Ensure your dealings with parents are a duet, not a duel

10th August 2018 at 00:00
Good relationships with families will go a long way towards ensuring children achieve their potential in education, says Nancy Gedge

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: project homework is the bane of my parenting life. If I never have to make another cardboard castle, river valley, 3D blood cell or Second World War diorama, I will be a happy woman.

Little did I know before I had my children that when I planned homeworks involving papier mâché Tudor houses, the instant parents collected their offspring and waved me goodbye, they would be out there, in the playground or on social media, having a moan to their friends. I know this now because I’ve done it.

And while the adults chunter, the children listen. You can almost see their little ears flapping, and their little mouths dropping open with the realisation that adults do not all agree with each other. Adults are powerful in the lives of children, and young people can usually be relied upon to side with the one who holds the most power.

We teachers like to think of ourselves as influential in children’s lives and, to an extent, we are. But the people with the most influence, who will be around long after the teacher has faded into a shadowy memory, are parents. “Working in partnership with parents” is one of those phrases that sounds great but, in the real world, it can easily get reduced to the odd meeting along the lines of “this is how we teach phonics”, where we talk at rather than talk with parents.

But expecting compliance from adults with complicated lives can backfire. What mums and dads think and say matters, and bickering between parents and teachers has the power to make – or break – a child’s education.

It’s not only the parents who talk. School staff are just as bad. If you’re not careful, before you know where you are, rumours are flying. Opinions based on a fleeting meeting or a single incident can soon become school fact. And in the same way that reputations can follow children, they can follow parents, too.

I once worked in a school where we were explicitly told not to gossip about parents and, frankly, it was nice. Every year, you started fresh. Another opportunity to work together, rather than against each other. Because when the adults work together, it can only be good for children’s education. And while I wouldn’t recommend expecting parents to dish out the punishments on your behalf, a simple “You listen to Miss, she’s all right”, from a parent, is a powerful statement.

Of course, like children, we are always going to have different feelings about different individuals. But let’s face it, we’re the adults here. We have to be on the same side.

Nancy Gedge is coordinator of the Ormerod Resource Base at the Marlborough School, Oxfordshire and the Tes SEND specialist. She tweets @nancygedge

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