Home learning is stressful for everyone – parent, teacher and child.
The closure of school buildings and the confinement of children to the house, with busy parents and siblings also trying to work, has created incredible levels of anxiety and stress inside the home.
Nobody has chosen this situation, and everyone is trying their best to ensure the best outcomes for the students.
Teachers and Parents are faced with new challenges as they work together to ensure learning continues. With the majority of students in Malaysia continuing to learn from home, technology is allowing a far bigger window into the classroom than ever before. Communication between parent and teacher has never been easier, but is this instant access to the class teacher creating the positive learning environment that we desire, or have some communications crossed a line?
Communication should be positive
Home School communication has traditionally been a positive indicator for student outcomes. Most schools across the world strive for seamless parent / teacher communication, with many studies showing successful engagement with parents to be a key predictor of student success. Teachers who spend time on gaining parental engagement see a shift in behaviour and motivation in the classroom, and parental engagement is usually a good way to create a positive learning environment for students.
Talk to any school Principal and they will be able to tell you about an angry email they have received from a Parent. Indeed, messages like this usually come in late at night, often emotionally driven, and can be the first thing a school leader will read when they wake up in the morning.
For many school leaders these emails or messages are frequent.
However, the move to home learning has now placed many teachers in much closer communication with parents; email is available on handphones 24 hours a day, and many teachers have shared personal phone numbers for communication over WhatsApp.
Principals are seasoned at managing the anxiety of parents. For teachers, however, this level of communication is a new phenomenon, and can be extremely stressful.
Many young teachers are reporting high levels of tension and concern at being instantly contactable by parents, via email, and, increasingly in Malaysia, via WhatsApp. Many are also struggling to draw boundaries for themselves and are replying to parent enquiries late into the night and over the weekend.
Indeed, increased communication should be positive, but many messages can also be very personal, and sent by parents in times of extreme stress. The instant ability to send a WhatsApp message means that thoughts and opinions can be sent at any time of day, sometimes with less consideration of the effect the message might have on the receiver. Many teachers now tell us they are struggling with managing communication at all times of the day, have become increasingly paranoid about ‘saying the wrong thing’ and feel that the boundaries between home and work are non-existent.
Additionally, some teachers report feeling guilty for not replying instantly. Or that they are making matters worse by not carefully checking their responses for spelling, tone, & punctuation and grammar. Parents, sometimes unsatisfied with the response, are ‘screen shotting’ messages and sharing them on social media or WhatsApp parents’ groups, embarrassing teachers and creating a divide between home and school.
What is the Solution?
Some educators are now reporting that they feel home/school communication is harming learning in their classroom rather than helping. So, how can teachers manage this communication, so it stays positive, and contributes to the learning outcomes of the children in our classrooms?
- Set boundaries. Just like at the start of a school year, a teacher needs to set up class rules and expectations for their new students. Communication with parents is similar, and a clear expectation that work for everyone should be laid out. It might also be necessary to remind everyone of the expectations at various points throughout the year.
- Don’t react, respond. Messages can be sent in anger, and teachers must have some empathy for parents who are struggling at home. The worst thing a teacher can do is to react emotionally to a message. Don’t respond immediately, take some time to reflect or if you are concerned about leaving a parent waiting, send a holding message.
- Text or call? Before texting a response, think about whether a phone call would diffuse or clarify a parent rather than a written answer. Sometimes a listening to the full context of the concern can help provide context to the message.
- Edit, edit, edit – then press send. Mark Twain once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug” —many misunderstandings have been caused by poorly selected wording, which often has extremely unintended consequences. Before replying to a difficult communication, read the message aloud to yourself and consider if you are setting the tone you want.
- Don’t forget the good stuff. Make sure that you message parents when things are going well, not just when they go wrong. Building relationships takes time but taking the time to pass on good news is usually very well received.
- Ask for help when you need it. Some teachers are reporting being embarrassed or worried to tell Senior Leaders when they get into electronic disputes with parents. Some teachers have continued WhatsApp communications despite directives from the school to not use it, and this can make them reluctant to ask for help when difficult messages arise. If parental communication is causing distress, it is extremely important not to handle the situation alone. As they say, ‘a problem shared, is a problem halved’. Get some advice and talk through the problem with a colleague.
The boundaries between parent and school have never been more blurred. Everyone is under pressure, and now more than ever, teachers need to show their professionalism and empathy when navigating remote learning. Research has shown that “the effect of parental engagement over a student's school career is equivalent to adding two or three years to that student's education" (John Hattie).
The teachers challenge is to ensure that this engagement remains positive and adds to a child’s learning experience.
For greater insight into keeping parents engaged, take a look at our webinar on Parental Involvement in Education.
If you want help improving communication between home and school, and training in managing difficult conversations, find out more about LeapEd Core Series Middle Leader training.