Love them or loathe them, parents are an integral part of the school community.
Supportive parents can be the making of a school and have a huge impact on children’s learning – yet when parents are unhappy about some element of school life, the response from school leaders can often be to batten down the hatches and adopt a defensive stance.
It’s an understandable human reaction to criticism, but one that often puts up barriers to whole school progress. Granted, parents will highlight issues that aren’t always based on the full story, they aren’t necessarily trained educators and they aren’t always right, but that’s not the same as always being wrong.
When parents have concerns it’s our duty as educators to listen – really listen – and then consider carefully whether there’s any validity to their concerns. If said concerns relate to your leadership, do you have a trusted ‘critical friend’ who can be honest and help you see things from a different perspective? If not, then perhaps it’s time to consider why.
It can be lonely at the top, but are you secure enough as a leader to welcome feedback from those less senior? Those who actually experience your leadership on a daily basis?
Becoming a school governor is another way in which parents can exert some impact on school leadership. The governance system in schools should be a powerful tool that helps drive a school’s strategic direction.
In your own setting, are parent governors embraced or are they ‘managed’ within the governance structure? Do you provide them with the truth, or a carefully cultivated narrative? If it’s just the latter, then how are they going to be able to offer meaningful contributions without a full and unedited disclosure?
It’s also worth considering how the wider parental community can feed into the governance system. If you don’t already, consider setting up regular parent forums – meetings that give parents an opportunity to discuss issues publicly and, where relevant, with a collective voice. Setting aside a public forum for known critics may sound like a nightmare, but there’s value to be had in letting people have their say in a controlled environment.
Moving those moans and rumours off the playground and social media feeds and into a constructive debate will give you an opportunity to respond to issues publicly, and demonstrate a genuine desire to move the school forward as a community.
Embracing parental views can be uncomfortable at times, but opening up to the positive power of parental feedback can have a huge positive impact on a school’s wellbeing.
As a teacher, it’s obvious to me from children’s behaviour and language when they have a parent at home who’s reinforcing a negative view of the school. Moving these views into a more productive space is the key to improving both parties’ long-term relationship with education.
As educators, it’s surely our duty to model what effective leadership and learning looks like – that we don’t always agree, but that we listen to others, value their opinions and, more importantly, that we aren’t scared to admit when we can do better.
Emily Tenenbaum is a primary school teacher based in Hampshire.