The basics of a positive partnership with staff at your child’s school is the same as for any other relationship: mutual respect, listening skills, empathy and good communication.
On this page:
- Many ways to communicate
- Let school know what’s been happening at home
- Negotiate the level of information-sharing you want
- If you need an interpreter
Many ways to communicate
There are many ways to keep in touch with your child’s teachers and other school staff, including formal methods like regular Student Support Group meetings and parent-teacher interviews.
Less formal methods can include chats with the teacher, email contact or a communication book or using tools like an iPad or iPod that travel from home to school and back again. This type of communication is important for all students, but particularly those with limited speech:
“Communication is really good between me and the teacher. We have a communication book that I write in every morning and she writes in every night to say what’s happened. Michael also has a voice recording device that he and the aide will record on about what they’ve done during the day. Sometimes that information is different from what the teacher’s written in the book. Sometimes there might be others kids in the class that are vocal, and they might help record the message as well. So that’s really lovely. And Michael plays that at home, once he gets home, to help share his news.” – Debby
Schools can use any of these methods to tell families about events such as sports days or excursions, learning themes for the term, to flag minor issues that might have arisen for your child, or to give positive feedback about something your child has achieved. Talk to your child’s school about what type of communication suits you both.
“[You need] clear communication, a collaborative communication process. Make sure they’re responding, and that you’re responding back. I know some families don’t respond in the communication book. I think its important to let the school know when your child has not had a good night, didn’t eat much for breakie, missed his morning drink, or that they’re not good at all today, so that the staff are aware and can be prepared. Communication needs to go two ways.
Be open and upfront, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to share as much information as you can, and continue to do this. Don’t assume that they know – and the school shouldn’t assume they know everything either. For our kids with severe disabilities, who who challenged with their communication, it’s so important that there’s that regular monthly (or if necessary weekly) update, of how things are going. I used to love it when the teachers phoned me, just out of the blue, to say, ‘How are you and your child travelling at home?’” – Rhonda
Let school know what’s been happening at home
It’s also helpful to let teachers know if there are lots of changes happening at home that might affect your child at school, such as moving house, a new baby, a family illness or a parental separation. Also let the school know if you see evidence at home that your child might be struggling at school:
“A lot of teachers say, ‘Oh, Joey is fine, he is doing okay’ – ‘But when he gets home he is frustrated. He’ll hit, or throw things around’. They don’t realise the fact that these children, they try to hold all their anger at school, and then explode at home.
The teachers might say, ‘Well that’s at home, he’s fine here’. But it’s what happened at school that led him to do what he did at home. I knew whether Elijah had a good day at school or not, because if he came home and dropped his bag, and went to his room and played his guitar – and played really, you know …? I knew something had happened. But if he came home and said, ‘Hello Mum’, I knew that everything was fine.
And you, if something happened at home, you have to write, ‘This morning, he was very angry because he got up late, so he might play up at school’. Let them know, so they’re ready. Something might not happen, but at least they know. That communication is very important.” – Suzannah
Negotiate the level of information-sharing you want
Sometimes schools make only occasional or perfunctory use of a student’s communication book or other tools for communicating with families. If you would like the school to tell you more, talk to their teacher or other staff about the type and level of information you would like them to convey to you.
You might feel that your child’s teacher or other staff are overly reluctant to let you know when things are difficult for your child at school. For Limor, knowing that the school would let her know if her son was struggling was critical, especially as he was settling into school:
“Building up a relationship with Noam’s school has been the most important thing to me. I’ve always been very upfront with the school, and encouraged them to be honest with me. So if he’s having a bad day, I want to know about it. I need to know about it, because if I don’t know about it, we can’t work together to fix it.
It comes a time when yes, you have to get up and go to work, and leave your child screaming, and know that they’re safe, and that they’re okay. And that if they’re not, you’re going to know about it. For me, the first year of Noam’s school was a very hard year. He had a lot of anxiety. But as time went on he got happier. What helped me gain a lot of trust in the school was that the times when he would not settle, they called me.”
After your child settles into school, you might expect to be contacted a lot less. And indeed, if the school is still calling you for advice or assistance after that initial settling in period, that might indicate that the school does not have a good understanding of your child’s needs, or how to support him. This became a major problem for Marie:
“The teachers had to understand his behaviour, and how to help him when he needed the help; and also how he would ask for the help, because he didn’t always ask in a conventional way. I would be getting phonecalls during the day, ‘Can you come and get Ethan?’, or ‘Can you come and help us because we’ve got this situation?’ So there were times when I was leaving work – it was about a half an hour’s drive – to quickly drive there and try and sort that out, and then nick back to work. In the end I ended up having to resign, because it happened too many times.”
It is important to discuss with the staff what level of communication would be welcome and useful to you both, perhaps at your child’s Student Support Group meeting early in the year. And if you are concerned about the level of communication from school, you should feel confident to raise your concern:
- Read more about effectively raising a concern with school.
If you need an interpreter
If you need an interpreter, the school should provide one for every important meeting with you. The school can also use telephone interpreters for other communication. This is an important issue to discuss at a Student Support Group meeting.