Experienced teacher and educational consultant, Julie Keyes, talks about her course, Building Parent Partnerships, for the Pathway Programme from NAHT & Discovery Education – launching in schools this September.
Throughout my 15-years’ experience in schools, I have always been fascinated by the different approaches adopted by staff to engage and interact with parents. And through my intrigue, I have noticed distinct patterns and trends in the way in which these interactions manifest themselves over time.
My time in school has seen me work across a number of settings, holding a variety of positions. I have worked as a teacher, senior leader, coach, mentor, and board member of a large multi-academy trust. In each of these positions my focus has always been the welfare and academic fulfillment of the individual child but I am always conscious of the impact parental relationships with the school can have on all parties involved in a pupils education.
My experience shows me that the way in which members of staff interact with their parent body can dramatically influence the whole school culture, and in turn, can directly affect an individual’s approach to learning. With so much at stake, it always amazes me that the investment in preparing school staff for regular interactions with parents is often minimal. Teachers, leaders, admin staff and bursars are left to fend for themselves, navigating their own way through the bumpy (and often unpredictable) road of nurturing parental relationships.
Equally, what I’ve also learnt through my experience with schools is that it doesn’t take a major overhaul to address this balance. Once made aware of the potential points of conflict, and equipped with a few simple strategies to allow for crystal clear communication, all members of the school body – including the parents and pupils themselves – see an almost instant improvement in relationships. Setting out clear expectations at every level, and having a unified approach for responding to key sectors of the demographic, results in a more harmonious and positive school environment.
This isn’t to say it’s a one-size-fits-all model of instant reconditioning. New strategies and approaches can take time to filter down the right places, and old habits and biases can be tricky to sway, but with a consistent approach, major inroads are certainly achievable.
The first step is acknowledging the impact. Schools cannot avoid interaction with parents, yet leadership style and culture often unconsciously dictate the approach adopted by all staff members. Clearly defining the best practice, and in some instances the appropriate language to use, can be an excellent starting place. My Pathway course drills down into exactly what it is that forms the nuclei of these positive relationships and details obtainable ways to establish strong foundations. I also clearly outline techniques that can be deployed to strengthen and grow as a partnership. A main feature is to discover how it is possible to enter parental situations feeling empowered and confident. I will explore how best to strategically position yourself on an equal footing with the relevant parties, ensuring your voice is not only heard but given the prominence it deserves.
Alongside building confidence, I will focus on the practicalities of running meetings with parents and look at how to deal with challenges when communication breaks down. This often overlooked aspect of parent/teacher relationships is so important when helping your staff to improve their interaction with parents. The temptation is to remove staff from potentially difficult situations, to shield them from any uncomfortable circumstances. But I believe we should be helping them to improve professionally, to coach them through demanding positions, emerging on the other side stronger and more confident.
Ultimately, I want schools and parents to have clear and open lines of communication regarding the children in their care. Nothing should be off limits. Parents should feel comfortable in approaching any member of staff about any conceivable issue. And staff should be able to address their parent body, safe in the knowledge that they are doing so in an appropriate manner, not just as an individual, but as a united body, with the full backing of every member of staff in their school.
If you would like further information about the Pathway programme or to register your interest please visit www.discoveryeducation.co.uk/NAHT
Experienced teacher and educational consultant
Fresh from the chalk face, Julie Keyes may be new to the educational consultancy world, but she is an energetic and thoughtful educator with over a decade of experience as a teacher, middle-leader and deputy head.
Julie has worked across a range of settings, from state secondary to international schools, but her real expertise lies in Prep School education. Julie has previously been a SATIPS board member and is currently a trustee of a large multi-academy trust (MAT).
Current roles include delivering CPD and INSET to teachers and school leaders, assuming advisory roles on educational boards, creating engaging educational content for corporate partners, and supporting teachers in their professional development.