Building relationships with parents

Note: I wrote this blog post a couple of years ago but it sat unpublished and moved down the lists of posts on my site. Rather than delete it (it is a little old) I decided to hit publish in the hope that somebody finds it useful.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a teacher in a small school or part of a large department in a huge school.  Relationships with parents are important and can make or break a school.  The principles of communicating with parents remain the same whether you are running a page on behalf of a school, a department or a class.

A huge part of building that relationship is getting your message out to parents. There are positive messages and negative messages, both need communicating but in different ways.

Positive messages usually celebrate success or things that have gone well.  Good work, competition wins and good results are all examples of successes that should be shared with parents and the wider community. Personal experience tells me that parents don’t visit the main school website unless they are looking for a school place, and so you have to take the message to the places they are – on social media.

Setting up a school Facebook or Twitter feed is not something that should be done without the express permission of your school leadership team and clear policies in place. Find examples of schools that use social media well and show them to your leadership team and governors.  Pick trusted members of staff who will be responsible for posting to these sites and monitoring them for feedback from parents.  By using a service like WordPress or IFTTT.com, news articles on your website can be syndicated to Facebook or Twitter with the minimum of effort (as long as it has an RSS feed)

Using social media is a bit like gardening.  A good school page needs nurturing, it needs pruning and weeding if you are going to get the best out of it.   Posts that get the best responses will typically include a photograph and information about school students.  If you are posting information posts, try to make sure these aren’t the only kind of post you make otherwise parents quickly lose interest.

Text messages are an amazing resource and one of the best ways of communicating a short message either to an individual or group of parents. We use a system integrated into SIMS and stores messages in communication logs etc.   An example of when I use text messages is to send reminders to parents, for example, a reminder about celebration assemblies and performances at the end of term (attendance is typically higher following a text reminder) Text messages sent in this way tend to be restricted to senior staff (because of the cost) but emails can be sent through the same system for free.

Phone calls are a good way of passing on bad news as they are less likely to be misinterpreted. They are also an excellent way to pass on good news, a phone call home is worth a dozen stickers in a school planner. Think of a phone call as putting fertiliser on the garden, you don’t see the benefit for a long time.  With some parents, it is best to have an exit strategy before you call, for example, call just before the lesson change bell goes so you have an excuse to hang up.  My great Dragon’s Den idea was an app for teachers to play various sounds (fire alarm, smashing glass, screaming) which could be played down the phone as an excuse to end a call.

Of course, these are just the mechanisms with which you communicate with parents. What you say to them is more important than how they are delivered.  An unanswered email or an unreturned phone call gives an extremely bad impression, whoever it is from. These tools have the potential to work wonders with parents, but if not used well can have the opposite effect.

I’ve worked in a school where parents had a negative impression of the school and shared it freely. By following the strategies in this blog post we were able to change the opinion of parents so they actively recommended the school to other parents.

What’s the problem with part-time teaching jobs?

working

It’s been over four months since I left my last post because the option of (true) part-time wasn’t available to me (although if I wanted to take a 33% cut in salary scale I could have dropped to a teaching contract for the rest of the year)

I recently visited a local secondary school and was told the SENCO is part-time (0.7FTE) so you’ll have to make an appointment for when they are back at work. The head made it clear that she had inherited part-time staff and it wasn’t her choice. I can understand some of the issues with part-time leadership posts but should this extend to teaching posts?

Twice I’ve dug down into the vacancies advertised in the TES. I appreciate that fewer part-time jobs are probably advertised nationally than full-time jobs but the figures are startling.

In my first sample, 18% of jobs were tagged as part-time. Of all the jobs advertised, 14% were secondary part-time jobs. Of all the jobs advertised, 1.5% were for part-time secondary science jobs. On drilling down into the science jobs further, several weren’t teaching jobs and many schools advertised for part-time/full-time hoping to snag any science teachers looking for work (but they had a full-time gap to fill)

I returned this week and looked again. Of all the jobs advertised, 18% were tagged as part-time. Of all jobs advertised, 12% were secondary part-time jobs and 1.1% of all jobs advertised were part-time science jobs. (As a comparison, there were ten times as many full-time science posts)

It gets worse because many of the jobs advertised as part-time were wrongly labelled and the actual number of genuine part-time jobs is much lower.  Of those part-time jobs advertised 0.5/0.6 contracts seem to be the most common.

We hear that industry loves part-timers. They are flexible, some workers are even on zero-hours contracts so is this true? A quick search of Indeed shows nearly 19,000 jobs within a 25-mile radius of me. Of those jobs only 16% are part-time, this reduces further when you search for science-specific jobs, so the dislike of part-time workers extends beyond education.

Are schools banking on a reduction in workload improving the recruitment situation? (I would have stayed in the profession if my workload could have been reduced, the fact that I was replaced with two members of staff says something about that workload!)  With a profession haemorrhaging teachers and suffering from a recruitment crisis, can we really be so short-sighted as to ignore the huge pool of teachers out there who don’t want to or who can’t work full-time?

Image © chris riebschlager under a Creative Commons license

Are teachers on Twitter living in a echo chamber/filter bubble?

The Oxford Dictionary gives the definition of an echo chamber as “An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered“. Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary defines a filter bubble as “A situation in which an Internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience.

These terms are increasingly used interchangeably since both have similar meanings. Many teachers on social media tend to fit into established cliques, self-selected because they have similar viewpoints. Twitter and social media will recommend that you follow new people similar to the people you already follow. When you search on Google it will return results that are personalised for you based on what it knows about you.

Since I left teaching I’ve come to rely on connections that I’ve made, although I hope the projects I’m working on now are based on what I know as well as who I know. As I’ve stepped back from the classroom I’ve paid more attention to what happens on social media and who talks to who. When I’ve been out and about at conferences I’ve looked at who knows each other offline, and at how often these relationships continue online.

Some of these teachers meet up at conferences and Saturday events and cement these relationships and viewpoints.  This isn’t a criticism of either people or their networks but it makes me question if we (myself included) might be missing out on a wider range of viewpoints because of this.

This weekend I was reading the introduction to a recently published education-related book in which the author thanked some colleagues who had contributed advice. Of course, these colleagues were part of a wider network on social media.

So does this matter?

I try to follow most people back on Twitter (apart from those who follow only to boost their follower numbers or their sales)  and I enjoy reading a range of viewpoints. I wonder if having a following of teachers, most of whom teach the same subject and to the same age range of learners, means that I’m limiting my own exposure to alternative viewpoints and ideas.  I’ve started following teachers from other subject areas and phases to see how this changes the ideas in my Twitter feed and in turn my own ideas.

I’ll keep you posted!