Quality Time

Regular and open communication between teachers and parents lies at the heart of every successful school community. It enhances learning outcomes and ensures happy students, parents and teachers, all working together towards a common purpose

How much do you know about your child’s progress in school? Do you know what they struggle with and what areas they excel in? Are you aware of how they interact with other students in the class, which friendships have blossomed, and which have not? If they find maths easy but chemistry difficult, do you know the reasons why and what steps their teachers are taking to support them? Most importantly, is your child happy? Every parent has the right to ask these questions – but, crucially, also the right to know the answers.

What it boils down to is communication. A successful school – one that values its relationships with students, parents and teachers, and one that places students first – will go out of its way to communicate with all members of its community. It will do so not merely to keep them informed, but also to listen and, in turn, use the feedback received to continuously make improvements and enhance the school’s education provision.

In the past, report cards were the preferred way to update parents about their child’s learning. These, however, involved a great deal of manual work to aggregate all the assessment information, which is why report cards were done in batches and only a few times a year. Yet today’s learning management systems can share assessment data with parents and students instantaneously, allowing parents to view up-to-date ‘reports’ whenever they please. This raises the question; do we still need report cards, or could we shift to an ongoing approach to reporting?

When it comes to the channels of communication available to schools today, there are numerous and wide-ranging options, running the gamut from more traditional modes including phone calls, letters, circulars and emails, to newer, high-tech additions including social media, apps, virtual learning environments and more. Yet while all of these play an important role in schools, there is ultimately no substitute for communicating in person, face to face. A great school should therefore be actively involved in evolving communications strategies to improve the frequency and quality of face-to-face meetings and interactions.

GEMS Education has recently rolled out a network-wide initiative to enhance communication between teachers, parents and students
GEMS Education has recently rolled out a network-wide initiative to enhance communication between teachers, parents and students

Quality Assurance Programme

Interestingly, GEMS Education, which owns and operates 48 schools in the UAE alone, has recently rolled out a network-wide initiative that recognises the importance of communication between teachers, parents and students and seeks to enhance the communication already taking place in its schools. This ‘Quality Assurance Programme’ aims to increase the opportunities for all parties to interact regularly and consistently, so that schools can extend the learning experience already in place to deliver a more personalised service to parents, enabling them to be increasingly involved in their child’s education and progress.

“Great communication is one of the hallmarks of a great school,” says Matthew Tompkins, Principal of GEMS FirstPoint School. “The Quality Assurance Programme looks to take communication to a truly outstanding level, providing personalised channels of communication that aid a positive and open relationship between the school and its families.”

Rollout of the Quality Assurance Programme is being spearheaded by teacher training institute TELLAL, whose Senior Vice President, Dr Linda Rush, describes the vision of the initiative as a re-commitment to the centrality of the parent-child-teacher relationship. She says, “Strong and positive relationships are good for the well-being of the child and, in turn, we know that this supports improved student learning outcomes. We know that such relationships are rooted in trust, where parents having confidence that their voice and experiences are respected and heard. We are committed to supporting schools to develop their own response and way of working that understands and respects the needs of their parents and children.”

Asked how this initiative is different to what other schools might already be doing, Dr Rush points to the fact that the starting point is to be explicit about what the minimum expectations are in terms of the relationship between parents and schools. “This statement of intent is intended to stimulate and support individual schools when adding to and developing their own local framework for ensuring high-quality teacher-parent engagement,” she says.

A stronger network

The response has been very positive so far, from teachers and parents. “At GEMS FirstPoint, we are already seeing the benefits, with parents appreciating the opportunity to discuss their child and the benefits of attending a GEMS Education school,” says Matthew Tompkins. He reports that many parents say that they feel more valued and part of their children’s learning journey as a result of the initiative. “As a school, we are getting an even better understanding of our students,” he says, “and we can therefore provide even better support in maximising the progress every child makes.”

Darryl Bloud, Executive Principal at GEMS Heritage Indian School and Vice President – Schools at GEMS Education, echoes Matthew’s sentiments, adding that while life at his school revolves around the child, the essence of being a good teacher is to understand the child, know their strengths and skills, and bring out their true potential. “The core responsibility of every school leader is to ensure parents play a vital role in the life of a school,” he says. “What the Quality Assurance Programme does is to create crucial links between the school, its parents and their children. It is my view that there is no better person to provide this link than the child’s teacher.”

Benefits of parent engagement

Jodh Singh Dhesi, Head of School Performance and Standards at GEMS Education, explains why passionate parents who are closely involved in their children’s education can only ever be a good thing. “In one of my previous roles as a principal, I would do playground ‘duty’ at the end of the day. It was the perfect opportunity to interact with students, staff and parents who were picking up their children. It also gave me a chance to catch up with the senior leadership team in the brief interlude between the teaching day and the time for administrative tasks.

“Sometimes our discussions would address the occasionally challenging conversations we had had with parents. But no matter the issue, or how contentious the concern, we would acknowledge how lucky we were that the parents were so interested in their children’s education. We knew that having a community of families who cared about the school, often passionately, meant that we had the chance to work together towards a common purpose.

“Fast-forward to my current role at GEMS Education and I have the pleasure of sitting on the Local Advisory Boards of five schools. I see first-hand the passion, commitment and enthusiasm of parents. I also see it in the parental organisation at sports days and fairs, parental turnout at concerts and shows and parental fundraising and profile-raising on the part of PTAs. Our schools here are lucky to have such commitment and will thrive because of it.”