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Opinion16th September 2019

Ten ideas to help you communicate with parents of students with literacy needs

Karen Wespieser, Director of Operations at Driver Youth Trust, examines the crucial role that relationships between teachers and parents play in the education of children with literacy difficulties, and shares some top tips on effective communication.

Driver Youth Trust is an education charity committed to improving the outcomes of young people who struggle with literacy.

For teachers, the start of the new school year can be a busy and exciting time. Hopefully refreshed after a summer break – whether that was trekking round the globe, trekking round the shops, or just trekking round the latest Netflix releases – you will now be getting back into the routine of school.

Among the most exciting things about the new school year, are the new relationships you will form. Probably a new class, possibly new colleagues, and don’t forget, a new set of parents or carers to get to know too.

Back at the start of the summer, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) published a report showing parents can feel unsupported when it comes to literacy difficulties. This is not to say teachers or schools are not taking literacy difficulties seriously, instead, I think it highlights the importance of the home-school relationship.

Effective two-way communication is one of the five hallmarks of a parent-friendly school. according to home-school cooperation charity, Parentkind. It allows a relationship of trust to develop that is vital in enabling conversations around a child’s learning to be outcome-focused and to reduce the potential for actions to be interpreted negatively or emotionally.

So, what does this look like? Here are my top tips for schools communicating with parents:

1. Ensure that all communications are accessible

Dyslexia is often hereditary, so consider what forms of communication are available, avoid using educational terms or jargon, and ensure that you are using an appropriate reading level if you are writing to parents.

2. Be honest

To achieve the best outcome for the child you will need a level of partnership with their parents. If you gloss over your concerns or say everything is fine when it’s not, this partnership will fail. Where possible plan and review together; don’t do to, do with.

3. Be timely

If you have a concern, don’t wait until parents’ evening to address it. Contact the parent at the first opportunity. If you know you have a child with a specific need moving into your class, make a point of introducing yourself to the parents – it will be reassuring to the parents that you know the needs of their child and it will be useful for you to get to know the parents.

4. Check how parents like to be addressed

When meeting face-to-face, ask parents how they would like to be addressed and stick to it. Don’t refer to parents in the third person (i.e. “what does Mum/Dad think”); if in doubt use their surname. This is the same if the meeting is more formal and there are name cards or badges. Consider the power-relations in the room. If they only know you as Mrs Jones, you may want to consider moving to first-name terms.

5. Consider using a structured conversation

An example of this might be to use a meeting notes template which begins by looking at what is working well and subsequently what areas could be improved. Ensure that there are prompts included to capture the parent/carer’s voice and, if possible, the child’s.

6. Listen to the parent’s perspective

Children can demonstrate very different behaviours in the home and the classroom, both positive and negative. Listen to the parent’s perspective without being dismissive; their concerns could help in creating support strategies.

7. Actively seek parents’ expertise

Ask them what works, what they are doing at home and how you can support this at school.

8. Help parents in supporting their child’s learning

Provide parents with detailed information on exactly what to do, and how to support home learning. If you are using a particular phonics approach, explain it to the parent and send the appropriate resources home.

9. Encourage parents to offer a balanced degree of support for homework

Make it clear how much time you expect to be spent on schoolwork at home. Ask parents to indicate times in the margins of homework, rather than asking them to ensure a task is completed.

10. Make parents aware of their impact

Make parents aware of the value and impact their involvement has on their child’s learning. Promote parental expectations through frequent communication of pupil’s progress. Highlight the importance of praise when progress is made so that children feel they can achieve instead of just hearing what they can’t do.

Further information about how parents can communicate with schools can be found in Driver Youth Trust’s blogpost here. If you’d like to share the above top tips with your fellow teachers, they are available as a downloadable and printable PDF here.