I have just read a really interesting blog on the Optimus Education Website about the common challenges that teachers face in communicating with parents and advice on how to overcome them. It covers aggressive parents, needy parents and parents who blame teachers.
It was a really informative perspective to read from the teacher’s point of view because frequently in the SEND mediations I conduct, it is the parents complaining about the school not communicating with them or dismissing what they say, and a large proportion of the disputes could have been resolved without mediation if only parent and school were able to successfully communicate with each other.
Often parents are unaware of the support the school are putting in place and feel the school isn’t doing anything to support their child, when in fact everything possible is being done but the message (for whatever reason) isn’t getting through. Or it may be that there are other strategies that might help but the school are not hearing the suggestions and advice the parent is making (again for various reasons). This led me to thinking about what the communication barriers are between parent and school and what can be done to improve them. To this end I have put together some helpful hints to assist in communication. I hope you find them useful.
Get the SENCO on board
I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a parent say that they have no contact with the school SENCO, sometimes not even knowing who that person is. But the SENCO is at the hub of ensuring your child has the right support. Do all you can to foster good relations and rapport with the SENCO and maintain regular contact.
..right from the start. Note down every conversation, every email, every letter, every appointment, and every incident. You may well need this information in your journey to getting your child the support they need, getting an EHCP or for complaint proceedings in the event of escalation of the difficulties with the school.
Keep trying to communicate
..even if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Even if you feel really angry and frustrated and feel like you are being ignored. Communication takes two parties, but if you disengage, then there is no opportunity to improve the situation; rather the situation will degrade quickly. So set up regular meetings; take notes and; circulate these to everyone present afterwards, even if the school also take notes. That way, discrepancies can be addressed.
Whenever someone agrees to and action point, agree a deadline for its implementation and for reviewing the outcome. That way, everyone is clear who is doing what and by when.
Take someone with you to meetings
They can act as support; a witness to verify what was said; they can take notes; and they can help make sure you cover everything you need to. They can be a calm voice when you are feeling overwhelmed and emotional.
Try to remain polite
..no matter what! You may well be feeling angry/emotional/frustrated. But no one deserves to be on the receiving end of verbal abuse or online attacks. Stay professional. Speak to people the way you would like to be spoken to. Remember that you are far more likely to get what you need/want if you can get the other person on board with you rather than setting them up as an adversary.
Don’t be afraid to challenge what you disagree with
..but remember that the response you are likely to get will be determined at least in part on how you broach it and how you phrase it. Shouting, hurling personal abuse and verbally attacking a member of staff may make you temporarily feel better but it instantly puts everyone on the defensive and shuts down logical, constructive discussion. It can also be difficult to come back from this battlefield scenario and rebuild trust and open communication.
Using “I” and “we” statements can be really helpful, as in “I feel frustrated when we agree to a course of action but I don’t receive any information that it has been done or what the outcome is. Could we maybe arrange a weekly email to check-in on progress?” Is very different to “You stupid waste-of-space. You never do anything to help my child. You’re just ignoring everything I say. I’m going to get you sacked for incompetency. You will do what I say right now or else.”
Focus on your goal
However hard it is, remember that your goal is to help your child. Always consider what the best method is of getting what you want, even if you have to bite your tongue to do it. Usually this means getting people on-side rather than alienating them as trust, rapport and feeling listened to can go a long way to improving a situation on both sides.
If in doubt, call a mediator to assist! Educational Mediation can help ensure that you are listened to by the school and that you are able to hear what the school has to say. They can keep meetings calm and on point, and assist in rebuilding communication when the relationship between the parent and the school has broken down.