Susanne Fischer  – Challenges in school communications

Susan Fischer – IB PYP Coordinator
The International School of Barbados

Communication between the school and parents has looked slightly different in every school I’ve worked at, and there has clearly been a huge increase in engagement over the last few years with the rise of social media. Often, parents feel confused and don’t know where to look for information, even with the wealth of tools these days. It is difficult to strike a balance between too much and too little information, particularly if a parent has more than one child at the school. The sheer amount of information can be truly overwhelming and sometimes results in parents not reading the information provided by the school.

At my current school, our heads of department send out a weekly newsletter to parents via email, which links to our internal blog page. On there, class teachers write weekly updates, which include videos and pictures of students carrying out different tasks. Student led content has been hugely impactful, and parents are way more engaged when it comes directly from their own children. This is why I also invite a ‘guest blogger’ as part of my own update to parents, where I choose one student who writes about their favorite lesson or task from that week. Parents are hugely proud to see their kids engaged in this way. 

A slightly problematic part of communications between our school and parents, has been the use of social media and in particular WhatsApp and Facebook. Parents have their own groups with sometimes 40+ individuals, and a particular problem at previous schools I’ve worked at was the fact that parents would create gossip and raise contentious issues with the other members of the group, instead of contacting the school directly to discuss the problem. So if there was an issue they wanted to raise, instead of coming directly to the school, they would raise it in the WhatsApp group first. It got to a point where we almost had to start educating the parents on how to effectively use social media to communicate their issues. It is extremely difficult for schools to regulate the use of Facebook and WhatsApp, as parents can get very defensive. For example, we would be made aware of an issue that a parent may be circulating and we would invite them to come in and discuss this with us. Many times, they were simply looking to vent frustrations, as when it came to raising it face to face, it didn’t end up being that big of a problem. What’s important here, is that the students, or children of these parents, were not involved in any way; we therefore wrote social media guidelines that parents would have to abide by. 

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Improving engagement with parents

We do have certain bottlenecks during the year with which communications increase. The start of the year is often a very anxious time for parents, and they are often much more anxious than the actual students’ themselves, so it is very important to make them conformable by including them and engaging with them. We have two parent-teacher conferences a year, one at the start and one towards the end. Often after the first one, parents feel a lot more relaxed.

School-parent communication will naturally increase if larger events are planned, and the majority of this communication is done through direct email engagement. I strongly feel that students are the key to making parents feel engaged and happy, which is why we invite our parents into the school every 6 weeks for students to share what they have been learning. This has been hugely successful as the students are incredibly proud of their work and parents get to see their progress throughout the year. Engaging the student is vital when building and maintaining effective communication between the school and its parents.

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This article is provided by the International School Network. If you’re a passionate educator working at international schools please join their network.