First impressions last … at least that what my mother always used to say to me as I was growing up, and I have to to realise that she was right .. first impressions are so very important. School receptions are where first impressions are made and where people form their views of schools and how they are run, they are a little window into school life and the ethos of the school.
Having children at very different ages I spend my time at two schools , one a primary school and one a secondary school – both with very different receptions. The primary school reception is behind glass …. I call it the “glass of invisibility” (cue dramatic music!) … because often, despite being buzzed in through the reception door by the receptionist, I appear invisible to the people behind the glass! They just carry on with whatever task they were doing and make the poor parents wait behind the glass … its like being a child all over again. However once the glass of invisibility as been slid back our local primary school receptionists are lovely and helpful and always smiley. The secondary school has no glass of invisibility … and parents are not left waiting like naughty schoolchildren … however the receptionists are… well how can i put this …. grumpy !!! I have long thought that a reception area that encompasses both an open format and friendly staff would be the start of the holy grail of school reception areas!
So what would I like the school reception area to be like ? What would I like to see during the first of my 15 steps into the school environment ? What is the holy grail ? Well firstly – no glass of invisibility and friendly reception staff. I would also love to see staff introducing themselves “hello my name is …… how can i help you?” We have seen in healthcare how important the simple act of saying “hello my name is..” impact on care and patient experience through the amazing work of Dr Kate Granger’s #hellomynameis campaign, this should surely be extended to education?
In addition to all of this it would be lovely to have a nice seating area and not a school chair pushed up against a wall (reminiscent of sitting outside the headteachers office!) as parents we understand that teachers are busy and we may have to wait, giving us somewhere nice to sit helps to make the right impression and is next to no effort! Its fab to see the children’s school work up on the walls at reception, but it would also be great to see a parents notice board, why not capitalise on parents waiting around, share important events, information and resources for parents … even give a space to the school nurses maybe ??
I suppose what I am asking for is a little thought, reception is parents first impression of school life, it hugely reflects the culture of the school and if parents don’t feel welcome they wont feel included. Education, from my perspective, should be a partnership between school, child and parents … and that partnership starts at reception.
This is how I get school letters ….
…… of course that’s assuming I get them at all! Our teenagers pre screen letters and only hand me the “important ones” and the forgetfulness and disorganisation that comes with dyslexia means that our littlest child often fails to recall a letter has even been handed out. I used to think that communication systems within the NHS were archaic but at least in the NHS we rely on Royal Mail and not an 8 year old with dyslexia to convey important missives! Being both a working mum and having children in two different schools i don’t have time to hang around at the start or end of the school day and have virtually no communication or discourse with the schools … so a crumpled up letter in the bottom of a bag is as good as it gets.
So you can imagine how pleased i was when i heard that our primary school had a Facebook page and were starting a Twitter account. I thought, at last a method of communication that will not only reach me but also enable me to engage with the school, i could start to feel involved. However i was wrong …. Facebook posts and comments are only allowed through a moderation process, the page is run by the PTFA and they state “We decided before to keep PTFA group to PTFA business” so information disseminated is largely regarding “who wants to volunteer to help with the school fair” kind of thing and no information or discourse of real use to this mum. I had high hopes for the Twitter account, feeling that in such a wide open social media such as Twitter the school would encourage engagement and tweet useful info for parents … again i was a little disappointed! After some initial teething problems (which i shan’t go in to) the account has been described as “forward facing” and will not be used to engage with parents, but however if someone says something nice about the school the account may favourite that tweet!!! All i can say is #sigh !!
As busy parent I really have no clue about what is going on in the school and no way to ask, without picking up the phone (which in itself is often an adventure) … heres an example …. the little one came home and told me that its fancy dress on Friday at school and they have to go “in disguise” when i asked her what that meant she did not know. We had either had no letter, or i had seen no letter, i checked the bottom of the book bag and found lots of other letters but not one about fancy dress. What i really wanted to do was to Facebook or Tweet the school to ask ?? But i cant. As a parent I want to be able to engage with the school, yes i want to know the good broadcast “look at us” stuff that they are doing but i also want to be able to ask questions and I want to feel valued enough to be allowed to ask questions and get a response. It seems to me that some schools are missing the point and turning social media into unsocial media.
Communication is not a box to be ticked, communication is two ways, and if schools want parents support then they need to engage not broadcast. I think the saddest thing of all is the waste of the potential that is social media – as through listening to and engaging with parents schools can reduce complaints, improve and learn.
Ever being the one not to sit on my laurels i have set up an unofficial open Facebook group for parents ….. a place where we can share information and not feel like we are in the dark. Its early days and I guess time will tell if the school starts to listen and engage too … for now a few parents supporting one another is a huge leap forward, but i will let you know how it goes.
Thanks for listening
Hello and welcome to my first 15 steps blog post!
Ok, so I guess you may be thinking why “15 Steps Mum” ? And its a very good question indeed – well as a mum who is becoming increasingly frustrated with the educational system I find myself wanting to share some of the learning that has taken place in the healthcare system …. The Fifteen Steps Challenge was developed from the result of healthcare listening to a Mum who said “I can tell what kind of care my daughter is going to get within 15 steps of walking on to a ward” and this made healthcare realise the importance of viewing things from the patients and carers perspective. I often feel that if teachers, headteachers, and school governors could walk just 15 steps in the shoes of a parent then they would learn so much.
The concept of not only seeing things from another persons perspective but also to listen, to engage and to improve as a result seems to be one that schools are missing out on – where healthcare is making great strides to involve patients and carers in policy and decision, education still seems to be trapped in hierarchical systems that constrains and frustrates. I suppose that its the disruptive radical in me that has led me to circumnavigate these systems with this blog rather than continue to try to bang my head against the proverbial wall …. my learning within healthcare has taught me that Social Media and sharing within this space can lead to huge change and improvement, so my hope is that in some small way the 15stepsmum blog can do the same.
So here it is …. to anyone within education who wants to listen this is my 15 steps as a parent, this is what it is like from my perspective – Mum of 3, juggling home, children, work and life.
I like The Fifteen Steps Challenge and I would like to offer my own challenge to schools – Walk 15 steps in the shoes of parents, view things objectively from their point of view and learn and change …. then do it all over again from the perspective of a child.