When I first became Head of Middle School, I was keen to put relationships with our community at the heart of everything we did. I noticed straight away that although there were some strengths, our relationship with our parents and carers fell well short of what I wanted and there was a lot of work to be done.
Learning from the work at Surrey Square Primary School, our organisation moved towards becoming a values-based school. Collaborating over weeks and months, our entire staff came together to decide what these values would be. Overwhelmingly, the staff came up with ‘Community’ as something everyone wanted as a value. It was clear that we were all looking for something better when it came to the relationship between the school and the community which it served.
When lockdown happened our school became something new. It became more than just an institution for education, it became a hub for our community. Our IT department worked tirelessly to get devices out to families who needed them. Our Inclusion department and wellbeing teams pulled together food donations and care packages. Our staff raised thousands of pounds to donate directly to families in need. Our pastoral teams checked in with our students on a regular basis. Our music department went above and beyond, organising hundreds of 1:1 instrumental lessons and delivering the instruments to those who needed them. Our Headteacher modelled incredible openness, sending video messages out to our community each week, holding online Q&As and offering support every step of the way.
Our teaching staff mobilised from near and far, offering genuinely amazing remote learning. They did something more than just teach and engage – they opened a window between the worlds of school and home.
From watching my team do this so powerfully, I have realised how important it is to our values of ‘Community’ and ‘Openness’ to ensure this window remains open as the world gets ‘back to normal’. Here are 3 powerful ways that opening this window has changed the relationship between school and home.
Parents can see and hear how we work with their children
Online lessons allowed parents and carers to see the way staff foster relationships with their children first hand. Often, especially in cases where a particular student may find education difficult to access and may be disruptive in the classroom, parents and carers are called and communicated with for the peaks and troughs of the week. They may get a phone call or email celebrating a positive, or be called in for a meeting if things have not been so successful that week.
What that parent or carer misses out on is seeing the interactions, the support, the language, the ‘bread and butter’ of the relationship nuances that staff work tirelessly to form, both deliberately and as second nature as a teacher. Within the first few weeks of the lockdown, some parents who had a previously strained relationship with the school had contacted staff to talk about how impressed and thankful they were for all that went into supporting their child and helping them learn.
This is something I want to continue as we begin the long road back to ‘normality’. The creative opportunities which technology provided over lockdown should be capitalised on back in school to continue this link. While parents can’t come on site to start with, they can listen in to lessons. Moving forward from this, collaborative home/school projects could happen in real time in class with children working alongside their parent virtually. Further to this could come the building of a wider community of learners, with parents using the schools’ platform and communication networks to set up and run a patchwork of workshop experiences by and for our community.
A genuine spirit of community
The community spirit that united the world as we navigated our through the pandemic is definitely mirrored in our school.
Early on, the school ran a fundraiser for families hardest hit, with almost £10,000 raised by staff and the community. Parents and carers got in contact with us with donations of food, necessities and to offer their time to help out.
As online learning took off, they brought their expertise to ‘the window’ of their child’s device. They joined in during coaching sessions, they supported their child’s learning by helping with work… or just holding the camera! They emailed staff with resources, suggestions, offers and ideas to enrich our learning offer. They asked for our feedback on their own work from home and shared their feedback with us. They played along with quizzes and joined in the learning activities alongside their child. The connection and collaboration with our community which grew from lockdown should definitely remain a priority to further cultivate when schools reopen. I have realised just how important it is to see our community as equal partners in this relationship – we can, and should, learn from each other.
The home-school connection has heightened expectations for what young people can achieve.
The standard of the work that students produced during lockdown, in all aspects of our curriculum, was impressive. Those students whose parents have also engaged and supported the learning have helped us to create a very rich, wrap-around learning experience for children while they have been learning at home. Kacper was supported in creating his ‘Lockdown Masterchef’ entries by his parents, who filmed and photographed his processes as he provided commentary on his work. The outcome looked like it could be featured in a lifestyle magazine!