Battle or collaboration? How to develop effective communication with school.
When things are going well, we all tend to be happy to receive the occasional email from school or the once a term data sheets. However, it is when we have concerns that our children are not progressing as they should, or are perceived to be treated unfairly that as parents we will instigate communication with a school. As a parent, teacher, SENCo, senior leader and impartial advisor, I have sat on all sides of the table and witnessed many forms of communication, all driven by the same goal, to support the child, but with varying degrees of success. Why is that? We are all aiming for the same goal and yet efficient communication at these meetings can be lost for a number of reasons.
Rather than seeing the meeting as ‘going into battle’, I would like to share some ideas for developing effective communication with schools that develops a collaborative approach to supporting your child.
Firstly, be clear about who it is that you need to speak with. Usually the first port of call will be the class teacher or form tutor. If, after discussing initial concerns with the teacher, you have unresolved concerns about your child having a special educational need or requiring additional advice, you should contact the school and ask to make an appointment with the SENCo. It is important to understand that there are very few full-time, non-teaching SENCos and they may not be able to respond to you immediately. Sometimes office staff are able to book appointments for the SENCo, but if not, they will pass on the message and you will be contacted, usually within 48 hours.
Ideally, when arranging a meeting, tell the person that you will be meeting with what it is about. This may seem obvious, but without doing so they may not have the specific information required to hand, and it can be frustrating to all involved to be having a discussion based on partial information. For example, you may have contacted the SENCo as your child has been receiving additional support, but you feel that they have not made much progress and wonder what can be done to provide further help. The SENCo will need to collect information from the class teacher, and from the person carrying out the support before they can give you further advice. The phrase ‘forewarned is for-armed’ could be turned on its head, so that far from being a negative statement, it allows a positive outcome to the meeting!
In every profession, and education is no different (especially SEN), we use jargon and acronyms. It is important to ask for clarification of information or procedures if you do not feel that you have fully understood what has been said. This prevents people from leaving a meeting feeling frustrated that they have been bombarded with words.
Finally, ensure that every meeting is solution-focussed; that is, rather than looking for why there is a problem, focus on what will be different as a result of the meeting. It can be useful to reframe your main question to reflect this, for example, taking the earlier example of concerns about progress despite support, this could be re-framed to say, ‘I would like to understand how much progress x has made and what else we can all do to support him.’ It is useful for someone to summarise and record this at the end of the meeting as a series of action points which can be reviewed at a future date showing how everyone involved has supported progress.
In education, one of the buzz-phrases is pupil-centred, so remember there are no sides on a circle!!