Technology changes, maths lessons for parents, and more. In this episode, Andy and Adam are joined again by Assistant Headteacher and Literacy Consultant, Katy Reeve, to discuss the relationship between school and parents. In what ways can schools build a stronger connection to parents? Do parents have anxiety with the way maths is now taught? Plus, Adam talks about managing a parent’s concerns and issues. This episode features an extra special guest — Adam’s pooch called Tink. Listen out for him in the background begging for attention!
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello. I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast. Welcome to The School of School Podcast.
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Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode out of The School of School podcast. We're here with Katy Reeve again today. Thank you so much, Katy, for joining us.
Thank you very much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
So Katy, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself just for our audience?
Yes. I'm an Assistant Head Teacher at quite a large primary school in Brighton. We're a three-form entry and I'm a literacy consultant. I also work with parents to support developing their readers at home.
Fantastic. Katy, I think, what we'd really like to hear from you today is, how can schools encourage parents to play a role in their child's learning? Hopefully, a positive of role in their child's learning.
Yes, absolutely. I think, considering the events of the last two years, I think parents role has changed over that time. I think it's a really good topic of conversation, because lots of parents do want to stay really involved in their child's learning. Maybe parents who hadn't been before. But also I think some parents had an experience over lockdown of being more in that teacher role, and now are quite glad to give that back to schools, and are looking for, "Well, what's my role now?"
It's a tremendous shift that we've seen in how education takes place in the last few years. I mean, obviously, COVID's had a huge impact and has driven technological change. Technology has shifted. People have been forced into using technologies in ways that maybe they weren't comfortable with before. How's that affected that whole relationship between parents and teachers and students? That must have had a tremendous impact.
Yeah, absolutely. Very varied as well. I think the experiences that children had are very different and every family had quite a unique situation. Which I know that every school is different, but in terms of the education we provide, it felt as if the rollout over lockdown was really varied. It depended on the technology that children has at home. It depended on the technology that teachers were provided to deliver the curriculum. I feel now that children are coming back into school, it's trying to find out where that level playing ground is again.
I think parents are more informed about the curriculum that their children are being provided with. Because obviously, they were part of trying to get that organised over the week and helping their children to complete tasks that were sent home. But at the same time, I think as well, there has to be a shift now with the parental role. In that we have children who, for various circumstances, parents were possibly working full time. You had children who were key worker children, they were at school doing something different. What role can they play? That's what I'm really supporting parents with, "What role can you play that's viable for your family? That's going to help your child in the situation that they're in at the moment."
See, I think, it's magic that a role exists to support parents in the first instance. I'm probably being guilty when, I've worked in schools, of sort of trying to alleviate pressure from parents to say, "Look, let the school deal with this." Now, in one sense, that might be useful. But it also has the potential to de-skill and to kind of stop the parents to think that they play an active role in the education. What I was thinking about, just within the whole idea of COVID... Or not the idea of COVID, the fact that COVID hit, and children were at home and relying on their parents often to provide that level of support. We know that perhaps parents needed more support in order to help their children.
Now, it was a unique circumstance that highlighted this. But it got me thinking, haven't children always needed support at home? But we've never been thrust into a situation that meant that we needed to consciously think about, how can we support the parents to support the children? In the same way we have had to with the situation of children being at home. Maybe it was the shunt that we needed, to just say, "Well, what can we do for parents?" Not just because there could be another lockdown or the children might stop being... But just because that's the right thing to do. For all children to have some support. Is that something that you've sort of thought about for the long term? Not just supporting parents to cope in these quite unique times, but just forever.
Yeah, I think so. It's something that, I think, schools have always had on their radar. We run workshops, and training, and we try and get parents into school as much as possible. I think at school at the moment, there isn't a role to support parents, because actually the feeling we are getting is that parents feel quite overwhelmed still. It's something that I've looked at doing, because I've had parents who have reached out to us at school. But again, we don't have the resources that we need in order to support children as much as we would like to. We are really stretched at schools. We've got staff absences that looks hopefully as if that will improve. But also the need that's come back into school is far greater than we've ever really seen before. Our resources are stretched. More parents are having to look outside the school system actually to find support for their children.
The need felt as if it was there. It's something that I've always been really invested in is, "How can I support children to learn to read?" I just feel as if children need that basic skill for all areas of life. Whether it's school, outside for their own personal happiness. But I think you've hit the nail on the head, is that parents have always played a role. They do need to play a role, because when they do, that's when children can really move on and be the best that they can be. But I think at the moment, more and more children are finding that they need more supports, and it's looking at how we can give that in school. We've got more interventions going on than ever. But in terms of bringing parents into that journey, the feeling you get is that some parents are still feeling quite overwhelmed.
I feel as if things aren't quite back to normal. But they really want to know how they can help their child. We can't run workshops at school like we used to. One of the things that was really successful was we used to have a workshop for maths and parents. We ran it in the evening so if we had working parents. Or Parents with young children, we had a creche. We had over a hundred parents turn up and we would teach them in classes. They were the students for the evening. The children loved it, because we'd say, "All right. What lesson would you like us to give your parents?" They'd always come up with what they thought would be the trickiest one for them to have.
Or one they couldn't do.
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:08:01] The parents gained so much from that. We had a comment box after and chatting to you as well. They'd say, "Oh, it's brilliant because I can see now exactly the experience they're having at school. I can see why you teach it in that way." We haven't been able to do that now for over two years and that's having a huge impact in itself.
I was just going to ask something. If you were to give... There might be parents listening to this. Certainly, I'd expect there be teachers listen to this. Could you just give some really quick tips? If I was teaching tomorrow. I'm going into the classroom tomorrow and a parent comes and says to me, "Listen, I need some support. What do I do?" Could you just, real quick fire, is there anything that you could recommend that might be useful just as a really quick turnaround? "Yeah. You could do this."
Absolutely. I think, it's identifying what's the one thing that's going to make the biggest difference. That, I think, is where the overwhelm comes sometimes. It's trying to do a bit of everything to move your child forward. If it's mathematics, it's thinking, what's the one thing that's going to make the biggest difference? Often that comes back to place value to start off with. Then it's looking for those everyday opportunities. If you are laying at the table, you could be looking at, if it's for younger child, how can I get some counting in here? Counting in tens is something that if you're out on your walk to school. You can count one set of 10, two sets of tens. It's just bringing into that everyday language that you can use with your child. It doesn't have to be formal, sitting down, pen and paper exercise. It's looking for those opportunities to talk about it as you go about your day to day life.
I think that would be really the biggest tip. Also, making sure that you have good communication with school if you can and ask those questions about, "What do you think I can do to help?" Teachers are always brilliant at breaking down and knowing those children so well. It's not being scared to have those conversations because parents sometimes think, "Well, I don't want to bother the teacher." Or, "They've got lots going on." But teachers are always really willing to have those conversations because they want the best for those children as well.
I think the teacher parent relationship has always been a bit of a tricky one anyway, right? Because obviously parents are trusting teachers with their kids. You have all kinds of different parents. Some who are, let's say, a little bit more in tune with the modern education system. Some have maybe very archaic or different ideas about what the education system should look like. Often parents are very protective and judgemental of teachers.
I mean, I'm just trying to tell it like it is. I think parents sometimes think, "Well that teacher doesn't like my kid." Or, "That teacher, I don't agree with the way that she teaches that lesson." Or, "Why don't they just teach them the times tables?" All this kind of baggage in the relationship. I mean, in an ideal world, we could just hold some seminars and say to parents, "Okay. If you really want to help your kids, please do these things." In that ideal world, they would go home and do those things, and it would help their kids. But it doesn't work that way usually, right? It's usually a lot more messy than that. How do you deal with some of those issues, Katy? What do you tell teachers?
Well, I think, going back to the parental relationship. Absolutely, I think, that's fundamental. Teachers are very skilled at developing good relationships with parents. I think that both the parent and the teacher have the child's best interests at heart. I think that's really important to remember. That wherever someone's coming from, whatever place they're coming from, it's because they want the best for their children. We both want the same outcome. I think that's really important to hold onto. When you are having those conversations with parents, it's about listening obviously. They know their children really, really well. Making sure that you've got that really full picture.
But often I find with parents, when you explain why you are doing something and asking them to trial things at home and come back, "How is it going?" Having that open dialogue. Parents are often really willing to go home and have a go. I find that it's often their anxiety that they don't want to do it wrong. They don't don't want to mess it up. They don't want to make the situation worse that can drive some of that. At first, it might seem unwillingness, but when you dig underneath it, it is often anxiety that things are different to how school was when they were growing up. They really want to do their best.
It's tricky though, sometimes as a parent, right? I'm just trying to remember some of the emotions and feelings that not necessarily I've wrestled with, but I've watched other people wrestle with and talk about as parents. It often be something like, "Well, why did my kid get this book to read at home? Because so and so got this other book. Surely, my kid's ready for that other book." Then this kind of distrust, it's like, "Well, that teacher doesn't really understand my child." All these kinds of feelings and emotions start building up. It's not a perfect world. People have a lot of anxieties and emotions and stuff that they wrestle with when they're dealing with their children. Then there's a resentment that can easily build up. I guess when you have that barrier, how do you get over that? How do you wrestle through that and try to get to the essence of... I don't know. Adam, if you want to jump in as well?
The way I see it is that, I think, one of the hardest things that teachers ever have to deal with are parents. I don't mean that in a negative way. What I mean is, is that love makes us respond far more emotionally and to a greater degree than anything else. One of the turning points in my teaching career was understanding that no matter what a parent did when they came into school... First of all, if they've come into school, they care. Second of all, we're going to take it as writ that they love their child. The way that they're expressing their care and concern and all those sorts of things. What love does, is make us react in a way that says, this is the only way I know how to react with it.
I think that if you can take it, not as a personal criticism as a teacher in the first instance, which is really, really hard. Then I think we listen to understand. Otherwise, if we get our defences up because we're put our heart and soul into lesson and those sorts of things, we may be just listening to respond. We're thinking, what's the right response here? As opposed to, I need to understand where this person's coming from. It took me years, literally years, to reach a point where the criticism didn't come first and I was trying to, if you like, fight my corner.
To really just understand what motivates Andy? Andy's come down and he's cross about this, or he's da, da, da, da. To stop and think, look, Andy loves his kids, and the reason why he's doing this is cause he is worried about them, right? This is the way that he's expressing it. Let's just think. Andy loves his kids. He's here, which means he cares. He's addressing it like this. I'm going to listen to what he says, and I'm going to see if I can get to that level where I can understand him. Then we can do something to work together. But that's hard. That can be really, really hard when you are... I don't know. It's not an excuse, but if you've had a hard week and you've really put your heart and soul in things. You've got to also remember, I think, that the teachers really care deeply about the children in their class, and they're doing the absolute best for them. I think it's those things that make a difference. Listening to understand, as opposed to listening to respond.
Wow. Why doesn't anybody teach us... I mean, maybe we do now. I don't know. You just think, the life skills that people need to learn, that we leave to chance sometimes like listening. I don't know that anyone, certainly in my whole education, no one ever... It's kind of one of those things you're left to discover on your own, right? No one ever actually teaches you how to listen. I know it sounds kind of so basic and so simple. But when you converse, and I'm guilty of this, and I'm sure we all are to a certain extent. Especially when you're in a high pressure situation like this. Here you are, Adam. You're talking. You're saying this really, really intelligent stuff. My natural tendency is to stop really listening to what you're saying, and start thinking about what clever thing I'm going to say afterwards. Because I'm under pressure, right?
I know, it's like, "Oh no, everyone's expecting me to say something." No one ever teaches you, "Hey, you know what? Just listen. Just actually listen to what the person is saying and try to get in there." Try to become empathetic with their point of view. Because like you say, there's a few givens. This person has a child. They love their child. They want the best for that child, but maybe they don't know how to express it. Maybe they don't know. There's a lot of emotions here. Maybe their child is struggling or something and it's sensitive. There's a lot of emotions. Let's try to empathise. Let's listen. Let's actually try to understand what this person is struggling with. Then come up with an idea about what a possible solution might look like. As opposed to just thinking, "Oh, they're doing all the talking. Now I'm going to expected to talk. I better start thinking about what clever thing I'm going to say." Which is what often goes around. If I'm not disciplined, that's what will happen to me. I need to really force myself to listen.
I think, as well though, that is something that teachers are really good at, because to be a good teacher, you are listening to the children. Not only when they're telling you something, but their body language, what they're doing. You're in tune in order to understand your whole class. You just need to carry that skill out further, and make sure that you're listening to all parties who are involved with that child as well. I think, it is really a crucial skill is that you are in tune with that whole picture of what's going on.
I think t's important though... Because I couldn't agree more about the importance of it. But I think it's so important that like you said, it's a skill that we learn and that takes time. I think, that's something if we can accept that, because I think that's what... I've worked with a lot of newly qualified teachers. I'm not saying that this doesn't apply to teachers who have been in the game for a long time. But I think that some of these things are from the reptilian part of your brain. A parent comes in and goes, "Oh listen. The homework this week was crap. What did you do that for? What'd you give my Johnny that? That homework's crap, mate. Can you not even give homework?" The reptilian part of your brain kicks in at that point and trying to keep that down is tough. So tough when you're thinking, "I wrote the flipping homework for Johnny specifically based on what he said on Tuesday bloody morning."
It's really difficult not to say what I've just said. I think that's the thing, I always think that we have to be kind on ourselves. Now, like Andy's saying about, why don't we get taught how to listen? I think we just assume because we've got ears and because we hear the noises that are coming out of someone's mouth, we're listening. Of course, we are. What are you talking about? Of course, I'm listening. But I think it's so, so difficult at times. If you are a teacher and you're listening to this. Honestly, if you've learned it inside of the years that it took me, fair play to you. I think it's brilliant. I'm sure when you work with people like Katy, that she'll stress the importance of it. But I think it is tough. It is tough. Essential. Maybe we should just give a little bit more training like anything else. To actively do that, rather than just assume it.
Having a good mentor, or senior leadership team, or year group that you work in, is vital as well. People who work in one-form entry small schools sometimes at a disadvantage, because there aren't as many people that you can talk to about it as well. Because yes, from the teacher's point of view... It's not about getting a thick skin actually. I don't think it's about becoming immune to it and letting it bounce off. I don't think it ever does that. But I think it's about being able to look at it objectively and say, "This is language in itself. Someone's trying to tell me something here. What's going on?"
As you said, it's about not taking it personally. Which is incredibly difficult, because you might be thinking, was that homework really rubbish? What did I send out? Why is that parent so upset about it as well? As I said, often when you get underneath the surface, it's nothing to do with the homework that you sent home. There's something else going on, that is going on in that child's life, if it's going on in the parent's life as well. Absolutely. It's a really tough skill to have. You need a good team around you, and good people who you work with. Because they understand because they're going through the same things themselves.
This is really difficult and was really difficult pre-pandemic. All this. I mean, Adam, you went as far as saying it's one of the trickiest, I think, parts of being a teacher. Katy, just to wrap up, what are some of the things that your school has been able to do in this new world? Where social distancing, and lockdowns and consistent sort of disruptions because of the pandemic. What has your school done to maybe wrestle with some of these new challenges in this context?
I think we are still wrestling with those challenges and trying different things to see what works. We've introduced some more communication out to parents. We have a Friday flyer for example now that is more packed full of information so that parents know what's going on at school. But I think teachers are contacting parents more, phoning parents more. Our parents evening was over the phone this time. Every teacher had a phone call. I think we're communicating in different ways. As an SLT, we made numerous, hundreds of home phone calls over that period of time. That has carried on a bit afterwards as well. I think workloads and trying to manage and balance all of that is always a challenge. But it has been so vital for lots and lots of our families that we feel its still important to continue.
Looks like we're going to be challenged for a little while still, and this pandemic isn't going away as quickly as we'd like. But Katy, thanks so much for sharing all that. So generous of you to come on and share some of these ideas and solutions that you've come up with. Thanks for joining everyone.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School Podcast.