Maintaining a good dynamic with parents is no mean feat at the best of times. So how do you manage it when your community is spread between skeleton schools and home learning environments?
It’s a challenge, but true to form - schools are rising to it and sharing their best practice with the rest of the sector. We spoke with several school leaders, as well as our colleagues at The Key to bring you these expert tips on communicating with parents during COVID-19:
Choose your platform, and your words carefully
“When there are major government updates - we send out memos using Ping. We keep this channel separate to the rest of our parental communication - for instance, communication about work to be done remotely." - SBM of a primary school and ScholarPack customer
First off, the schools that we spoke with advised thinking about how you choose to send messages over the coming weeks, and whether it’s the right choice of platform for what you want to say. For instance, using a particular app to send a message may prompt push notifications on parents’ phones. This can create a sense of urgency - so keep these reserved for the most important updates. Emails, letters and social media updates, on the other hand, should be used to share information that parents don’t necessarily need right this second.
“We send out a weekly newsletter to parents through the ScholarPack Comms feature, which includes learning from home and wellbeing tips for families.” - Headteacher and ScholarPack customer, Dent Primary School
On that note, when you do send out updates take time to consider your tone.
Switch out any negative terms used in the media for more neutral language. For example, instead of saying “crisis”, maybe say “situation”, and instead of saying “worsens”, use words like “evolves” or “develops”.
Reassure parents who are homeschooling
“We’re keen to reiterate to parents that they’re not meant to be a teacher and that they just need to deal with remote learning how they see best.” - SBM of a primary school and ScholarPack customer
The primary concern for many parents will likely be whether their children are going to fall behind with learning and whether the onus is solely on them to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Communicate to parents exactly what is expected of them; they aren’t expected to become teachers, and children aren't expected to learn as they do in school. Remind them that when things get back to normal you, as a school, will be taking steps to get everyone back on track. Clarify what exactly they should be doing at this time, i.e.- which learning packs need to be completed, the number of hours a day you expect pupils to be working for, and what each activity should achieve.
The Key has put together an editable home learning fact sheet containing all of the above messaging and more. You can download this here, make your edits as you see fit, and distribute to parents.
Be transparent with parents of children in school
Next, keep in touch with the parents of pupils staying in school via newsletters - communicating to them what you are teaching, and how you are keeping them safe. You can download The Key’s editable template newsletter here.
Specifically, in this letter, keep parents in the loop with what work you’re setting and how it relates to what your pupils would be learning if your school was still fully open. You can also let them know who will be supervising their work, including details of any rota you’ve got in place. If your approach is going to change in the coming weeks, explain that here too.
You can also use this letter to communicate the latest social distancing measures you’ve put in place, how you’re keeping the school clean, and which first aiders and DSLs you have in school.
Keep the community spirit alive and well
“We use our Twitter page to create a sense of community between remote parents and pupils, and on-site pupils and teachers - for instance, by sharing pictures of them all doing Easter-themed activities. Two members of staff manage this account. ” - Headteacher and ScholarPack customer, Dent Primary School
Lastly, if you have the capacity, it’s important to try and keep things light with fun activities - especially ones which bring together pupils at school and at home. For instance, some schools have been putting together arts and crafts competitions on social media or quizzes via video conferencing platforms to keep spirits up.
And whilst fun activities can help alleviate the collective anxiety, there’s no escaping the fact that at some point, most of us will struggle with our mental wellbeing during COVID-19. The Key has put together a wellbeing pack containing tips for both children and parents as well as age-specific advice to help support higher levels of anxiety in children. You can download yours here.
No doubt you’re already doing an amazing job, but hopefully, the above advice and templates will ease the workload somewhat. Whilst everything is up in the air right now, there’s one thing I think we can agree will remain constant - and that’s the unwavering willingness of schools to reach out and help each other. I’ll be back soon with more insights, until then, the team at ScholarPack would like to say a wholehearted thank you for your contribution to the sector.