Engaging with parents: always remember ABC

Dec. 19, 2016

Allen Hall

Assistant Head, Waterhead Academy

Before leading the pastoral care for Key Stage 3 pupils, I could not understand why certain students appeared to have nine lives and some parents were so disengaged.

I quickly learnt these issues were not black and white but a very grey blur, and although issues must be challenged, support must be part of the solution. I also realised that when communicating with parents, being very clear was critical to building positive relationships.

I call it the ABCs when engaging with parents:

A –Always
B –Be
C –Clear

Building relationships with parents establishes trust between the school and home and the first significant step to achieving this is to always be clear. This applies to describing an incident, explaining the support processes, 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 the parent blamed the school for not meeting her child’s needs, but as it turned out, her concerns were around inconsistencies and confusion regarding her previous engagements with the school. She lacked the understanding of the behaviour policy, classroom expectations, and the next steps in regards to exclusions. 

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After a few weeks, the parent’s position began to change. I was always very clear about the systems and processes in place and she became increasingly supportive as she realised the school was actively engaging and trying to find solutions to help her child. I had not done anything new, the same support from the school had always been there; I just ensured that our message was always clear.

Pastoral is more than just behaviour management and clarity is always necessary. When we are discussing progress do parents know what “progress” means? Are they aware when intervention courses are taking place? 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 but so are the lives of our parents and guardians and we need to ensure simple and clear systems are communicated to them. Good links with home can play a big and very important role in getting the best out of students. 

"I call it the ABCs when engaging with parents: Always Be Clear"

My experience in pastoral was not a learning curve but a ladder to the top. I have spoken to many upset parents who by the end of the conversation are on our side because they, too, are usually frustrated and feeling powerless and want to hear things will be okay. This 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.

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