When it comes to student success, improving parental engagement is key. But building strong parent-school relationships is far from easy. Barriers to communication between parents and teachers can be tricky to overcome.
Effective parent-teacher communication provides multiple benefits to your school, teachers, and parents. Especially when it comes to communicating students’ performance.
A two-way flow of information helps staff better understand students’ problems. And better support their learning.
In short, research shows that effective parent-school communication can positively impact student achievement. This means having a solid communication strategy in place is crucial.
But communication barriers between parents and teachers can stand in the way of achieving this – whether they're school or parent – related.
To help your school improve parent-teacher communication, we’ve listed some of the main communication barriers below. And, more importantly, some solutions for tackling them head-on.
5 common barriers to communication between parents and teachers (and ways to overcome them)
Barrier 1: Parents’ work demands and lack of time
Time – or lack of – can affect parental involvement. Work commitments and busy lifestyles can limit parents’ ability to participate in their child’s school life.
Inflexible work schedules can prevent many families from attending parents’ evenings and other school events. For time-strapped parents and carers, participating in PTAs or volunteering at school is impossible.
Additionally, for many families, taking time off work isn’t financially viable. Parents working in hourly-rate jobs simply can’t afford to take time out to come into school. And many parents or carers work night shifts or are unable to access their emails and take a call during working hours.
Coming into school can also be tricky for single parents who are unable to find childcare or can't afford it. Not to mention, parents who are home-bound due to long-term illness.
All of these factors can make it hard for families to participate in school life.
Ultimately, every family's situation is different. This means when it comes to maintaining effective communication; flexibility is key.
Pointers to consider:
- Consider running an online survey. This can help staff determine each families’ preferred method of contact and their availability. Free online survey tools like SurveyMonkey can help you collate responses and turn feedback into action.
- To better accommodate parents, consider taking your review meetings and parents’ evenings online. With virtual meeting tools like SchoolCloud Parents Evening, parents and staff can meet remotely via video call – at home or on the go.
- If you haven’t already, consider investing in a school app for parents. With apps, such as Schoolcomms’ parent app, parents receive instant updates directly to their mobiles. No more scouring their inbox – or their children’s rucksacks. And staff feel the benefits too. Teachers can track delivery rates and alter the primary method of contact for each family accordingly.
- Quality over quantity. Consider scaling back the volume of communications you’re sending parents. Sending too many emails may affect open rates and parent responsiveness. Try to avoid important information getting lost in the noise.
Barrier 2: Cultural differences
Cultural differences can also have a significant impact on parent engagement and communication. Views on the role of the family in education can vary across cultures. As such, attitudes towards parental involvement can also vary.
Research shows that parents from certain cultures tend to avoid getting involved in educational decision-making owing to their respect for teachers. Some families may not see it as their place to be actively involved in their child’s education.
In such cases, low levels of parental involvement can be attributed to cultural differences. And not a lack of interest or engagement on the family’s part. Being mindful of this can help prevent miscommunication.
Pointers to consider:
- Transparency is key. Communicating your expectations about family engagement early on can strengthen parent-school relationships. And avoid miscommunication.
- Equally, asking each family how they’d like to be involved and what they need to support their child’s learning is just as important.
- Where possible, try and facilitate cultural representation outside of the classroom. Perhaps you could invite presenters who speak different languages to lead assemblies or to speak at volunteer events.
Barrier 3: Parents’ level of English language proficiency
Interacting with the school and participating in school activities can be daunting for parents. Especially those with English as an additional language (EAL). A lack of confidence can deter such parents and carers from getting involved in their child’s education.
What’s more, school communications, like newsletters, emails and text messages, can become inaccessible. This can further alienate EAL parents and carers with limited English proficiency.
The effect of language barriers extends beyond the classroom, particularly when it comes to homework. While parents may have the ability to complete assignments, they might struggle to understand instructional cues. For these parents, supporting at-home learning can be challenging.
Pointers to consider:
- By working closely and openly with families, your school can determine the best way to facilitate parent communication when English is not a parent or carer’s first language.
- One way to improve parent-teacher communication in such cases is to allow parents to communicate in their native tongue. An obvious first step would be to ensure an interpreter is present in any parent-teacher meetings.
- With teachers already strapped for time – never mind resources, manually translating documents isn’t always viable. Finding a reliable translation service could be a more suitable option.
- Invest in a school communication app with translation features. Many parent apps have this functionality. Consider putting the question to prospective parent app providers to be sure of this.
- Simple is best. Try and avoid using educational jargon, idioms and figurative language to prevent miscommunication.
Barrier 4: Previous negative school experiences
Negative school experiences can dent parents’ confidence, preventing them from playing an active role in their child’s school life. They may feel distanced, alienated, and even mistrustful of teachers and schools.
In this case, perhaps some parents who may have struggled at school may lack the knowledge or confidence to support their children with at-home learning.
Pointers to consider:
- Getting to know families and parents who may be low in confidence is important. Try and encourage open dialogue during review meetings or parents’ evenings, reassuring them that your goal is to work collaboratively.
- Your school could also provide some resources to assist parents in supporting at-home learning. To do this, you could brief parents on homework tasks using multiple formats. These could include a short video, visual instructions or sample answers.
Barrier 5: Limited access to technology
Home schooling has been a challenge for every parent during school closures. Even more so for those without adequate access to digital devices or high-speed internet connection. In short, the pandemic has only exacerbated the digital divide.
Ofcom reports that about 9% of children in the UK - between 1.1 million and 1.8 million - do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. And more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.
Without support from businesses and charities like The London Grid for Learning, disadvantaged families can’t access free learning resources and attend online teaching sessions.
Pointers to consider:
- Bridging the digital divide presents its own challenges. But there are some simple adjustments you can make to encourage inclusivity. One such way is to reduce the need for home connectivity.
- When selecting instructional materials, try and ensure all materials can be downloaded to and stored on mobile devices. This way, families can access the material without an internet connection.
- Asking students to use information that's only available online may leave some students at a disadvantage, so, where possible, try removing the internet-dependent component of an assignment.
- Maintain paper-based communication to ensure those without access to emails and schools apps can still receive updates.
In summary, bringing parents and teachers together as one often means finding solutions that work for everyone involved. To achieve this, helping parents and teachers establish strategies that work for them is crucial.
When it comes to maintaining effective communication with families, there is no ‘’one size fits all’’ solution, getting to know families’ individual needs and expectations is key.
We appreciate it may not be viable to get to know every family in your school. Your priority should be getting a strategy for parental engagement in place that suits the majority of your parents. This will help you to identify the parents who aren’t engaging. And give you the time to tackle these cases on a one-by-one basis.
While barriers to communication between parents and teachers can prevent effective communication, there are simple steps you can take to dismantle them.