In recent years communications between home and school have shifted quite dramatically from pen and paper to email; with email becoming the preferred and predominant mode of communication.
Email provides us with a quick, cheap and easy means of communication. As a result it is used for such a wide range of communications, it has also become increasingly difficult to distinguish between formal and informal communications.
The ease of communication via email has many advantages but these are proving to have ever diminishing returns, as the expectation for almost instantaneous reply, in a well-informed, considered and timely manner appears to be on the increase, with complaints following when this has not been the case.
As a school our first priority is to deliver high quality teaching and learning. The ability and ease of email communication directly with your child’s teacher is a privilege. Many schools would not make this facility available to parents, as frequent requests for updates and information can distract teachers from their primary focus, teaching.
On any one day a teacher will have a plethora of demands on their time including up to five lessons teaching (and tutor time, school duties and activities, after school practices and clubs). Teachers cannot and are not expected to monitor and manage their inbox during lessons or at other times in the day, when they should be planning and preparing for lessons, assessing student work or carrying out school duties.
The school (and parents) expect teachers to be fully prepared, focused and engaged with students and supporting their learning. Whilst administration staff, support staff and senior leaders may be able to access emails more routinely, their primary function is to support teachers and students. Constantly monitoring and responding to email leads to what is commonly referred to in the aviation industry as ‘task fixation’. In aircraft terms this leads pilots to be so fixated on the task in the flight deck that they forget to look out of the window. Whilst less dramatic, in a school it leads to staff focusing on the immediate task of responding to an email instead of concentrating on the delivering and supporting teaching and learning.
As parents we may feel that it is perfectly reasonable to ask for updates about our child’s progress or behaviour or for clarification about an incident involving our child. The occasional request might be manageable but if the parent of every child a teacher teaches asks for bespoke feedback just once in a year that would, on average, generate 190 required responses. In a similar vein parents cannot micro manage their child’s education via email.
The school works hard to provide parents with timely and informative information concerning their child’s progress throughout the year. Currently these are: two interim and one full report and one parent teacher meeting each year. In addition to this staff may also telephone, write or email a parent to inform them of a serious incident or serious ongoing concerns about a child’s behaviour or attitude to learning. They would not be expected to maintain a running dialogue about such matters, unless it has been agreed as part of a Pupil Support Plan.
Other things to consider
When communicating with the school, please bear in mind that a great many staff are putting their heart and soul, and many, many hours into trying to help our students achieve well. We would never wish to discourage parents from communicating with staff, establishing a relationship and working together. Parental communication is essential, we do not always get it right and we need your feedback to help us to continue to improve.
On occasions staff face criticism over an activity which they may be doing entirely out of goodwill, be it running a trip, or a team, or a concert, or a play and an ill crafted email from an upset parent, even when the point is justified, can result in hurt being caused and a reluctance from staff to continue to go the extra mile, that we so much appreciate of them. Likewise, even when a communication is about a core school responsibility, our communications need to be respectful. Couching a point as being ‘direct’, ‘blunt’ or ‘honest’ does not make it any less destructive to a relationship that should be based on trust and mutual respect. This applies to all communication and as staff we need to be just as careful in how we show we value our students and parents. We do not always get it right but we constantly aim to do so and to improve when this is not the case.
Many of you will be facing the same challenges in your own workplace from an increasing expectation of anytime, anywhere communications. Some readers may be of the view that this is simply the way the world works now. However, the school has a duty of care to staff, as it does to students. This includes a responsibility to ensure that the staffs’ workload is manageable and does not unreasonably intrude in to their private life.
There are enough good teachers leaving the profession as a result of not feeling very valued, and there is no need for us to add to this. Indeed the letters and emails of thanks and appreciation that we do receive are very welcomed. At Ysgol Greenhill School we have an incredibly dedicated team of staff, who are enthusiastic about a new and bright future working together to improve the school. We want to retain them and make them feel valued. It is therefore essential that we respect them and help them to maintain a sustainable workload.