> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Can you contact the school please?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Can you contact the school please?

A few years ago a request to contact the school meant either your child was sick or an INCIDENT had occurred which the school could not keep to themselves.

Either way it was bad news.

This week I was accused, as a teacher, of not wanting to return the phone calls of a parent. The reality was that I thought I was having a dialogue with the parent via the pupil. The pupil was passing on a message from her mother 'that she wasn't available this week.'

I should have seen that one coming, but had a daft idea that this pupil would respond better if involved in the process.

One of things which I have re-learnt from this, is that the conduit we use for communication, normally the pupils, isn't always the right one.

Scenes of child at kitchen table with strong light being shone in his face.

‘But who exactly said that?'
‘I don’t know –maybe it was George.’
‘MISTER George the headteacher? Or George your wee pal?’
‘I can’t remember, but we have to have it in for tomorrow.’

Well, I am exaggerating. Schools send home letters. Good parents remember to dismantle the school bag each evening in search of them. Don’t throw anything away, that scrunched up paper inside a banana skin might just be the news that Friday’s fun day has been cancelled, and your child should not now arrive dressed as a character from a book. (I speak from bitter experience.)

Maybe it’s just my children. Girls apparently are much better at relating news.

I’m interested in things that help communication. What works? Some schools have websites. Would it be a good idea if parents could email teachers?

What about Glow –this is the new intranet which is being piloted by teachers like Tess Watson. To quote the website ‘Glow is the new name for the Scottish Schools Digital Network, the national intranet which will link Scottish education safely and securely’. On the GLOW site there is a scenario of how it might be used by parents. Check it out if you are interested.

In the meantime, aforementioned parent and I did meet up and had a good talk about our mutual interest -doing our best for this child.


alijacs said...

I read this piece with interest. I have 6 children (4 in Secondary school, 1 primary and 1 preschooler). The whole issue of contact with the school can be quite complicated. In the local primary school we had to contact a member of management if there was something we wanted to say to the class teacher. Usually this worked well. The management were very approachable, knew the kids very well and were very keen to be of help. The down side of this is that you could not just have a quiet 'word' with the teacher if one of the kids was out of sorts about something - everything was that bit more of an issue because it had to go through the 'official' channel.
In the Secondary school this is even more complicated.In my experience you are lucky if the guidance teacher knows who your kid is. Further complicate this with a system that runs a 'Parents Night' that involves meeting with one member of staff who comments on the report that you have received. All very well if your kid has no problems with any subject, Not so helpful if you are trying to support a particular child with any weaker area.( I should clarify this by saying that you can take issue with anything in their report and ask this teacher to investigate it - but as any parent will tell you a face to face interview with the teacher of the subject can be of so much more help)
So I am in the bizarre situation that my kids have collectively chalked up nearly 14 yrs in a school where I have never sat down with an English or Maths teacher ( I'm using these examples as they are obligatory subjects).Last year I found myself discussing with my son's Physics teacher the merits of sitting a Higher English if he didn't need it for his course at university. I can't imagine an English teacher weighing up the merits of taking Physics can you?
Have I questioned this system? - Every single time I have filled out a questionnaire on how effective I find Parents Nights. I have never yet met a parent who thinks this system is helpful but we keep hearing from the school that there is not a problem with this. Sorry if this seems to go on forever but as you can see it's a subject close to my heart!

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Thanks for these comments -they are really useful. Our school has recently changed the system for parents' night. Previously pupils made appointments for their parents with each subject teacher. Then parents walked around the school visiting the teachers. This led to parents sometimes waiting for quite a long time before seeing a teacher. However they did get to see their child's subject teacher -and they could decide to go to some subjects and not others.
Recently we tried to improve this by having all teachers in one central area. This helped a bit because then parents could help by talking to teachers who were free at the time. It was still possible for them to see their child's subject teacher.
I completely agree that teachers of different subjects shouldn't be trying to advocate/advise on another subject. As an English teacher, I would not feel confident discussing for example, Physics or Maths ;)

I think your school needs to start listening to parents. Thanks for your comments!

Ren said...

My son went to a secondary school in London for a couple of year. It was a very top notch affair and prospective students had to undergo an in depth interview etc. The school is consistently in the top six schools in terms of results. For parents' evenings they had the most ingenious system I've seen anywhere: each parent gets to speak to all of the child's teachers and parents were only there for about 30 - 45 minutes. Perfect!

Here's how it worked. The pupils from each year group, along with their parent(s), turn up at the school on the designated evening at their allotted time. The gym hall has up to thirty desks spaced evenly, each with four chairs. When you troop in each party chooses a vacant desk and sits down. Once everyone is seated, the teachers, all of whom are in the room, simply pick a table and sit down to discuss the pupil's progress in Physics, Maths, English, whatever their subject is. This interview takes less than five minutes. Once the teacher has finished, he ticks off the name and looks around for another free desk with a pupil who is taking his subject, and so on. Once you have seen all the teachers you need to, you leave. After one year group has finished, the next batch of pupils/parents come in.

I found it extremely efficient, but also very effective since you really do get to talk to all of your child's teachers and raise any concerns you have regarding their subject.

As I say, from the parent's point of view, the whole thing was over in about half-an-hour. From the teacher's standpoint, they get to see everyone they need to in the entire school with their parents over the course of a few nights.

It is a very 'parent-centred' approach.

There are only a couple of drawbacks I can see in the system and both are from the teacher's point of view.
First, if, as a teacher, you happen to teach a subject which few pupils take, you could potentially be turning up every night for up to a week just to see a couple of kids in each year group.
Second, the larger the school the more nights it will take to get through everyone. It certainly isn't as convenient for the teacher as having a designated representative to talk about all subjects.

Nevertheless, I found that it did benefit both parents and teachers since it allowed an ongoing relationship to develop between them (it also meant that it was much more difficult for the pupil to play one off against the other!)


Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...


That system sounds interesting. It does sound as if it has the most benefits to everyone combined together. One benefit from the teacher's point of view I can see, is that they are able to decide when to finish the appointment! Quite often I feel parents are quite happy, but don't want to walk off too abruptly. It would be easier for the teacher to move on to the next appointment.

Do you think parents' evenings are a good way of finding out about your child's progress?

Ren said...

I think that having a blog or website where teachers posted homework assignments, deadlines, and announcements would be a big step forward. It would make it much easier for the parent to check things. Also, if parents and teachers were in contact through email or chat, it would allow for much less formal communication re. the child's progress. Is it too much to hope that at some point parents might have the option of video-conferenced parent-teacher meetings?


Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Wow! Video conferencing. Now, there's a thought... But then why not? I think in theory it would work.

What would the benefits be?