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Working with parents to support the mental health of our students

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and with the events of the last two years still fresh in everyone’s minds it feels more important than ever to focus on the mental wellbeing of our students. As a society, we are more aware of issues such as neurodiversity, social anxiety or specific learning difficulties, and the challenges these present for students.

The prevalence of technology in the lives of children at the moment has led to a number of questions regarding the way children are using technology, and social media in particular, in their day-to-day lives. However, if we step away from the concerns over social media for a moment, and look at the issue from a different angle, we can see that the way that technology is used in schools has a powerful role to play in managing some of the anxiety sometimes experienced by our students.

The role of the teacher is sometimes described as being in loco parentis, ie ‘in the place of the parent’. In other words, teachers can effectively be seen as ‘co-parents’ of the child; they take responsibility for the child while they are on the school premises. A common cause of stress and anxiety in children is when there is a lot of friction at home, or the relationship between the parents is an unhappy one. If we extrapolate this to include the home and school, then we have to work to ensure that the relationship between teachers and parents is a positive and collaborative one.

“Schools need to consider ways to bring the knowledges and cultures of home into ‘conversation’ with the knowledges and cultures of school, supporting children to draw on all the resources available to them to enable them to become resilient and resourceful learners.”1

Good communication is key to any relationship, so let us consider as teachers, how often do we actually talk meaningfully with parents? All too frequently, the main points of contact are through end-of-term reports or annual Parent’s Evenings. If anything takes place outside these particular windows, they are generally as a result of a particular concern and as such will tend to be stressful events.

If we can find a way to have regular, (ie daily, weekly) communication with parents then these issues will not have time to escalate and the stress levels for everyone concerned, (students, parents and teachers) should be lower. Ongoing communication and updates would also help to ensure that face-to-face meetings can be more meaningful, as the parents are already informed of their child’s day-to-day school experience.

However, we also need to ensure that regular communication does not become a burden for all involved; teachers should not be spending inordinate amounts of time emailing updates to the families of their students, and of course, parents do not want to be ‘spammed’ with emails from school. So what is the information that is important to parents? Generally, they want to know:

  • What is my child learning?
  • What progress is my child making?

All of this information is already available and being used by teachers and students as part of the teaching and learning process. Technology gives us the opportunity to make parents part of this ‘learning conversation’, without adding to the workload of everyone involved.

Traditional VLEs already provide a channel whereby course structures and learning resources can be made available to both students and parents, but this only covers the first part of the question - what is my child learning. This material needs to be supplemented with information about how the student is progressing if we are to provide parents with a proper picture of their child. A good technology solution will provide a platform whereby teachers can share the feedback they are giving students, quickly and easily with the parents of that student. This allows the parents to be proactively engaged in their child’s learning, rather than simply the course they are following. In his report on the impact of Parental involvement on pupil achievement, Charles Desforges is clear that,

'Parents’ understanding of their children’s progress is founded on rigorous discussion, honest reporting and swift contact when important information needs to be shared.'2

Crucially, the best solutions will do this in a way that does not add to the workload of the teacher, and allows parents to ‘pull’ information from the school at a time that suits them, rather than have it continuously ‘pushed’ to them. The more informed the parents are, the stronger the relationship between school and home will be, and as such less stress should be experienced by all parties. Put simply, if teachers and parents are able to collaborate easily, then the clearer the message that the student receives; there will be less chance of ambiguity and the more secure they should feel about the home/school partnership.

The transformational impact of technology on teaching and learning is already well documented. However, there are many other factors that can have an effect on educational; achievement, and the area of mental well being is becoming better understood. As the capabilities of Edtech continue to grow and evolve it will become equally important to consider the effect it might have on other factors affecting the learner. The home/school partnership is a key aspect in learning and we, as educators, need to know how technology can best be used for the good of all those involved in the teaching and learning process; students, teachers and parents.

"The relationship between home and school is a powerful influence on children’s learning and development, which digital technologies have the capacity to support and enhance."3


Further reading

1. Futurelab, Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies, 2010
2. Desforges, C., Abouchaar, A., The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review, 2003
3. Grant, L. Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies, 2010

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