For posts on bullying, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.
All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Home-School communication: How to have a positive meeting

Having a meeting at school?
by Amanda Gray

It could be a learning support team meeting, a transition planning meeting, a meeting about behaviour... Here is a checklist to help you have a positive and successful meeting.

Do you have a jointly agreed goal?

If you are having a meeting where everyone has a different idea about what the meeting is trying to achieve, then it will be difficult to achieve anything that is satisfying to all parties. It is also important that the goal is not set solely by the school representative. This will mean that from the start the other attendees feel dis-empowered.

So have some informal discussion or communication prior to the meeting to determine what everyone wants to get out of the meeting, then write an agenda or goal for the meeting.

Option 1: This is a suspension meeting.

Option 2: This meeting is to talk about the incident on Thursday. We need to discuss what happened, what may have lead up to the incident, and what we need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Option 1: This is a meeting about funding.

Option 2: This meeting is about identifying Sam's strengths and difficulties, and the types of resources we might need to make sure she can do her best at school.
Option 1 will not guide discussion as it does not give a singular, positive focus. Option 2 will give structure and focus to the meeting.

Is the time suitable for everyone?

Negotiating a time that is suitable for all is one way of ensuring that all team members feel equally valued.

Are you on neutral territory?

Considering the place of meeting is important as it can set the tone of a meeting. If there is any tension or difficulties in the home-school relationship, involving the family in deciding on a meeting place can show a willingness to work together on equal terms and demonstrates respect.

Are you sitting in a position that gives equal value to each participant?

Sitting in a chair that is placed behind a desk, or means that you are sitting higher than others in the meeting, will communicate an imbalance in power. Sitting in similar chairs, in a circle or without barriers between you, will help to promote a working partnership built on openness, trust and respect.

Are you using plain language?

It can be quite intimidating to attend a meeting where jargon unfamiliar to you is used. Further, it can mean misunderstandings. So it is important that all educational terms are clarified. And, parents, if you don't understand a term don't be afraid to ask for clarification.

Are you listening? Has everyone had a turn to speak?

Every participant in a meeting has their own area of expertise. Parents are most familiar with their child. Teachers are most familiar with their classroom. Executive staff are most familiar with the school administration.

However, sometimes we can contribute new information to each other's areas of expertise. Like a parent who has found a new resource available in the school system of which the principal had not previously been aware. Or a teacher who has observed a particular behaviour in a child at school which does not occur at home.

As discussed in an earlier post, it is important that we recognise our strengths and limitations. Being open to new information is important. But it is also important to have a sense of the role each team member will play in the meeting, as well as in implementing the outcomes of the meeting. Having a good written record of meeting decisions, with a plan of action identifying who is to do what, is important to the future working relationship of the team.

Do you have a plan for dealing with difficulties?

Having some guidelines for meetings can help with conflict management. For example, together you might discuss some expectations such as the expectation that everyone speaks respectfully, everyone is given a chance to have their say, anyone can call a halt to the meeting if they are feeling intimidated or uncomfortable, and a nominated third party, mediator or family advocate is to be used in disputes that are not able to be resolved.

Note for families:

If you are feeling overwhelmed, under-represented or unheard in meetings regarding your child with a disability, you can bring an advocate along. This can be a friend, family member or a professional advocate such as those provided by Disability Advocacy.

Make sure you request changes to your meeting if you feel any of the above are not being addressed.


Providing support to families should be based on "a shared sense of purpose, a willingness to negotiate, sharing of information, shared responsibility, joint decision making and accountability." Rose and Howley (2007, p100)

Bibliography and References

Dettmer, P., Dyck, N., and Thurston, L.P. (1999). Consultation, Collaboration, and Teamwork for Students with Special Needs. Allyn and Bacon: Sydney.

Roffey, S. (2002). School Behaviour and Families: Frameworks for Working Together. David Fulton Publishers: London.

Rose, R., and Howley, M. (2007). The Practical Guide to Special Educational Needs in Inclusive Primary Classrooms. Paul Chapman Publishing: London.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Home-school communication: Broaching difficult subjects

Hearing for the first time that their child may not be developing at the same rate as their peers is a pivotal moment in a parent's life. Many parents already have a sense that something is "different" about their child, and some children may have been diagnosed at birth. However, there are times when a teacher is the one who introduces the topic.

Because this topic is one that is invested with so much emotion, here are some things for teachers to think about.

1. Build a positive relationship first

As highlighted in a previous post, the first contact you have with a parent will set the tone for your relationship. And essential to a positive relationship is the opportunity to build trust and respect. So it is important that in the weeks before you broach the subject of a possible delay in development, you have made time to chat informally about less emotionally charged subjects. This will help you get to know the parent, and the parent get to know you. Talking about positives will also help the parent recognise that you are seeing the strengths of the child, and valuing their difference, rather than just seeing the child's difficulties.

2. Don't wait too long

While it is important to get to know the child and parent first, it is also important not to let the issue go unaddressed too long. Early intervention is an important part of maximising a child's potential. So don't rush... but don't dawdle. You will know the right time when:

  • You feel comfortable conversing with the family on a variety of topics.
  • You have gathered enough observational records to reinforce your concerns about the child's development.
  • If possible, you have had your concerns confirmed or reinforced by a colleague who also works closely with the child.

3. Understand the adjustment phases, or grieving process

Parents will react in different ways to the suggestion that their child may not be developing at the expected rate. It is important to understand the reactions you might see, and not to take these personally.

Click here for a great article from LD online about the grieving process. And this article by Ruth Mortimer may be helpful for parents.

4. Be informed about policies, procedures and available services

It is important that, before you start talking to parents, you are aware of any policies your school or service may have with regards to referrals and discussions about special needs. There may be a specific procedure for what you are able to share with the parent, how you are to do this, and who you might need to send the parent to in order to start the referral, diagnostic and support process.

It is also important for you to have an idea about community services available such as social workers, paediatricians, child psychologists, clinics, therapists. Alternately, you need to know who to send the parent to in order to find this information. Having some pamphlets, websites or contact details for the parent will be very helpful - even if you don't pass on all the information you have (see point 10).

5. Give some prior warning

It is important to go about the process of talking to a parent about their child's development in a measured way. While we cannot eliminate the shock, we may be able to mitigate its affects by giving parents a sense of what is coming if they have not already become aware that there may be an issue.

For example, ask some questions about the child's development. You might talk about milestones such as when the child first talked or walked. You may ask the parents about behaviour strengths and difficulties.

Having a number of informal conversations rather than just one formal meeting can help the family feel more supported and less overwhelmed. However, setting a time to meet and discuss the issue in more depth will be the next step in the process.

6. Find a quiet, private space

It is important, wherever possible, that the discussion not take place in front of the child. There are several reasons for this. One is that the parent may feel distressed, and even a very young child may respond to this and make it difficult for the parent to work through or express their emotion freely. Another is that what is said may affect a child's perception of themselves.

For similar reasons, it is important that the discussion is private to you, the family and any other colleague that you and the family trust. Being able to speak openly will be important.

7. Find out what the parent thinks

Always start by getting the parent to talk about their child and whether they have any concerns. This will help to ensure a non-judgemental atmosphere, where they feel authentically respected in their knowledge of their child.

8. Speak calmly, with empathy

Measure everything you say by how you might feel if it was you in the parent's shoes.

9. Avoid an imbalance of power

A parent may feel disrespected or intimidated if:
  • You talk to them across a desk. Sit together in comfortable chairs so that physically you are on the same level.
  • You talk "at" them. Talk "with" them - spend as much time listening as talking. Pause and allow "thinking time", so that the parent has time to absorb and respond.
  • You use jargon. Avoid any educational jargon. Talk in plain language to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

10. Don't overwhelm them with information

Listen and watch the parent's reactions. This will tell you when the parent has come to the limit of what they can handle at that point in time. With information about diagnostic and special education or early intervention services, answer questions and make written information available but don't be pushy. Families will need time to take on board all the information, and some families will move through the stages of adjustment more quickly than others.

11. Stick to your area of expertise

As teachers, we are not qualified to label or diagnose children. What we might think is a symptom of Autism may actually be a result of a hearing impairment. What we might think is ADHD may actually be a result of a language delay. Further, parents may have strong views about labelling a child.

When talking to parents, we need to focus on what we have observed and what we know about child development. Having written observations, records and reports as well as a developmental checklist or milestones chart will help parents work with you to their child's strengths and difficulties.

12. Make no judgements

If a family does not follow up with a diagnosis, special education support or early intervention, avoid judging them. Continue to be supportive and provide them with feedback about their child. Make information about services readily available. But give families the time and space to make their decisions. Again, knowing the stages of adjustment will help you understand why parents may be making their decisions.

A good article to read on this topic:

Croft, C. (2010). Talking to Families of Infants and Toddlers about Developmental Delays. Young Children, 65(1), p44.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Home-School Communication: Can electronic media make a difference?

by Amanda Gray Copyright Amanda Gray 2010
Ever found a mouldy newsletter containing "important messages" at the bottom of a school bag several months after it was "sent home"? Ever got a phone call asking about a permission slip that somehow got lost between school and home? Ever found that you are communicating with a school staff member via phone messages because you can't find a time that suits both of you to talk?

I dare say both teachers and families have experienced at least one of these communication hiccoughs at some point. It is just a fact of life. Children forget (or prefer their parents didn't know). Teachers are busy. Families are busy. And school/family schedules don't always match, especially for caregivers who work.

So here are my questions - How many schools are using the tools of modern technology to communicate with families? And does this make communication more efficient?

Ways of Using Technology

In trauling the internet, I haven't found any stats about how many schools are using technology to communicate with families. But I did come across Boult (2006) and Mitchelll, Foulger and Wetzel (2009) who discuss the following ways to use technology to communicate.

School Website:

It is very rare to find a school who doesn't have a website. Even pre-school settings are beginning to set up sites.

On school websites, though the quality and complexity differ, you can usually find things such as policies, a bit of history, contact details and newsletters. This is true of both public and private schools.

While Child Care Centre websites also offer information about philosophies, history and contacts, in general these sites tend to be more geared towards providing information about their facilities to prospective customers rather than using the sites to keep current parents updated. This is likely because face-to-face contact is much more practical and frequent in pre-school settings than in schools, especially middle and high school settings.

Classroom blogs and websites:

These can be used to share photos, activities, homework, excursions, curriculum information and more. They can also be set up so parents and students can communicate via comments or discussionboards.

While I have experienced "virtual meetings" on discussionboards in tertiary education, I have never experienced this in secondary or primary schools. It would be interesting to know if this is something that is occurring, and what families/teachers think about virtual meetings...

Another thing that class websites can be used for are educational activities, like games. See this blog for example...

Email and texts:

Group emails and texts can be used to communicate with parents. Further, if schools have regularly monitored email addresses or mobile phone numbers, parents can use these to contact schools about a whole range of issues, from pastoral care concerns to enquiries about up-coming events. It can also be a way of getting emergency information to parents.

But it is important to recognise that while this can be good for positive news, policy and activity updates and emergency contact, texts and emails are not the best way to try and broach sensitive subjects (Learning and Taching Scotland, 2007). These are best raised in face to face meetings (see discussion on "remoteness" below).

Using Technology - the benefits and drawbacks


One of the positive features of electronic communication is that parents can access it in their own time, and from wherever they are (Lindner, 2004). If they travel for work, they can still stay updated with what is going on at school. If they are unable to visit or telephone teachers during school hours due to work commitments, they can still stay in contact without the risk of third party messages going astray.

As one parent said,
"I am very pleased, as a parent, that I now have access to the info certain teenagers in my house leave lying in the bottom of their bags." (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2007)
However, there may be a few issues with accessibility:
  1. Teachers being overwhelmed: It is possible that teachers may become overwhelmed with messages from families if there are no boundaries set for this form of contact.
  2. Messages going unchecked and unanswered: For some families and teachers, checking email messages may not be a regular part of their daily routine (Lindner, 2004). This may mean that messages are not answered in a timely manner. This is especially significant if text and/or email is being used for emergency notifications.
  3. Family skill and resources: While internet, email and mobile phone use is common, there are families who may not be proficient in using these technologies (Lindner, 2004). For some families, they may not have access to the internet at home or English may be their second language (Mitchell et al, 2009).
  4. Teacher skill and resources: Teachers also may need training and assistance in using communication technology. Further, maintaining websites and using email communication requires time and effort. This needs to be taken into consideration to ensure these technologies are used efficiently (Mitchell et al, 2009).
  5. Reliability of internet and mobile phone access: electronic communication services are not all equal. For example, while there has been some improvement, access to mobile and internet services in rural areas can be less reliable than access in urban areas. Further, without appropriate planning or services, mass email and text communications can overwhelm service providers and delay or prevent messages getting to families. However, there are some services that are being developed to help promote more effective and reliable electronic communication.

Privacy and protection of our children online is another great concern for the education community (Boult, 2006). It is perhaps true that individual teachers can be more comfortable with the use of blogs and websites than schools or education departments.

Read this post to get some feedback about what teachers are doing to help protect thier students when running a classroom blog. Having a policy and guidelines for use is very important.

This applies to the use of email and text messages as well. Click here for an example of a school policy on the use of electronic media. While not all schools will have policies this strict, it does provide some hints about how electronic communication can be mis-used.


Privacy issues become more important when we consider the permanency of electronic communication. However, permanency can be seen by parents as a positive feature of electronic communication (Lindner, 2004). Copies of emails, discussionboards and posts can be used as a record of communication to help track and guide future practice and problem-solving. It can also provide families the opportunity to think about an issue, clarify their thoughts and research their options rather than being put on the spot at a meeting.

However, permanency can also make educators and families more careful about what is said. Lindner (2004) found that parents felt any information provided to them in writing or online was likely to be less open and honest than informal communication. For example, she reports that one parent stated:
"You always find out the most interesting and informative stuff in informal conversation... because people are less guarded." p4


I discussed the issue of remoteness in my post about cyberbullying. Basically, it is about the fact that electronic communication eliminates all the tone of voice and body language which helps communication partners use theory of mind (empathy) to shape their interactions. Without any clues as to the emotion of our communication partner, words can seem harsh and invested in with a meaning not intended by the writer.

Also, the writer may cross the line between respectful complaint and harassment... such as a student's email to me on the subject of an assessment result. I am sure that if we had been facing each other in my office his "feedback" would have been more measured, especially if he was able to see from my body language that he had "crossed the line", so to speak.

Email or internet communication can never be a substitute for face to face contact when we are trying to get to know each other. However, it can be a great way to keep in contact and share information when the business of life gets in the way.

So it is important that schools and families communicate about communication (Lindner, 2004) .... what works for one family, may not work for another. Having parents complete survey about communication preferences and access to electronic facilities may be important (Ramirez, 2001). This way schools can record parent communication preferences in their contact databases.


Boult, B. (2006). 176 Ways to Involve Parents: Practical Strategies for Partnering with Families. Corwin Press: California.

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2007). Parents as Partners in Learning. Retrieved from

Lindner, K. (December, 2004). Parental Needs and Expectations of School-Home Communicaiton in a child's preparatory Year of School. Paper presented at the Australian Association of Research in Education, Melbourne 28 November to 2nd December, 2004. Retrieved from

Mitchell, S., Foulger, T.S., and Wetzel, K. (2009). Ten Tips for Involving Families through Internet-Based Communication. Young children, 64(5), p46

Ramirez, F. (2001). Technology and parental involvement. The Clearing House, 75(1), p 30

Does your school use technology? Do you think it works?


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Home-school communication that works

By Amanda Gray ..... Copyright Amanda Gray 2010

In talking to parents about their relationships with schools one of the key ingredients that make it a success... or not... is communication.

For parents who enjoy a good relationship with their school, positive, two-way communication is something they often talk about. For example, parents who feel their school is supportive often mention things like:
  • Their child's teacher is always available for a chat.
  • If they tell the teacher about an issue, the teacher will react in a supportive and prompt way.
  • The teacher acts on what has been discussed with the parent.
  • Even if they have different opinions, they can work out a solution based on mutual respect and an understanding that both the school and family have the child's best interest at heart.
Parents whose relationship with their child's school is not what they would like it to be often mention at least one of the following things:
  • It is hard to find anyone to talk to...
  • The principal/teacher is not really listening because they don't do anything about issues discussed, don't tell the family what is being done, or don't take the family's wishes into consideration.
  • They feel overwhelmed by "professional-speak", and come out of meetings confused or stupid.
This gives us some good hints about home-school communication that actually works.

Informal contact

Roffey (2002) reports on research exploring the relationship between schools and families who have children with behavioural difficulties. One of the things they found was the value that families placed on informal interactions. For example, they report one parent saying,
"If he wanted to talk to you, he'd say: 'Can I have a word?'. you know, privately. He was really good at that, I liked him." (p33)
So being able to catch a teacher, or visa versa, at times during the day is important. But the ability to do this changes as children get older.

In the pre-school years, this informal contact is regular and relatively easy as families pick up and drop off their children. In the early primary school years, this may also be true. But, as children learn to catch the bus and attend school independently, this informal, face to face contact is more difficult.

Using phone contact is perhaps the next best thing. Or using the phone to set up an informal face-to-face chat, especially in the middle and high school years. However, for working parents there is the added difficulty of making appointments during the school day. Taking time off work, or dashing down during the lunch hour, is not always an option.

One of the factors that make informal, face-to-face communication valuable is time. If it is planned appropriately, then it can be done in a calm way.

Further, it is important that difficult issues be addressed privately (Roffey, 2002). For example, it is important not to talk about a child in front of them or their peers. This can have an impact on a child's self-esteem, and can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies or teasing. The only exception would be if you wanted to involve the child in the discussion, but care would need to be taken that they didn't feel disempowered by having two adults "against" them.

Regular communication

Communicating regularly, and not just when there is a problem to solve, is important (Coleman, 1998). If communication between home and school starts on a positive note, and continues to be dotted with positives, then this can help build trust and a feeling of partnership rather than an "us versus them" feeling. It helps parents see that teachers know their child's strengths, not just their difficulties. And positive feedback from parents helps teachers further understand the child's strengths and build a positive, mutual understanding with families.

Regular communication becomes even more important for children who have a disability that affects their ability to telling their parents about their school day. This can mean that parents feel quite isolated from the education environment if there is no regular, day-to-day feedback from teachers or if the parents are unable to visit or volunteer at the school.

In these cases, one of the most effective tools to use is a communication book. Follow this link to read about some great ideas for home-school communication books. If you don't want to read the whole article, skip down to page 5 for some great examples.

Regular feedback is also important to ensure that families and teachers become aware of issues before they escalate (Coleman, 1998). For example, parents may see a change in their child's behaviour at home that could indicate that difficulties such as bullying is happening at school. Passing this on to teachers could help the teacher be more vigilant, observing the child closely for what might be happening.

Or a teacher may be finding a child is beginning to show some behavioural difficulties. By letting a parent know before it becomes a big issue, they may find out that there are some changes happening at home (such as a new baby, moving house, a change in routine) that could be contributing to the difficulties at school.

But ultimately, communicating regularly is an essential tool in preventing social and behavioural issues from escalating. Further, it is important for positive and collaborative problem-solving.

The other side of this is that regular feedback will ensure the family knows what is being done to address an issue at school. Being informed means that they don't feel the problem is being ignored, and that they can help with reinforcing the solution through discussion and strategies at home. This continuity is very important for lasting behaviour change or academic progress.

Openness, honesty and respect

In the previous post, I discussed the importance of open and honest communication to the development of trust.

It is also important that if there is a problem, the discussion be focused on the issue not on the child or the teacher/school (Boult, 2006).

For example, if a teacher is concerned about a child who is hitting, kicking or pushing on the playground, the conversation may go like this (after the usual greetings and a comment about what Sam has achieved lately)....
"Well, I did want to talk to you about some concerns I have about what is happening on the playground for Sam. I was just wondering if he had mentioned anything to you, or if you have noticed anything different at home?..."
This opens up the conversation to be about what is happening, and what may be contributing to the issue. This is more likely to bring about a positive partnership in problem-solving than a phone call home to request a suspension meeting, or to tell the parent about the negative behaviours and the disciplinary measures to be implemented. This is because the parent is seeing the teacher/school's concern for the child and a desire to change what is happening.

On the other side of the story, if a parent has a concern about something that is happening in the classroom, a good way to open the conversation may be...
"Sam is really loving the games she gets to play at music time. I was just wondering if you were aware of any problems she might be having with the other children saying things about her in that class?...."
This can then open up the conversation about what the teacher may/may not have noticed, what the parent's concerns are, the basis for these concerns, and what might be done about it.

Speaking with respect, empathy and a willingness to take on board both sides of the story is important to the problem-solving process.

The balance of power
"I sometimes feel a bit sidelined in meetings, I just feel they use all their terms that I don's understand and they know the system more than I do anyway - that's probably why I feel an outsider." (Roffey, 2002, p37)
It is important to consider the context of communication in meetings. A parent can be intimidated and disempowered in their role of advocate for their child if they attend a meeting with a number of school representatives using educational jargon. They can feel disempowered if they don't have all the information they need about policies and procedures before they come to a meeting.

It is important that any meeting occur on the basis of:
  • common goals
  • a willingness to negotiate and value each other's input equally
  • shared information
  • shared responsibility, this way avoiding blaming each other
  • apartnership, rather than a school being the decision-maker and parents the "supporters". (Rose and Howley, 2007)
If parents are feeling an imbalance of power, it is within their rights to bring someone with them to meetings. This can be an extended family member, a friend or a professional. One parent I talked to brought along her private speech therapist to learning support team meetings to help with the funding application process. Other families have used professional advocacy services such as the Disability Advocacy Service, who can attend meetings with parents and provide support through their knowledge of the school and legal systems. Early intervention services such as the Strengthening Families service will also support parents in meetings as they begin to negotiate the transition to school.


"Parents want to know what is going on for their child in school. They prefer informal contact that is positive, regular, private, planned, non-intrusive, two-way and early enough to make a difference." (Roffey, 2002 p 33)



Boult, B. (2006). 176 Ways to Involve Parents: Practical Strategies for Partnering with Families. Corwin Press: California.

Coleman, P. (1998). Parent, Student and Teacher Collaboration: The Power of Three. Corwin Press: California.

Roffey, S. (2002). School Behaviour and Families: Frameworks for Working Together. David Fulton Publishers: London.

Rose, R., and Howley, M. (2007). The Practical Guide to Special Educational Needs in Inclusive Primary Classrooms. Paul Chapman Publishing: London.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Home school collaboration: the importance of trust and how to build it

Research has shown a clear link between family involvement at school and a child's educational achievement. This is especially significant for children who have disabilities (Sheehey, Ornelles & Noonan, 2009). This highlights the importance of schools and families working together.

However, making home-school partnerships work is something that doesn't always come easy. It is important that we look at the things that can make it work.


One of the things that you often come across when reading or talking about working with schools is the concept of trust. As Boult (2006) states:

"The key to success [in creating an accepting climate] is trust and respect of one another's roles in the education of children." (p37)
Looking at information about trust in home-school relationships, Adams and Christenson (2000) defined trust as
"confidence that another person will act in a way to benefit or sustain the relationship, or the implicit of explict goals of the relationship, to achieve postive outcomes for students." (p480)
In short, to trust another person we need to have an understanding of a common goal (positive educational achievement for the child), a genuine commitment to that goal, and an ability to openly and honestly communicate without fear of negative consequences.

Building Trust

Lewis (2004) lists the ingredients of trust as being "respect, competence, personal regard and integrity" (p483)


As the quote from Boult suggests, respecting each other's roles is important. Conflict can often arise when families feel they are not being heard, or when teachers feel that parents do not understand the nature of their job.

One of the reasons why families may feel disrespected is because teachers or schools may not be recognising the value of their "expertise".

A family's expertise lies in their anecdotal and experiential knowledge of their child (Hughes & MacNaughton, 2002). While this knowledge is different to that of a teacher, it is not less valuable. We can only find out what makes a child who they are by listening to parents, especially if the child is not able to communicate these things themselves. And this is what makes parents such powerful advocates.

But while there is great value in seeing the individual through parents eyes, it is also important that there is clear communication and respect for the nature of the classroom and the education system.

Schools and other professionals must work within a system. This system provides philosophical guidelines, resourcing policies, physical facilities and so on. To create positive working relationships, be open and honest communication about these guidelines and policies from schools is important (Olsen, 2003; West-Burnham, Farrar & Otero, 2007). And schools need respect and support from families to help them make the most of their resources and facilities within those guidelines.

Without this mutual respect and recognition of each other's strengths and limitations, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the blame game (Roffey, 2002). So instead of working together on a solution, a school may "blame" parents for a child's inappropriate behaviour and suggest the family finds solutions. Alternately, the family may feel the child's behaviour is only inappropriate at school and expect the school to deal with it.

With mutual respect, both sides are more likely to be open about the nature of the behaviour, how often it occurs and possible triggers. And this is likely to be a catalyst for positive planning and change (Minke & Anderson, 2005).

In this way we move from seeing the interaction as "parent involvement" and start seeing it as a working partnership.


Having a knowledge of all parties roles and limitations means that we are less likely to have unrealistic expectations. As discussed in the context of bullying, schools have to work within the guidelines of the system. If schools help parents understand these more fully, then families are more likely to see schools and teachers a competent.

However, it is important that both families and schools/teachers are genuinely committed to the process of collaboration. This process involves not only meeting, discussing and planning - it is also about implementing what has been discussed in a timely manner.

Families will find it difficult to trust schools or teachers who they perceive to be slow in acting on what has been discussed (Roffey, 2002). There may be a number of reasons why action may seem slow in coming - including the possibility that approval or resourcing processes take time in the school system, or that the school/teacher has failed to provide the parent with updates about progress. Therefore, it is important that a) the family understand the processes involved in achieving change and b) that the school/teacher communicate regularly with the family about the process.

Personal Regard

Informal, frequent contact between teachers and families is just as, if not more, important than formal meetings and notes home. This is because informal contact provides an environment where relationships can develop.

The importance of developing relationships is to ensure there is an understanding of each others' beliefs and culture (West-Burnham, et al 2007). It helps to build common ground on which future problem-solving can be based.

It is also important to recognise that much of the formal communication involves dealing with social, behavioural or academic difficulties. However, to establish trust and a good working relationship, a focus on the positives is important. Talking about the small achievements of students during the day can play a significant part in building a positive partnership between families and teachers/schools (Boult, 2006; Ouellette, Briscoe and Tyson, 2004).

The other element of this is the importance of talking about things face to face (Boult, 2006). Sending a note home, emailing, or telephoning all take away the element of personal contact. It limits the ability of both parties to "read" each others' emotions. It also means that there can be some delay or misunderstandings in an exchange of views. Person to person contact can mitigate the effects of communicating unwanted news, such as concern over a student's development or behaviour, through body-language that communicates respect, support and empathy.

So having conversations rather than formal discussions is a key to developing trust (Croft, 2010).


As mentioned previously, honesty and transparency about policies, procedures, beliefs and limitations are an important ingredient for trust.

Other measures of integrity may include:
  • Respecting the level confidentiality expected by the family/school
  • Being genuine
  • Avoiding assumptions
  • Following through with commitments
(Boult, 2006; Roffey, 2002; West-Burnham et al., 2007)


"A straightforward model of parental involvement requires that parents and teachers come together in a spirit of mutual trust and openness." (Roffey, 2002 p 131)



Adams, K.S. and Christenson, S.L. (2000). Trust and the Family-School relationship: Examination of Parent-Teacher Differences in Elementary and Secondary Grades. Journal of School Psychology, 58(5), pp477-497.

Boult, B. (2006). 176 Ways to Involve Parents: Practical Strategies for Partnering with Families. Corwin Press: California.

Croft, C. (2010). Talking to Families of Infants and Toddlers about Developmental Delays. Young Children, 4(7), p44.

Hughes, P. and MacNaughton, G. (2002). Preparing Early Childhood Professionals to Work with Parents: The Challenes of diversity and Dissensus. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 27(2). pp14-21.

Lewis, A.C. (2004). Schools that Engage Children. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(7), p483.

Minke, K.M., and Anderson, K.J. (2005). Family-School Collaboration and Positive Behavior Support. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7(3), pg. 181

Olson, L.M. (2oo3). Pathways to Collaboration. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 11(4), pg. 236

Ouellette, P.M., Briscoe, R., and Tyson, C. (2004). Parent-School and Community Partnerships in Children’s Mental Health: Networking Challenges, Dilemmas, and Solutions. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 13(3), pp. 295–308.

Roffey, S. (2002). School Behaviour and Families: Frameworks for Working Together. David Fulton Publishers: London.

Sheehey, P., Ornelles, C. and Noonan, M.J. (2009). Biculturalization: Developing Culturally Responsive Approaches to Family Participation. Intervention in School and Clinic, 45(2), p132-139.

West-Burnham, J., Farrar, M. and Otero, G. (2007). School and Communities: Working together to transform children's lives. Network Continuum: London.


Monday, February 8, 2010

The first contact

The first contact in any relationship sets the tone for the future.

Here are some examples of the types of first contact a parent may have with a school or teacher. The question is... how will each of these influence the future parent-teacher/school relationship?

The Phone Call


"Is that Mrs. Tompkins?"


"This is Silent Street Public School. There has been an incident with Sam."

Ker-thump, ker-thump, ker-thump (Mrs. Tompkins' heart beat)

"We would like you to come in and meet with Mrs. Ellison, the principal. How soon can you make it?"

"Uhm... I am at work." Mrs. Tompkins is still feeling a little stunned.

"Mrs. Tompkins, this is very important."

"What kind of incident?" Mrs. Tompkins is recovering.

"It is probably best that the Mrs. Ellison talks to you about that. Can you make it in half an hour?"

"Uhm. I suppose I could - "

"Thank you. Come to the front office. Bye, now."


The parent-teacher night

Don and Rose walk into the room where they are met by Lee's teacher, Mark. Mark greets them and they sit down together.

After some small talk about the weather, Mark begins to ask questions:

"Are there any concerns about Lee's reports? Do you have any questions about how he may be doing?"

"No, we are pretty happy with how he is going. He loves coming to school, and he is doing really well at Maths. Though he doesn't seem to be making friends very easily."

"Yes, there have been some social difficulties. He reacts aggressively and can be rather loud within the classroom. And he also has problems with literacy activities, fine and gross motor activities."


"I have been doing some reading, and I am wondering if you have considered getting Lee assessed for Aspergers or ADHD."

"Oh." Stunned silence.

"It's just that I think there is something wrong... no, I mean different... about Lee that we need to have addressed."

From there the meeting doesn't go well. Lee's father becomes silently hostile, and Lee's mother is visibly upset.

The meeting ends abruptly, with Lee's father saying, "I think we would know if there was anything wrong with Lee. He has always been unique. But that's just Lee!"

A note

Dear Parents,
We are looking for volunteers to help in various capacities around the school. Please contact us if you can help us with any of the following:

  • Morning reading groups
  • Morning maths groups
  • Canteen duties
  • Excursion supervision
Your time would be greatly appreciated.

A classroom visit

The first time she met the person she thought was going to be Ashley's teacher was at the orientation day. It wasn't so much a meeting, as an introduction, because there were a number of other parents and they were really only there to observe and integrate their children into a classroom for some "practice".

Marianne thought was a great idea, but it was over so quickly. And while she had been able to see the teacher at work, she wished she had had more time to talk to the teacher. She wanted to know more about the type of person who was going to include Ashley in the classroom.

Only, when she dropped Ashley off for the first day of school the teacher was not the one she had met previously. After a brief, "Hello" it was time to leave Ashley in the teacher's care.


"We can have your child in our school, but we do have some concerns about how well we can support them. Have you explored all the other options? There is the special school in ..."

"We want Nat to be in an inclusive classroom. We decided that was important. And the special school is an hour's drive away, and all Nat's siblings are here at your school."

"Welllll, we'll see what we can do. We will need to talk to our Kindergarten teacher...."

A Learning Support Team meeting


"Mr. Bellick?"


"We are just ringing to let you know that there will be a planning meeting for your child at 4pm on Wednesday. Feel free to come along if you are able."

"What is a planning meeting?"

"Well, for children who have special needs we have meetings to identify what support will be needed, where we can get it and how this will be used in the classroom. Parents have a right to come to the meeting."

"Oh. OK. I will be there."

Mr. Bellick turns up on Wednesday, walking in to sit across the room from the principal, the teacher, the head teacher for welfare and the integration support teacher from the local Department of Education office.

An unexpected encounter

"Hi, Ms. Johnson. I am Miss Carter. Hello, Jay! Why don't you go and sit with Jo - just here. So how are you feeling, Ms. Johnson?"

"Oh, I'm a little nervous."

"I am sure Jay will be fine. Is there anything you are particularly worried about?"

"It's just that, well, Jay doesn't really know anyone here. And he is very shy and gets anxious if he doesn't know what is coming next."

"That's good to know. I always try to warn my class of what is coming next, and I have a picture timetable of what we are going to do in class. Is there anything he particularly likes to do? Or anything that will help if he is anxious or upset?"

"He usually needs a nice quiet space. He loves puzzles. We often get him to go do puzzles if we see he is getting anxious."

"Great. Well, we will be sure and call you if there are any problems. But I shouldn't think we will need to. And I have this little communication book where I will write a little comment about his day, and you can put any comments or questions, if I don't get to catch up with you after school."

"Thank you."


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ask Amanda: Why aren't they DOING something?

by Amanda Gray

It is a question that has been asked me by parents a number of times. It comes in different forms. But basically each question is getting at the same idea: "Why isn't the school/teacher stepping in and stopping the bullying?"

This is a tricky question, and for each family/school there is probably a different answer. But here are some things to think about if you are a parent (or teacher) who feels a school (or teacher) should be doing more about a bullying situation.

1. The problem of definition

If you ask five different people what they think bullying is, you will probably get five different answers. Their answer will probably depend on:
  • their own experience with bullying (which may lead them to be over- or under- sensitive to conflict and bullying)
  • their beliefs about resilience ("she should get over it")
  • their beliefs about independence ("he needs to learn to deal with it himself")
Even if we have policies that list bullying behaviour and identify procedures for dealing with these, it cannot answer questions like:
  • How often do you have to be teased before it becomes "bullying"?
  • When does meddling with someone's property move from being a practical joke to bullying?
  • When is refusing to play with someone bullying, rather than childhood conflict?
Policies can do their best to address these issues, but the difficulty lies in the dynamic nature of behaviour. It is not until you really know the individuals being bullied that you can accurately identify bullying.

In the words of Findley (2006):
"Being human, our thoughts, instincts and opinions often influence our decision making. This can be a problem, particularly when it comes to responding to bullying. What you think is trivial, may in fact be causing severe distress to the victim, and what you think is serious, may in fact be having little impact, or causing not distress at all. Bullying is determined by the impact it is having on the victim." (p16)
If you want more on this discussion, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.

2. The difference in perspective

It is a natural thing that parents and teachers have different perspectives. You might call it the difference between an individual vs global perspective, or an intimate vs professional perspective (Coleman, 1998).

So parents will see the impact certain actions have on their child in a different way than the school does. Here are some ways the perspective can differ:
  • At home the child may cry themselves to sleep, at school (when asked) they might shrug the situation off (perhaps not wanting to be seen as weak in front of peers)
  • Difficult behaviour may be seen at school as... well, difficult behaviour. Whereas at home, the parent, intimately knowing their child, may recognise it as a sign of distress.
So even if parents and teachers see the same signs, the interpretation can be different.

It is perhaps true that no parent wants to see their child unhappy, or having social difficulties. However, a professional view may be that social conflict is a necessary and healthy part of developing social and emotional intelligence (Rigby, 2002). Parents and teachers/schools may have a different perspective on where the line is between unhappiness caused by social conflict, and distress warranting adult intervention.

There is also the added factor of the school/teacher caring for many, whilst the parent is caring for few.


Schools will act when they judge that the behaviour that is occuring fits the criteria of "bullying". Further, their actions will be determined by interpretation of educational policies, and procedures in place to protect both the "bully" and the "victim". Further, teachers will act according to their individual philosophies and interpretation of policies as guided by the school leadership.

The ethos or social context of the school will be important. As West-Burnham, Farrar and Otero (2007) state, "some schools are better at being schools than others." (p19) Policies play a part in this, but so do the attitudes and philosophies of the school leadership.

It is also important to note that schools will act most strongly on tangible evidence. What they can observe, what they know. So for parents and children, it is most important to continually gather and record evidence of harm, whether emotional or physical. The stronger the evidence, the more likely the school will act - though these actions will always need to adhere to the policies of the school and Education Department. And the school will always need to listen to both sides of the story.

On the other hand, a parent's expectations will be shaped by their interpretation and perspective on their child's social interaction and development. If this differs from the school or teacher's perspective, then it is likely that the school will not be acting as strongly or promptly as a parent might like.

For this reason, parents have an important role as advocates for their child. Parents will know their child as an individual better than the teacher or school.

Schools that work best are those that listen to, and work with, parents - always with the proviso that they must work within the "rules" and guidelines of the education system.

This month I want to explore the working relationship between teachers/schools and parents. I want to find out what works, and what doesn't, and practical ideas to improve relationships between school and home.


Coleman, P. (1998). Parent, Student and Teacher Collaboration: The Power of Three. Paul Chapman Publishing: London.

Findley, I. (2006). Responsibility: Beating bullying in Australian schools. ACER press: Camberwell.

Rigby, K. (2002). New Perspectives on Bullying. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.

West-Burnham, J., Farrar, M., and Otero, G. (2007). Schools and Communities: Working together to transform children's lives. Network Continuum Education: London.



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ask Amanda: Am I being pretentious?

I just thought I would pop in and talk about the theory behind my "Ask Amanda" column.

Calling it by that name does sound a little pretentious. Like I am setting myself up as an expert.

It is not that I think I am an expert on all things inclusion, or behaviour... or that I think I will have the answer to every question. But I do have a little experience, time and access to resources that I want to put at your disposal.

If you have a question that you want researched, but don't have time to do the reading or searching... then I want to help.

If you want a second opinion... I am happy to share mine.

If you want resources, links, ideas, especially in relation to inclusive education or behaviour support ... then I am happy to try help you find these.

So if you have a question or a topic you want discussed, then leave a comment or contact me and I will try to answer it in my monthly Ask Amanda column.

Alternately, if you have something you think is relevant to this blog, I am happy to accept guest bloggers. Or if you have a resource that you think might be useful to my readers, I am happy to review it. Just contact me.

I hope the blog is proving helpful....


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