Activity

6.2: Understanding the evidence: A people profession

Time allocation

45 minutes

Instructions

  • Read the information and look at the examples provided.
  • As you do this, take notes on the points made.
  • At the end, answer the key questions below.
  • You will need to take your answers with you to your mentor session for discussion with your mentor.

Key questions

  1. Have you engaged with the parents, carers or families of all the pupils you teach, including those with special educational needs?
  2. Over the last year, in what ways have you engaged with these parents, carers or families?
  3. What proactive contact have you made? How successful was this approach?
  4. What are some of the barriers to parental engagement and how can schools overcome these?
  5. For those you have engaged with, what has been the nature of the communication?
  6. Over the last year, which specialist colleagues (e.g. SENCO, careers advisors) have you spoken to?
  7. What have you learned from these conversations?
  8. Which specialist colleagues have you not built a relationship with yet?

The intended outcomes of this activity are for you to:

Learn that
7.7 Pupils’ investment in learning is also driven by their prior experiences and perceptions of success and failure.
8.4 Building effective relationships with parents, carers and families can improve pupils’ motivation, behaviour and academic success.
8.5 Teaching assistants (TAs) can support pupils more effectively when they are prepared for lessons by teachers, and when TAs supplement rather than replace support from teachers.
8.6 SENCO’s, pastoral leaders, careers advisors and other specialist colleagues also have valuable expertise and can ensure that appropriate support is in place for pupils.
Learn how to
Communicate a belief in the academic potential of all pupils, by:
1d Seeking opportunities to engage parents and carers in the education of their children (e.g. proactively highlighting successes).
Build effective working relationships, by:
8h Communicating with parents and carers proactively and making effective use ofparents’ evenings to engage parents and carers in their children’s schooling.

You will be aware by now that teaching really is a “people profession”. Building relationships with other people, including pupils, colleagues, parents, carers and other specialist professionals, is key to the job. Relationships matter and we can build and nurture these proactively.

As we saw in Block 1, teaching has an important social element, which involves relating to and interacting with pupils. Positive relationships between teachers and pupils are associated with better educational outcomes (Allen et al., 2011; Wubbels et al., 2014; PISA, 2015; Valdebenito et al., 2018).

There are of course other adults involved in a pupil’s education. You will know this is particularly true for pupils with special educational needs who may interact with multiple different adults on a daily basis. Developing effective relationships with colleagues helps teachers to improve their practice and contribute to the school community, whilst relationships with parents, carers and families can improve pupils’ motivation, behaviour and academic success. These relationships are most effective when built on a culture of mutual trust and respect. We will explore this further later in the Block.

In this activity, we focus on working with the other adults who have relationships with the pupils you teach. These include parents, carers and families, and teaching assistants, pastoral leaders and other professionals. There is a specific section on working with your SENCO later in this Block.

Effective relationships with parents, carers and families

Parents, carers and families have a significant influence on pupils’ education. As Hattie states, “parents can have a major effect in terms of the encouragement and expectations that they transmit to their children” (Hattie, 2009). You can play a direct role in this through actively seeking to engage the parents, carers and families of individual pupils.

By this point, you may have already seen the impact of building positive relationships with parents and carers. Together, you can mutually improve pupil motivation, behaviour and academic success.

Your school will have its own communications policy and agreed ways for communicating with parents and carers. As a teacher, you should seek ways to reach out to families proactively. A useful way to establish these relationships is by engaging with parents, carers and families to support their children’s learning. Some ideas for doing this are exemplified in the following video.

Video

Title

Communicating with parents, carers and families

Video type

Talking head

Short description

Teachers explaining specific ways that they help parents, carers and families to support their children’s learning.

Guidance

Opening up a dialogue with parents, carers and families can support pupil learning.

  • What specific ways do the teachers make contact with pupil families?
  • Keeping workload in mind, which ways are easier than others?
  • Are there any that you could use with your classes?

Video transcript

Teacher 1: “I make sure my class blog is up-to-date at the start of each half-term with what we will be learning.”

Teacher 2: “Each term, I send a letter home outlining what we will be learning and how parents and carers can support this at home.”

Teacher 3: “At the start of a new topic, I put a card into each pupils’ book with questions that parents and carers could ask their children about the topic, and relevant websites/TV programmes that they could look at together.”

Teacher 4: “I take photographs of pupils’ work when it is excellent and email it to their parents or carers.”

Teacher 5: “I try to keep my language simple without too much subject-specific vocabulary.”

Teacher 6: “Each week I send a positive postcard home for three pupils who have really gone above and beyond what was expected of them.”

Proactively seeking to highlight pupil successes to parents and carers is another great way of engaging families in their child’s learning and helps establish and build relationships. By contacting parents and carers with positive feedback, even on a minor level, you will have set the tone for your relationship and it will make it far easier if you ever need to contact home with any negative feedback.

In your notepad

Sentence frames you could use to proactively highlight successes:

  • I am so impressed with the way X has…
  • What’s really blown me away about X this year…
  • I am just contacting you to quickly tell you about the way X did…

Sentence frames you could use when contacting home regarding negative feedback:

  • Despite the great example I shared last week… unfortunately…
  • Pupil has previously demonstrated X as per my email however in this instance…
  • As you know we are working towards X this year…
  1. List possible complications you might experience on a call, such as a parent being antagonistic.
  2. Plan potential steps you could take to resolve the tension.

The table below shows some of the strategies you can use to build effective relationships with the parents/carers of pupils that you teach.

Strategies to use Examples
Make contact early in the school year
  • If time allows, call parents/carers to introduce yourself.
  • Make positive phone calls home about how well pupils have settled in.
  • Invite parents in to meet you.
Open a dialogue with parents/carers
  • Make regular contact with parents/carers.
  • Attempt to contact parents/carers of all pupils.
  • Use phone calls, postcards home, blogs, email.
Ask questions and take an interest
  • Show parents/carers that you understand that they know their child best.

Ask:

  • “Is there anything you would like me to tell you about in particular?”
  • “Is this the best way of contacting you?”
  • “What can we do together to support your child?”
Make sure parents/carers feel that you listen to them
  • Listen and respond to parents/carers concerns:
    • “I agree that…”
    • “The reasons for this are…”
    • “I see that you feel…”

You will likely have been involved in parent-teacher interviews or parents’ evenings. These are one way of communicating with parents/carers and can be effective in engaging them in their children’s schooling. Teachers who use these events effectively prepare in advance and think hard about the information they will share. They also use the opportunity to communicate their belief in the academic potential of each child. Being positive about the successes experienced, as well as focusing on improvement and next steps, is an important factor in doing this.

Watch the following video and consider the way in which the two teachers approach and prepare for parents’ evening.

Video

Title

Making the most of parents’ evenings

Video type

Talking head

Short description

Year 6 teacher and Year 10 teacher being interviewed about how they make most effective use of parents’ evening.

Guidance

  • How does the teacher plan for parents’ evening?
  • How do they manage the conversation to make best use of their time?

Video transcript

1. How do you prepare for parents’ evening?

Year 6: I make a pile for each student which includes a sample of their work to show parents. I have a template where I jot down some notes for each pupil in advance of the meetings – what’s going well, areas for improvement and some next steps for their child and how the parents can help. I do this so I don’t forget anything and I feel confident that I’m making the most of the time when I have parents and carers in front of me.

Secondary: It depends on the year group to be honest. If it is a KS3 year group, I sometimes teach over 100 pupils in the year so I always print out a page with pupil names and pictures so I can refer to it if I need to. I would hate to make a mistake and so it is a discreet way to make sure I give the right information to the right parents. I always prepare a data sheet which has their latest test scores, homework and attendance records on it – and for GCSE classes I will include targets. I usually bring the class set of books with me as well, it’s helpful to be able to show examples of work to parents so they understand what I am talking about.

2. How do you manage the conversation to make best use of their time?

Year 6: I start by explaining what I am going to cover in the conversation and if that sounds good to them or is there is something they particularly want to talk about which I haven’t mentioned. This helps because sometimes parents have a really specific question which they ask right at the end of the slot and we then don’t have time to answer it which is frustrating for the parent as they came with that question in mind and then leave without having it answered. I try to not speak for the full slot to make sure that their questions have time to be answered.

Secondary: I always start by saying that the slot is just 10 minutes and that we will have to stick to time to be fair to the other parents. If at the end of the slot there feels like there is still a lot to talk about, I will suggest that I follow up the next day to arrange a longer meeting or phone call. However, this is rare because if I did have a concern about a pupil I would never surprise parents with this at parents’ evening – I would have already spoken to them and so when we meet at parents evening I am picking up the thread of a conversation and updating rather than informing for the first time.

3. What are your top tips for parents’ evening and dealing with difficult conversations?

Year 6: My top tip is to prepare as much as possible. Better to be over prepared than under. These are their children and so it shows respect to the parents that you have taken the time to plan. Always start by saying something positive about the pupil – not a generic comment like they are really well behaved – but something which shows that you know them as an individual like “I am consistently impressed by how patient your son/daughter is – just the other day we had to wait for the PE bus to arrive and they didn’t get frustrated but calmly took their book out to read!”

Secondary: My top tip is to remain polite and professional throughout. Start by smiling and shake their hand, if this is culturally appropriate. Say that you are pleased to finally meet them and share something positive which you have noticed about their child. If you are really worried about a particular conversation, ask another colleague to sit in with you and suggest that you meet in a side classroom for some privacy. Always follow up the next day if there was a question or query which you couldn’t answer.

In your notepad

  1. How do both teachers plan for parents’ evening?
  2. How do they manage the conversation to make best use of their time?
  3. How will you prepare for parents’ evening? Download this checklist to help you.

Teachers’ relationships with parents, carers and families operate in two directions. As well as giving them information, you should remember that you can gain vital information from parents and carers, which can help you to better understand each pupil’s individual circumstances and how they can be supported. Parents and carers will also be able to share with you their children’s prior successes and failures, which influence their investment in their learning. After all, they know their children best (Department for Education, 2018).

Investment in education is influenced by prior successes and failures. When you are teaching a new class, you might have very little idea about each pupil’s background. Their behaviour and attitude to learning will be influenced by their prior successes and failures and understanding this can support your practice. You can gain useful insights through talking to parents and carers. This understanding can then be used to adapt your relationship and teaching of individual pupils.

The knowledge you gain will help you to:

  • Understand pupils’ barriers to learning
  • Identify effective strategies
  • Adapt your teaching to individual pupils’ needs
  • Influence pupils’ beliefs about their ability to succeed

Teachers need to seek opportunities to engage parents, carers and families in the education of their children. You should not expect these relationships to just happen naturally or take them for granted. To be successful, they need to be built, developed and maintained. You can use small, deliberate actions to build these relationships so that they are positive and productive.

Video

Title

Building effective relationships

Video type

Talking head

Short description

A primary teacher talking about how they get to know the parents/carers of their class.

Guidance

What steps does the teacher take to build a relationship with the parents/carers?

Video transcript

When I start with my new class I know that building a relationship with the parents and carers is really important.

Being a primary school, lots of our parents still drop their kids off or collect them at the end of the day so I make a point of standing outside to say hello and make the initial connection. I keep a list of pupils in my pocket so I tick off when I have met each parent or carer, and any that I haven’t met within the first few weeks I will give a quick call to say hello and introduce myself. I think it is important that families feel they can speak to me if they need to – some of our parents are difficult to engage and so a friendly first impression helps a lot.

We have a policy of emailing home schemes of work and information about what we will be learning each half term. I find this is a really great way to communicate with families and I always include suggestions of activities which they can do with their children – simple stuff in the home or local area but also ideas of websites or books which would support the theme or topic we are doing.

Our school parent afternoons tend to be quite early in the year – this is so we have a chance to sit down formally with each family and speak properly with them about their child. Almost every parent or carer I have ever met is delighted to talk about their child and how they can help them with their learning. I like to host these in my classroom so they can see where their child is all day, examples of their work on display and it is a quiet space so they can raise any worries or concerns. I always follow up with a quick email to say thank you and it was nice to meet you. It’s a simple thing but it shows that I am open to continuing the dialogue and we are working together to support their child.

I do sometimes use text messages – parents sign up to this at the start of the year to say they are happy to receive information this way. I tend to use texts for reminders or quick praise messages as they are short and easy to send. Parents seem to like it.

One other thing I do to get to know parents and carers is ask the pupils. I do a ‘getting to know you’ activity when I first meet my class – they tell the class about who they live with and maybe some things like how they travel to school or who picks them up after school. This is always fun and I like being able to ask parents about their e-scooters or how their elderly relative who lives with them is doing.

In your notepad

  1. What specific action does the first teacher take to build relationships with the parents and carers of their class?
  2. What impact do you think this would have?

Keep in mind that high-quality teaching has a long-term positive effect on pupils’ life chances, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The work you do building relationships and learning about a pupil’s individual circumstances will positively influence your practice as you will be able to effectively plan and adapt your teaching to suit the individual needs of your pupils.

Working with teaching assistants

Teaching assistants (TAs) are a valuable resource in schools. When deployed and trained effectively, TAs can have a positive impact on pupil attainment and engagement, as well as reducing classroom disruption and allowing teachers more time to teach (Blatchford et al., 2009; Education Endowment Foundation, 2015). TAs can also provide benefits to pupils with special educational needs when they are appropriately supported to do so (Carroll et al., 2017). 

A TA’s role is different to that of the teacher. You should work together respectfully but remember that as the teacher, you should take the lead. For a TA to be most effective, they should work as part of a team with the teacher, so that they supplement the teacher’s work rather than replace it. It is your role to prepare and brief the TA about individual lessons. TAs are often able to spend more time than teachers getting to know the pupils they work with, so they have knowledge that can be used in planning (Carroll et al., 2017).

Support staff may work more closely with SEND learners and in particular those who have an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan). There is sometimes a risk that students can become over reliant on the support they receive from a TA. You should work with TAs to create strategies and provide opportunities for pupils to work as independently as possible, which can have a positive impact on longer term outcomes.

There can be a temptation to allow TAs to support pupils with more complex additional needs while your focus remains on the rest of the class group. Students with SEND benefit greatly from high-quality input and the expertise of teachers and we must ensure that pupils with additional needs receive a healthy diet of time and input from the teacher and TA in their classroom.

Teacher quality matters most for the most vulnerable pupils. Teachers who are more effective overall tend to be even more effective at improving outcomes for pupils with low prior attainment, from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with behavioural difficulties.

Try this

Over the course of the week keep a log as to how much time you as teacher and your TA spend with SEND learners. Reflect on the balance of time you spend with different students/groups and ensure all students benefit from the adult support and expertise within your classroom.

We will look in more detail later at specific activities you can practise in your work with your TA and other specialist colleagues. For now, here are some initial suggestions for you to consider planning for.

RecommendationPractice
The teacher should prepare the TA for lessonsPlan time to briefly discuss lesson plans with the TA in advance of lessons. It would be useful to have planning meetings about whole units so that the TA has time to look ahead and read up on the topic. You could provide them with some source materials or places where they could do this. 

This should not increase your workload. Try inviting the TA to pre-existing planning meetings or give your prepared plan to your TA so that they can read it in their own time and come back to you with any questions. 
Focus the TA on whole-class learning outcomesMake sure the TA is aware of the learning outcomes of the lesson and give them specific tasks related to this. This could include them working with specific pupils in relation to the learning outcomes or circulating and supporting the whole class with reaching the learning outcomes.
The TA could support pupils with special educational needs Set up regular meetings with support staff to discuss personalised plans and strategies for pupils with special educational needs.
Make sure the TA has relevant understanding of the pupil’s strengths and weaknesses and time to prepare for the lesson. As the TA is usually able to get to know the individual pupil, they can use this knowledge to inform their planning. 
Ask the TA for input on designing learning activities, behaviour support plans and ensuring that the environment best meets the needs of an individual pupilSupport staff will regularly see things in the classroom from a different perspective so ask for their input to support your planning to ensure an inclusive, positive classroom for all. 
Ensure that your TA is included in and plays a key role in any meetings about individual pupils they support, such as Annual Reviews.
The TA could support improving literacy for all pupilsThe TA could have a specific literacy focus in each lesson and move around the room supporting pupils with this.
Use the TA’s expertise to identify pupils who need more support in lessonsThe TA could move around the class whilst pupils are working to identify those who need more support from the teacher.
Rotate supportAlternate support for particular pupils or groups of pupils from lesson to lesson or week to week between teacher and TA. The teacher should always spend time with the least able pupils in the class to teach the core concepts, knowledge and skills whilst the TA can address a specific focus such as literacy, exploring a common misconception or reinforcing an idea.
The teacher should ensure they spend equal time with pupilsThe TA could work with different pupils at different times so that the teacher can support all pupils in the class equally.

Working with other professionals

Many other professionals work in schools. Developing effective working relationships with these colleagues is a way you can make a positive contribution to the wider life of the school, helping to create a sense that as a community of professionals you are working together to improve the lives of all pupils. Working with other staff in school can also lead to positive effects on teachers’ job satisfaction and decreases in stress and workload (Blatchford et al., 2009). Support staff and other specialist colleagues have valuable expertise, which you can draw on and learn from to help you improve your teaching, whether this is working with particular pupils or developing your teaching.

The SENCO is in a classroom
The Pastoral leader is standing next to a sofa and a water-cooler
The careers adviser is sitting at a round table speaking with a student who is looking at their laptop
The librarian is standing in front of some bookshelves
The Science/D&T/Art/ICT technician is preparing equipment in a laboratory.

Remember 

The time you spend building effective relationships with parents, carers, families and specialist colleagues will pay you back. You will:

  • Gain improved knowledge of the pupils you teach
  • Develop better behaviour in your classroom
  • Be a more responsive, adaptive teacher
  • Build more positive relationships with pupils
  • Feel more like a true member of the school community

References

Allen J.P., Pianta R.C., Gregory A., Mikami A.Y. & Lun J. (2011) An interaction-based approach to enhancing secondary school instruction and student achievement. Science 333(6045):1034‒1037 https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1207998.

Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Martin, C., Russell, A. & Webster, R. (2009) Deployment and impact of support staff in schools: Characteristics, Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction of Support Staff in Schools. Accessible from: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/12342/.

Carroll, J., Bradley, L., Crawford, H., Hannant, P., Johnson, H. & Thompson, A. (2017) SEN support: A rapid evidence assessment. Accessible from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/628630/DfE_SEN_Support_REA_Report.pdf.

Department for Education (2018) Schools: guide to the 0 to 25 SEND code of practice. Accessible from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/349053/Schools_Guide_to_the_0_to_25_SEND_Code_of_Practice.pdf. [accessed 25 April 2020].

Education Endowment Foundation (2015) Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Guidance Report. Accessible from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/making-best-use-of-teaching-assistants/ [accessed 25 April 2020].

Hobson, A.J., Malderez, A., Tracey, L., Homer, M.S., Ashby, P., Mitchell, N., McIntyre, J., Cooper, D., Roper, T., Chambers, G.N. & Tomlinson, P.D. (2009) Becoming a Teacher: Teachers’ experiences of initial teacher training, Induction and early professional development (Final report). Nottingham: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Accessible from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287991852 [accessed 25 April 2020].

PISA (2015) PISA in Focus: Do teacher-student relations affect students’ well-being at school? Accessible from: https://doi.org/10.1787/22260919.

Valdebenito, S., Eisner, M., Farrington, D. P., Ttofi, M.M. & Sutherland, A. (2018) School-based interventions for reducing disciplinary school exclusion: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. DOI: 10.4073/csr.2018.1. Accessible from: https://campbellcollaboration.org/library/reducing-school-exclusion-school-based-interventions.html.

Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., den Brok, P., Wijsman, L., Mainhard, T. & van Tartwijk, J. (2014) Teacher-student relationships and classroom management. In E. T. Emmer, E. Sabornie, C. Evertson, & C. Weinstein (Eds). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (2nd ed., pp. 363–386). New York, NY: Routledge.