Do you remember when communications were limited to the post and wired telephones? Thankfully, those days are long gone, and settings now have many ways to communicate with parents. But are you making the most of these, or are you still relying on ‘snailmail’ and the odd phone call to get your messages across? We have some advice to improve your communication with your parents, to the benefit of all.
Why improve your parent communication?
Businesses need to be profitable and nurseries would not survive long if their expenditure persistently exceeded their income. Therefore, reaching out to parents of young children in your area is vital to get feet through the doors and income coming in. Parents are clients – they have the choice to go elsewhere if they are not satisfied with the service they receive. If they do that, making ends meet can be a precarious business, threatening the security of other children’s places, the jobs of the staff, and the ultimately, the ability of the setting to remain open.
But there are other reasons too. Settings have a statutory duty to safeguard the children in their care, which means understanding the issues that children face at home, and any barriers to learning they may have. Understanding the child within their cultural and community context can help address behavioural concerns too.
Improving communications between the setting and parents can also improve progress. Parents know their children best, so if parents are on board with an educational activity, and use it or practice it at home, the children will likely make more progress than if they did not. Good communication with parents can also help with transitions such as room changes or transition to primary school.
When parents feel that they are listened to and that settings understand them and their children, they are more likely to recommend that setting. If parents feel like they never know what is going on, or they receive information in a slapdash or unprofessional way, they will remember this too! And you can be sure that these are exactly the parents who are really good at communicating your shortcomings to the entire world!
The problems with communication today
Today’s communication methods are not without their issues, so think about:
- Your staff’s level of communication skills
- Any difficulties in getting to face-to-face meetings, especially for busy, working parents
- Language barriers
- Cultural barriers
- Literacy issues
- Reducing confusion caused by messages being passed on by others – the ‘Chinese whispers’ effect
- Ways to reduce the lack of inference clues such as body language or tone of voice, especially in social media and text messages
- Incorrect assumptions about who is the main contact
Ways to communicate
The table below lists a few communication methods that you could use in your setting. There is no rule to say settings should use them all, but the more channels you are using, the more likely it is that you will get your message across in an effective way.
Audits and goals
If you want to improve your communication strategy, start by auditing what you do and don’t do and then set yourself some goals. You should be specific and use SMART goals too. For example, you might want to ensure that all emails are answered within a set time period (e.g. 24 or 48 hours).
Or you could decide to issue a monthly/weekly/bi-weekly newsletter. Or perhaps use a bespoke tool such as Parenta’s Footsteps 2 software to inform parents of their child’s progress. Other goals could be to set up a podcast or monthly webinar, or perhaps just to translate your existing materials for a family whose first language is not English.
What to share
If you are trying to improve your communications, then think also about what you want to communicate and why. Can you legally share it or not? There are rules and laws about people’s privacy and you should have written privacy, data and GDPR policies to help you. Some things you might want to communicate include:
- Information articles and podcasts
- Good news and events
- Questionnaires asking for ideas or feedback
- Policy changes
- New staff appointments
Do your staff need training?
Communicating is something we all do, but not everyone is good at it. Some adults struggle occasionally with emotional intelligence issues and may say and behave in ways that are less than effective. Therefore, think about whether your staff would benefit from training. You might need to help them have difficult conversations with parents about children, for example. Other things that people may need training on include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Confidence in speaking publicly or face-to-face
- Writing support or spelling – dyslexia etc.
- What to say and how to say it
Below are some more ideas to help with your parental communications.
Before children start
- Ask parents what/who their preferred method of communication/person is
- Sort out language/accessibility/translation issues
- Do you need braille, large text or audio programmes?
- Have a marketing/information brochure available in print/electronic format
- Have FAQs on your website
- Publish a “What to expect on your first day” article or make a vlog
- Offer feedback after a trial/first day
- Smile and be proactive, saying hello and greeting parents in the playground/at the gates
- Be aware of your mood and stay professional at all times
- Listen first, then speak
- Think “win-win” and offer solutions rather than just problems
Electronic and other forms of communication
- Set up an outside and inside bulletin board – weatherproof messages and information that are easy to read/see
- Set up a parental forum for discussions
- Invite parents in for informal days and social events
- Post regularly on social media/messaging apps to keep in touch with your families
- Send work or ideas home about what you’ve been doing to keep parents involved