Friday, 5 October 2018

How to Communicate Concerns to Parents

Communicating concerns to parents is one of the hardest things for a teacher to do. Children are their parent's world and nobody wants to think that there may be an issue with their child. The way in which the concerns are approached is crucial in order to move forward in a positive way for the child, which is the most important thing.

Regular Communication - This goes without saying but it's so important to communicate to parents as soon as issues begin to appear. Parents shouldn't feel like they need to worry at this point, but they should be aware that there are some minor concerns. It's important that parents aren't blindsided by larger concerns later in the year, there should be some pre-warning and discussion before this point.

It's also really important to communicate the positives as well as the concerns. Nobody wants to hear negativity about their child all of the time and it will lead to a poor relationship with parents, so always try to spot the child making good choices or achieving well.

Evidence - I can't stress enough how important it is to build up a log of your concerns. This not only helps you when communicating with parents, it also allows you to build a picture of the child and identify patterns in their behaviours - dates, times and basic details of issue as well as how it was resolved is useful. This will help you down the line when you begin to put strategies in place.

It's always beneficial to keep work or video evidence that you can use to back-up your concerns  when discussing them with parents. Tread carefully when using them though and always act based on the parents reactions. Video evidence can make parents more defensive and open staff up to criticism too.

Trial and Error - For any barrier that a child faces, there are always lots of different things to try. As a class teacher it is your job to trial different strategies to support children with their needs and identify the ones that work best for a child. There are so many ideas out there on the internet and speaking to other teacher,  SENCO and outside agencies can also offer lots of ideas.

It's good to keep parents informed of different strategies you are trying, particularly if there is something they can do at home to improve the consistency of the technique. It's also helpful to have a list of the strategies tried so parents are clear about the things you have put in place.

When parents see the effort you have put in for their child and all of the things you have put in place, they are more likely to get on board with what you are saying to them.

Documentation - The initial meeting in which you share your concerns can be overwhelming for parents. Some parents will ask lots of questions and want to gather as much information  as possible, but some may find it difficult to take in what you are saying to them and focus on the issue instead. Taking brief minutes of the meeting that parents can have a copy of to read at a later date when they are more ready to accept and understand the concerns would be very helpful.

Note:  You need to be careful that these meeting minutes are not something that could be held against you at a later date if the home-school relationship doesn't move forward as positively as you would like. In fact, this goes for all documentation that you share with parents. Once shared it can't be taken back so ensure you only share copies of things that you are completely certain about.

Don't Diagnose - We're not doctors and we can't diagnose children. As teachers we often recognise symptoms of various conditions in children as a result of our experience, however, mentioning names of these conditions to parents will often freak them out and it's possible that we may be wrong. Put the strategies in place that you may use for children who are diagnosed, however, if you have genuine concern that a child may have a specific condition, ensure they have the appropriate tests and are diagnosed by the correct people. It is not our job to diagnose and we never should!

No Blame - When sharing concerns with parents, they can often feel that you are personally attacking them and if this situation arises it's very difficult to move forward in a positive way. Reassure them from the start that you're aware of how much they have done for their child and that you want to  work together with them in order to do the very best by their child. Once they know you are working with them and not throwing blame the meeting will be much more effective.

This is one of the most difficult things to do as there are, of course, cases whereby parents don't do the best by their child, whether this is through choice or lack of knowledge. Often parents need help but don't know how to ask, or sometimes don't even realise they need help. Be the person that offers them the help they need, without judgement.

There are so many factors to consider when talking to parents and ensuring parents don't feel threatened or blamed. You need to be supportive without being patronising. You need to be firm and clear without being harsh. You need to ensure that your body language and tone of voice is supportive as well as the words you are saying.

The first meeting needs to go well in order to move forward successfully, which is what everybody wants to happen in order to meet the child's needs.

Strategies - There is absolutely no point in a meeting to identify concerns without having a clear plan to move forward. This will likely anger parents or make them unnecessarily worried. While you will have already trialled some strategies, you should also have some further possible options to try. These strategies could include further  in-class support, intervention groups, support from the SENCO or referral to outside agencies for assessment. Parents are not professionals; they don't know the steps to take and are often relying on you to provide them so you need to give them confidence.

Move Forward Together - Finally, and most importantly, move forward together. Consistency is so important for children and implementing the same strategies at school and at home can have a much bigger impact. You both need to be on board with the next steps and the relationships needs to be strong in order to move  forward positively.

A communication book  is a great way to share feedback about the day in a positive way. I like to get  the children involved in the use of the communication book too so that all parties are involved. A communication book needs to be in a format that suits the child's needs and is easy to use for both the parents and staff.  There are so many different formats that this could be in, but the images below are flexible formats that I have used effectively in the past.

4 Targets - The child is given 4 targets to work towards which are monitored by time periods throughout the day. This helps to identify patterns in when particular challenges occur and you can begin to identify causes or strategies. If the child achieved the target independently they receive a stick to put on their chart, if an adult support them to achieve they get a sticker with 'A/S' written beside it and if they don't achieve the space is left blank.

There is a space at the bottom to write comments and parents can talk through the book with their child at home and identify whether the child had a good, average or sad day overall and colour the relevant face. This makes the child answerable at home and promotes consistency while also informing parents about the child's day.

You can get an editable version of this chart on my TPT Store and TES Store.
Do you have any tips for communicating concerns to parents? Let me know in the comments...
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