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Personal and Professional Development through Reflective Practice
In this literature review, I will be exploring the topic of communication between teachers and parents within a special educational needs setting and how good communication can effect a child’s education positively. Educational research over the years has focused on how parent-teacher relationships can have an impact on child’s behavioural and academic performance. ‘It has been shown that effective communication between the home and school environments helps to improve a student’s academic achievement and behavioural development’ (Dubis, 2015).
I have decided to look into this topic as I believe there is room for improvement surrounding the communication between the teachers and parents at my school. I will critically discuss the ways in which the communication can be improved upon in this kind of setting, and how this can benefit the child’s learning and development. Evidence to support this will be provided by the ‘Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)’ which was developed by Vygotsky (1978).
I believe that communication with parents is very important. A good parent teacher partnership allows the parent to build trust with the teacher, it also means any important information can be provided that needs be and it also makes the parent feel involved in their child’s learning. ‘At a strategic level, partners must engage children and young people with SEN and disabilities and children’s parents in commissioning decisions, to give useful insights into how to improve services and outcomes’ (Department of Education, 2015:42).
Communication is commonly defined as ‘sharing emotions, thoughts, knowledge, news, and skills, or in other words, the process of creating common ground in the sense of emotions, thoughts and manners among individuals’ (Karaca, 2016). This definition can be expanded upon in relation to an educational environment. For example, in my school setting, we use different forms of communication to try and engage with the parents which I will explore further later. Communication can occur both one way and two way. One way communication refers to when teachers inform parents through a variety of sources about progress, activities or events. These sources could be letters, report cards, school website updates or newsletters. Two way communication refers to ‘interactive dialogue’ between teachers and parents. For good quality communication it is important to incorporate both one way and two way communication (Graham-Clay 2005).
I will reflect on my experience of successful and failed communication between teachers and parents whilst incorporating in relevant theoretical approaches from sociologists/theorists such as Brookfield (1995), Vygotsky (1978) and Bruner (1976).
A theory by Brookfield (1995) strongly supports the idea that good communication between a parent and a teacher positively affects a child’s learning and development. Brookfield suggests that we can look into a situation from 4 viewpoints; ‘our own, our colleagues, students, and also from perspectives derived from theoretical literature’. This theory is known as the ‘Reflective theory of Brookfield’s lenses’ (1995). His theory is based on the concept that we look at situations from different viewpoints and then communicate with others in order to improve. This theory suggests that if parents and teachers communicate and discuss the situation from their own viewpoints they can then improve the situation together; in this context, this would see an improvement of the child’s learning and development.
The concept of the ZPD model was developed by sociologist Vygotsky (1978). ‘The ZPD refers to the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner’ (Simplypsychology.org, 2018) This theory links in with the idea that good communication between teachers and parents can improve a child’s learning and development.
Bruner (1976) developed a theory known as ‘scaffolding theory’. He developed this after being influenced by Vygotsky’s ‘ZPD theory’. ‘Bruner believed that when children learn, they need help from teachers and other adults in the form of active support’ (Simplypsychology.org. 2018). If teachers and parents communicate and provide active support to the child this will positively affect their learning and development.
Bruner (1976) and Vygotsky (1978) emphasize a child’s social environment and both agree that adults, teachers and parents in this case, should play an active role in assisting the child’s learning. They both ‘emphasized the social nature of learning, citing that other people should help a child develop skills through the process of scaffolding’ (Simplypsychology.org. 2018). Whereas Piaget’s theory differs from this. He believed that children play the most active role in their learning and development. He did not focus on teachers or parent’s involvement. Bruner (1976) emphasizes the fact that the level of intellectual development is very much dependent on the quality of instruction given to them. These instructions are commonly given to the child by the adult in the situation. His theory stresses the role of the adult, teacher or parent, in educational development. This is the key difference between Piaget (1936) and Bruner’s (1976) theories as Bruner (1976) believes that the involvement of an adult in the learning process makes a huge difference whereas Piaget (1936) states that the child is the most active and vital part of the learning process. However, in relation to children’s development in my specific educational setting, it is important that the child has adult involvement in their education therefore agreeing with Bruner’s (1976) theory. The adult involvement comes from both the teacher and the child’s parents and therefore emphasizes the importance of communication between them.
Tassoni (2003) stated that ‘Settings that work well with parents and see them as equal partners are more likely to provide the necessary care and attention that will help children to fulfil their potential. An importance of communication is that parents are an invaluable source of information. Parents can provide teachers with information about the child that they might not necessarily already know for example information about equipment, resources or strategies that benefit the child. This relates back to Brookfield’s lenses theory (1995) as it shows how looking at situations from different peoples perspectives and then communicating about this can impact positively on a child’s education.
Parents have important information about their child that maybe the teacher may not know without communication between them, Terkin (2011) underpins this point; ‘Parents are considered to be the most important primary role models in their young children’s immediate surroundings and know their child the most’. Many of the students in my setting have different illnesses such as epilepsy and diabetes, which highlights another important factor in good communication as it is vital to know if the student had any seizures or any diabetic shocks whilst away from school. As practitioners we can learn a lot from parents in regards not only to their child’s health needs but also in regards to their learning styles. Parents are a child’s first input into their education and learning, from as soon as a child begins to make sounds and then begins to speak a parent is the person beings their child’s learning journey. This highlights why it is vital to have good communication with parents about the whole child not just about their needs or just about their education.
Another important factor relating to communication between teachers and parents is to enable the child to continue to learn and develop when they are out of the classroom and at home. ‘Communicating on matters relating to homework and passing on details of achievements and rewards can generate positive relationships between home and school and helps combat the negative image of schools contacting parents only when things go wrong’ (Burgess 2018). It is commonly suggested that students act well when parents participate in their schooling and motivates them to do well.
The White Paper published in 1997 called ‘Excellence in schools’ introduced the idea that there were three key points in improving the communication between home and school. (Burgess 2018). They were ‘providing parents with information, giving parents a voice and encouraging parental partnerships with schools’. Since this white paper was published, there has been many benefits which are ‘ultimately, allowing parents to monitor and take part in their child’s education means they can reinforce the standards set by the school, helping raise standards of overall attainment’ (Burgess, 2018).
Section 2 of the SEN code of practice 2001(cited in Tassoni 2003), refers specifically to the importance of working in partnership with parents and outlines clear principles that should be adopted. “Parents hold key information and have a critical role to play in their child’s education. They have unique strengths, knowledge and experience to contribute to the shared view of a child’s needs and the best ways of supporting them, it is therefore essential that all professionals actively seek to work with parents and value the contribution they make” (SEN Code Of Practice 2001 cited in Tassoni 2003).I believe this piece of legislation highlights the importance of parent-teacher partnerships with the sole purpose of befitting the child’s development, learning outcomes and well-being.
Educational research over the years has focused on how parent-teacher relationships impact a child’s behavioural and academic performance. ‘It has been shown that effective communication between the home and school environments helps to improve a student’s academic achievement and behavioural development.’ (Dubis, 2015).
Communication between teachers and parents in a school setting can be difficult. There are many reasons that can cause a breakdown in communication. Many of these reasons are sociological factors such as areas in where they live, hours of employment and social deprivation. Because of the nature of my school setting, children travel from all over London, some as far away as 2 hours. Many of these children are bought into school on organised transport so the parents do not regularly see the teachers making communication very difficult. Further to this, many parents of the pupils have English as an additional language (EAL) and we therefore sometimes have language barriers that stop us from being able to effectively communicate with the parents. (Schneider and Madelene 2017)
There are 7 key principles that the code of practice outlines (SEN Code of Practice 2001 cited in Tassoni 2003). The first principle is ‘acknowledge and draw on parental knowledge and expertise in relation to their child’. Parents know their child better than anyone and because of this have a great a deal of background knowledge.
A further principle is ‘focus on the children’s strengths as well as additional need’. Parents like to talk about positives and not just negatives surrounding their child.
Another principle is ‘recognise the personal and emotional investment of parents and be aware of their feelings’. Parents’ main target for their child is that they should be happy and fulfilled, for that reason it is very important that we consider how much of an effect something could have on them when speaking about their child.
The fourth principle is to ‘ensure that parents understand procedures, and are aware of how to access support in preparing their contributions, and are given documents to be discussed well before the meetings’. It is very important that as a teacher when involving the parents in their child’s education the parents understand all the paperwork and any procedures that need to be used.
A further principle is ‘respect the validity of differing perspectives and seek constructive ways of reconciling different viewpoints’. As a teacher we need to respect and accept that parents may have a different view or opinion on something and we need to think how we can work around it so both parties can agree which will help the child and the communication between the parent and teacher. Another principle is ‘respect the differing needs that parents may have, such as a disability or communication and linguistic barriers’. As mentioned before some parents in my setting have needs themselves which we need to be very cautious about as this can break down any communication. It is vital that you find out how best you can accommodate the parent so the communication is as good as it can be.
The final principle is ‘recognise the need for flexibility in the timing and structure of meetings’. To have the best communication with a parent we need to put ourselves in their position. We need to make sure that we are flexible with any meetings that we organise. We need to think about parents working hours and if it is possible to take time of work to attend the meeting or will the parents have to sort out childcare which in some cases could be quite tricky.
Further to what I discussed previously in my introduction I feel that there is room for improvement surrounding the quality of communication between the teachers and parents in my school setting. One improvement that could be implemented would be focused on parents that have Special Educational Needs themselves. The school could communicate with them by sending ‘Communicate In Print’ (Widgit, 2008) letters. Communicate in Print can be used to create newsletters and is used as ‘a basis symbol supported word processor’ (Better Living through technology, 2018). Although we have many areas of improvements in my setting we do hold different events from time to time such as ‘culture day’ where parents and students bring in their local cuisine and share it amongst each other. This also gives the parents and teachers a chance to communicate in an informal manner. This has been seen to be very positive for both parents and staff. Unfortunately these events are not held as often as they should be.
Another way in which communication can be improved is letters being sent out in the relevant language spoken at the student’s home. Although this could be time consuming I believe it would be a good way for parents to understand the letters and as mentioned, the partnerships are more important than ever because the students are not typically functional students so it’s vital that the partnership is there. Another way would be notes in communication books to help parents share their child’s day as our students have a variety of needs all with speech and language difficulties. Students can find sharing information with their parents challenging meaning they do not get the positive after school feedback typically developing children receive.
In this essay I have critically discussed the importance of communication, the breakdown of communication and reasons why it fails, quality of communication and ways in which it can be improved. As shown from the essay, the quality of communication between a teacher and a parent can hugely effect a child’s education and subsequently their learning and development. Both Bruner (1976) and Vygotsky’s (1978) theories emphasise the role of the ‘adult’ in education and development in comparison to Piaget’s (1936) theory which focuses solely on the child’s involvement. Bruner (1976) and Vygotsky’s (1978) theories agree with the statement that good communication between a teacher and a parent can impact a child’s learning and development positively which is the idea that I have discussed in this essay.
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