a particular course or exam.
Take a long-term view
Communication with parents should be seen as an act in itself, not a bolt-on or by-product. It is, therefore, something to plan and schedule. You can start by critically reviewing your overarching communications policy: its aims and current approaches. The planning cycle will include a timetable of key calendar events and announcements: virtual or face-to-face parents’ evenings, examinations, sport fixtures, music and drama. An approval system is useful for auditing key communications before they’re sent out.
- Communicating effectively with parents: A guide to engaging your greatest advocates, Firefly: https://bit.ly/3hqDpfA
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Simon Hay is co-founder and CEO at Firefly. With Firefly, schools can manage all aspects of school life, helping to reduce teacher workload, streamline administrative tasks and give parents a richer understanding of their child’s learning and experience of school. Firefly’s Parent Portal and LMS solutions are now used by more than a million students, teachers and parents in 40 countries, including 70% of the UK’s top performing schools. www.fireflylearning.com