Communication is key to schooling

How teachers and parents forge a good relationship to help the kids learn and prepare for life after school?

With the new school year, many students, teachers and parents are seeing major changes. The critical priority for everyone is always the interests of the students. For this, teachers and parents must forge a good relationship to help the kids learn and prepare for life after school.  

Four handy tips for useful communication

As the school year is now underway, so also begins the journey of communication between parents and teachers. Here are some tips for parents from a teacher’s perspective for creating a positive communication rapport.

Firstly, keep an eye on what gets sent home. Especially for younger kids, make sure you’re checking backpacks and communication folders (as well as any digital communication platforms the school uses) frequently for information coming home from teachers and the administration. 

Secondly, keep in mind that we’re all human and even though parents and teachers make mistakes, we’re all working hard to do what’s best for the children. Successful parent-teacher communication is student-focused and specific.

Thirdly, know that teachers value your insight as parents. We have many students, and while we do get to know your children very well and they are important parts of our lives, you as a parent are a great source of insight into your child. You know your child better than anyone, and you are their best advocate. If something’s amiss, let us know!

Fourth, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Teachers are professionals — just as you would ask your child’s doctor if you had questions, ask us if you need clarification. Sometimes parents shy away from asking questions because they don’t want to be a bother or because they’re worried they’re not asking the right questions. Don’t worry! We’ve pretty much heard it all before, and an important part of our job is to keep parents in the loop about what’s going on at school.

Finally, keep it brief, if possible. Otherwise, please schedule a meeting. If you have a quick question, then a message through email or a short chat in person is appropriate. If you have multiple questions, or are seeking an in-depth conversation, ask to schedule a time. Teachers are more than willing to talk with parents, but we have busy schedules and would like to schedule a time that’s mutually agreeable.

Hopefully these are some helpful tips to start the school year off on the right foot!

(Larisa Mount is a kindergarten teacher at SCIS.)

Larisa Mount is a kindergarten teacher at SCIS. 

Meet early: put faces to names for easier dialogue

Communication as always is so important in schools and it is good to encourage communication between parents and teachers, sooner rather than later. 

Communication is an important pillar of the International Baccalaureate program but teachers and parents need to remember they too have to be good role-models. As a Secondary teacher and counselor, I suggest:

? Understand you both want the best for your children or students.

? Parents and teachers should meet early in the year so that they can put a face to the name.

? Encourage students to communicate their ups and downs at school and parents to share some of this experience by becoming involved in extra-curricular activities.

? Agree to communicate issues worrying students — at home or at school.

? Thank teachers when they do something positive for your child.

? Don’t write an email to a teacher or parent when you’re angry.

? Avoid trading negative stories with parents and splashing it out on social media.

? Don’t bad-mouth teachers in front of your children.

? Believe in your children and always try to find a happy-medium which keeps both sides happy.

? There are different schools for different students. Find another school with a better match if necessary.

(Sue Stewart is Secondary counselor at Western International School of Shanghai.)

Sue Stewart is Secondary counselor at Western International School of Shanghai.

Always remember to be a listener first

Here I list 10 things to facilitate dialogue between parents and teachers.

1. Always be a listener first. Teachers and parents should listen to each other before judgement. There is always more than one perspective. Most likely what parents see at home is not what teachers see at school.

2. Teachers should always start with a positive with parents. Share something good that the student is doing. It is easier to then talk about some of the more difficult topics after a positive start.

3. Ensure understanding by both parties. Misunderstandings are so common. Teachers and parents should walk away from a conversation having a solid understanding of what was just talked about.

4. Ask questions! Be an active participant in the conversation. Ask for explanations. Don’t be afraid to learn more.

5. Work towards a common goal and direct the conversation towards that.

6. Always keep the best interest of the student as first priority.

7. Remember that parents, teachers and counselors really only want what is best for the student. Keep that as a common goal and you can work through any differences.

8. Respect cultural differences. Not everyone has the same priorities, traditions and perspectives.

9. A little humor is always helpful. But be respectful. Humor can lighten a tense conversation.

10. Be honest and truthful. Honesty will lead to powerful discussions that will make for solid connections and growth.

(Ann Ireland is Middle School counselor and Varsity Girls Volleyball coach at Shanghai American School.)

Ann Ireland is Middle School counselor and Varsity Girls Volleyball coach at Shanghai American School.

Building any successful relationship takes work

A key ingredient in a student’s school experience is a successful partnership between the home and school. This relationship sends the message to the student that both school and home value their learning, all relevant parties are invested in their success, and everyone is working together for their best interest.

But this relationship, like all relationships, takes communication. And even the most involved parents sometimes cause unintended discord in that relationship. In dealing with teachers and administrators, here is some advice.

1. Always assume positive intentions. Teachers are not out to punish or label a child. Even if they disagree with you — or you with them — it is important to remember that the teachers have your student’s best interest in mind. This may result in conflicts — but it is important to understand most miscommunications between families and schools are a result of different perspectives, not different beliefs in your student.

2. Be professional. You would not hold a business meeting in line at a grocery store. Your teachers don’t want to hold a conference there either. Scheduling a meeting (and coming prepared) with your teacher — even if you are friends with them — shows respect.

3. Follow the chain of command. Our general rule as an administration is to not allow our assistants to schedule a meeting with a principal unless the parents meet the teachers first. If you have an issue with the teacher, try to work it out with them first. Nothing severs parent-teacher trust faster than going above their head.

4. Trust our expertise. I have eaten in a restaurant. I even like to cook. This does not mean I should tell a chef how to prepare a dish. The same holds true for educators. Most of our teachers have worked with thousands of students over their careers and along the way they have become experts in the field of learning.  

5. Ask before you criticize. If you don’t understand a new math curriculum, ask the math head. If you don’t understand why your school doesn’t have an activity you loved in school, ask the activities coordinator. Avoid the temptation to go viral. It puts schools on the defensive without giving them a chance to communicate with you first.

Education is more than a career. Excellent educators are passionate advocates for their students. Working with them, instead of against them, will result in a more effective and positive, and environment.

(Billy Thomas is the Middle School assistant principal at Concordia International School Shanghai.)

Billy Thomas is the Middle School assistant principal at Concordia International School Shanghai.

Active and involved parents have a key role to play

I believe the key things for the teacher and school to remember are:

1. Different parents have different preferences about how they receive communications. It is important for schools to reach out to parents in many different formats which is why NAIS Pudong has a broad communication strategy including direct emails to parents, Class Dojo, social media, daily email summaries and academic review evenings.

2. International schools have a very diverse population of parents and students who may have come from different school systems. Ensuring that we communicate well is important as is finding out the needs of each family.

3. The vast majority of parents are hugely supportive with their child’s education. The more information a teacher can provide to help them do that — the better!

4. Listening and acting upon parent feedback is very important. An active parent community can make a really positive impact on school life.

5. Most communication between teachers and parents is about sharing exciting learning experiences and celebrating success. Occasionally, there is a need to discuss more challenging topics such as a pupil’s work ethic or conduct — this sort of communication is always better face to face or over the phone than through an email. Some key points:

1. Informal as well as formal channels of communication are very important. It is a great idea to take advantage of opportunities to meet teachers and other parents at school events such as coffee mornings, meet and greet evenings or sports fixtures.

2. Teachers spend most of their day in classes and with children and when they aren’t doing this, they are usually busy planning. So it isn’t always possible to respond to emails and other communication immediately.

3. Education is rapidly changing. Often, a parent’s frame of reference is their own school days, although parent workshops and information evenings can often give you a better insight into what is happening in your child’s classroom.

4. Never be reticent about getting in touch or asking a question. We are always happy to hear from our parents and always happy to share information

5. Social media can be a valuable way to connect parents, share information and cement a school community. But it’s probably not the best forum to share worries or concerns — It’s better to go directly to the person at the school. 

(Andrew Joy is head of Secondary at NAIS Pudong.)

Andrew Joy is head of Secondary at NAIS Pudong.

Using the ‘golden triangle’ to make learning better

Communication in schools is often taken for granted. But effective communication to support our children is complex. It sounds simple in theory, but can be notoriously difficult in practice.

At BISS, we use a variety of ways to communicate with parents and I’m going to outline a few of these in this article that we believe are effective.

I’m a great believer in the “golden triangle” of success to help our students.

The triangle is the relationship between students, parents and teachers. For our children to be successful in their academic studies, in sports, performing arts and within the community, we need to ensure communication flows smoothly between parents, pupils and teachers and that students are placed at the heart of everything that we do together.

At the beginning of a new school term, many parents want to know about the challenges their children will face in different phases of secondary school. We hold information events during the first term to explain the courses and subjects that they follow and the examination systems. Parents hear from subject teachers and students themselves.  

Our youngest students’ parents are keen to find out how best to support their child at home in terms of organization, who to contact if they have a question about a subject or a pastoral concern and how to help their son or daughter with homework.

The transition from primary school to secondary is often a focus at Key Stage 3 events.

With students at Key Stage 4, parents often wish to find out more about successful IGCSE study habits, so staff have used information events to explain the benefits of practicing past papers, planning revision timetables and the different techniques for preparing for exams, such as making revision cards, mind maps and effective methods of note-taking.  

For the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, as well as encouraging the development of independent study habits by building on those learnt in the other Key Stages, parents often wish to find out about CAS (creativity, activity and service), TOK (Theory of Knowledge) and EE (extended essays) — three key elements of the full Diploma program. They also receive lots of advice on how we can work together to support their child in making decisions about study at university level from our team of Higher Education advisers. 

In all of these information events, there is a real focus on how to create and sustain good habits and be successful academically, while at the same time plenty of information and tips on how we can ensure that pupils develop resilience, enjoy their time at school and stay healthy.

The pastoral system is also a key element of supporting students and pupils all have a form tutor, with whom they meet each morning. The form tutor meets parents at the start of the year and is the first port of call for parents. The form tutor then follows this up and directs parents to the most appropriate member of staff. Tutors help support the wellbeing of our pupils and so communication via email and face-to-face meetings is the norm.

We also hold student-parent-teacher conferences throughout the first and second terms, giving parents the opportunity to meet all subject teachers and form tutors. Students are expected to attend with their parents, as the opportunity for open, three-way communication is very valuable: the “golden triangle” in action!

The school uses digital media to communicate school events with parents through weekly newsletters and blogs and our website has a “Parents’ Essentials” section. Check it out.

At BISS we offer many enrichment activities to pupils through extra-curricular activities in many sports, languages, the performing arts and through trips in collaboration with Juilliard, MIT and FOBISIA. 

 Our school website supports the dissemination of information about these exciting opportunities and an app provides up-to-date information. Daily blogs and a weekly digital newsletter shine a light on and celebrate the achievements and learning experiences of our students.

One of our key communication tools that parents have often said that they find invaluable is our ODIN service which provides a daily lesson summary and homework for each lesson that students have attended.

There are always ways of improving as an organization and so listening to parents and students is one of the keys to a progressive school. We also hold many consultation meetings with parents. These are vital in enabling healthy discussion on a range of issues and in agreeing ways for future improvement.

(Andrew Lancaster is head of Secondary of BISS, Puxi.)

Andrew Lancaster is head of Secondary of BISS, Puxi.

Special Reports