The ABCs when engaging with parents
I have always been on the curriculum side when it came to leadership until last year when I was moved to lead on Key Stage 3 for two terms. My previous experience of pastoral was being a form tutor and managing behaviour in the classroom. However, nothing could have prepared me for leading on pastoral.
I quickly realised that pastoral was complex and very emotional with many angles that have to be considered and regarded when working with parents, teachers and adults. More noticeably was that everyone was affected by pastoral; therefore everyone has an opinion. I, too, had an opinion and before this experience could not understand why certain students appeared to have nine lives and struggle to understand why parents were so distant or not supportive.
Well, I quickly learnt that pastoral is not black and white but a very grey blur and issues must be challenged but support must also be part the solution. And when communicating with parents it became apparent that being very clear was critical to build positive relationships.
I call it the ABCs when engaging with parents – Always Be Clear.
B – Be
C – Clear
Building relationships with parents develops partnerships that open doors in establishing trust between the school and home. The first significant step is to always be clear. This applies to describing the concern or event, explaining the processes necessary to support parents and students or when involving external agencies. I had plenty of opportunities to apply this rule and the dividends were worth the investment.
For example, I worked closely with a parent whose child was at risk of permanent exclusion for persistent disruptive behaviour. Initially it appeared that the parent was blaming the school for not meeting her child’s needs but, as it turned, her concerns were around inconsistencies and confusion of previous engagements with the school. She had a lack of understanding of the behaviour policy, classroom expectations, sanctions for poor behaviour and next steps in regard to exclusions.
However, after a few weeks the parent’s position began to change. I was always very clear with the systems and processes in place that led to her child’s continued exclusion. She became increasingly supportive and realised that the school was actively engaging with trying to find solutions to help her child. I had done nothing new, the support from school had always been there; I just ensured that our message was always clear.
Pastoral is much more than behaviour but clarity is necessary in all examples. When we are discussing progress do parents know what “progress” means? Are they aware when intervention courses are taking place? When mock examinations are calendared? What the process is to refer their child for additional needs? Or which strategies are best to help their child’s learning at home? Schools are busy places as well as the lives of our parents and guardians. However, we need to ensure the simple, clear systems are over-communicated to our families. Good links with home can play a big and very important role in getting the best out of students.
My experience in pastoral was not a learning curve but a ladder to the top. I have learnt that when dealing with parents was to always be clear regardless if it is the message parents don’t want to hear. I have spoken to many upset parents who by the end of the conversation are on side because they, too, are usually frustrated and feel powerless and they want to hear that everything is going to be okay. That is why it is important to empower parents by always being clear in your message to gain their support and, in turn, help improve the welfare and behaviour of their child.