Our parents are pros at keeping in touch. Last week, the day before school started, we had a Welcome Back Barbeque which saw over 350 students, staff, and family members descend upon our campus to check out classrooms, meet this year's teachers, connect with old friends and alleviate some of the inevitable anxiety that comes with the first day of school.
This week is Curriculum Night. Parents are invited to learn a bit about the new provincial curriculum and how to log in to our Atlas Curriculum Map to see what their children are studying. They spend time meeting with classroom teachers, resource personnel and tutors and, hopefully, come away with a greater understanding of what the first term is going to look like for their child. Most schools have similar starts to their academic year and they are great opportunities to make that first connection and put a face to a name for both parents and educators.
But even with this kind of outreach, there are five key things that parents and schools should be certain to do to keep the lines of communication open:
1. Keep in Touch: Classroom teachers and administrators have to engage in regular outreach through blogs, group emails, newsletters, or classroom websites. There are lots of great vehicles to make this happen without a tremendous amount of extra time and effort. Parents, for their part, should be certain to contact the school if they have a question or concern. The worst thing that you can do is to let things go unasked, or problems to fester until they come tumbling out at a parent/teacher conference months into the school year.
2. Keep the doors open: Given the pace of daily life, not every parent has the luxury of being able to drop around the school on a regular basis. But, every parent should know that they can if they choose too. We often spend lots of time and effort as schools to convince parents to trust us with their child, we should spend no less time welcoming them to visit to see the work in progress. Whether it is a formal Open House or merely an informal Open Door policy, parents should be seen as valued and welcome partners in the learning process.
3. Listen: Too many of us are on permanent "send". We can get so caught up in explaining ourselves (either in person or more likely by email) that we often neglect to really hear what the other person is saying. Perception is reality and our responsibility as educators is to listen and address those perceptions, not try to win a debate.
4. Face to Face is always best: Email is the best and worst form of communication between home and school. It is best when it is used to send out straightforward information or answer a specific question (Is tomorrow a Free Dress Day?). It is worst when trying to raise a concern about a child's behaviour, academic struggles, lack of a healthy lunch, in fact anything that puts either parent or teacher on the defensive. If it is important, parents should drop in, or arrange a meeting. Teachers should always telephone or arrange for the parent to come in. Too many educators and parents get addicted to building a paper trail through rapid fire email exchanges. It never ends well!
5. Agree to Disagree: There are occasionally going to be "unresolvable" issues between home and school. Rather than look for capitulation or saying things that you think that other party wants to hear to make the problem go away, it is better to simply say: "I guess that we can't agree on this." A respectful expression of disagreement clears the air and sets out a straightforward choice for parents - either they can live with it or not. It is the grey area of uncertainly that is often at the root of home/school challenges.
Let's face it, there are always going to be bumps along the path of parent/school communications. But a proactive, positive and respectful approach to talking to one another is always going to pay dividends for children. And, after all, that's what it is all about!