Good communication always matters

acd resource learning together 37

Children and young people do best when there is an effective working relationship between their school and parents or carers. As in any relationship, communication is vital.

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Good communication enables the school to work with you, to plan, monitor and adjust your child’s learning and supports throughout their time at school. Communication is also critical because what happens at school will affect your child at home, and vice versa.

Below we cover communication issues relevant to primary school and many specialist schools at secondary level. However, in other secondary schools – especially mainstream – parents and carers often need to find new ways to keep in touch with school.

I’m also a member of the school council. That was so that I knew more about what was happening at the school.

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Keeping in touch about things that affect your child

All kinds of regular events and unexpected changes happen at school. These include regular and special events, changes in the school or class routine, and staff changes. Many children and young people find change stressful, and need support both at school and at home. Staff should let you know about things happening at school that might affect your child, from major events to smaller things that affect your child’s day-to-day experience in class.

Staff should let you know if your child is having a hard time at school, whether that is with their work, their behaviour or relationships with other students. Students who are struggling need their teachers and families to work together to support them. Talk with the staff about the level of communication you want from the school.

It’s equally important that you let school know about other factors that might affect your child at school, including in relation to their health, development, learning or emotional state. Tell them about events that might affect your child, from major changes like parental separation or a new baby, to a late night or visitors staying.

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Many ways to communicate

There are many ways that schools and parents or carers can keep in touch.

Informal communication is very important; chats at pick-up or drop-off keep you in touch with your child’s school life, and help build your relationships with staff. A busy teacher or education support staff member is more likely to mention a minor issue or share a story from your child’s day, if they happen to see you at school. It’s usually difficult to chat for long at such times, or about sensitive issues. You can always ask for an appointment – a formal or informal meeting, or an additional Student Support Group meeting (see below).

You should also expect regular formal communication from school, including school newsletters and assemblies to which families are invited. There are usually two or three parent-teacher interviews per year – often early in the year, and around the time of school reports.

For students with a disability, the most important formal communication is through the Student Support Group (Program Support Group in Catholic and independent schools). Meetings should be at least once per term, including at the start of each year. Any member of the group – including you – can ask for an extra meeting at another time.

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Communications books and email

Many schools have a communications book for each student with a disability, which travels with your child from home to school and back. This can be a very valuable tool for you and the school to share information about your child’s needs, progress and issues that arise at school or home. Communication books are especially helpful for non-verbal students, or those without strong verbal communication.

Some schools also make use of iPads, iPods, class blogs or other digital tools to take photos, videos or voice recordings, to enhance learning and communication between school and home.

Some teachers or other staff are able and willing to keep in regular communication with parents or carers via email. You could request a weekly or fortnightly email, to keep in touch with how your child is going at school. Or you could ask the school to email you if an issue arises. You might also be able to use email to keep your child’s teacher or other staff in touch with what’s happening for your child at home. Ask the staff if email is a good option for them.

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Opportunities to get involved at school

Most schools offer parents and carers various ways to get involved. Not everyone has the time or capacity to do this, but it can be a good way to support your child (for example by helping out in class), and to build your relationships with teachers and others in the school community. Many parents and carers build strong friendships and networks in the school community by getting involved – helping them to feel more connected and supported.

Examples of involvement include helping out in the classroom occasionally or regularly, going on excursions or camps, working in the canteen or library, or helping with events, sports or fundraising. You might choose to get involved with the school council, on school committees or in the parents association. In some schools, parents and carers can have significant input into school policies in these ways, including in relation to the school’s approach to supporting its students with disabilities.

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