Ways schools can share information with parents of children who have vision impairment

Post date: 
Thursday, 6 April 2017
Woman smiling looking at laptop screen

It’s important that schools and parents of children with vision impairment communicate regularly to make sure the child is reaching their full potential, but with so many methods to choose from it can be hard to know which one will work best. Ella High, Editor of Insight, asked two schools for their advice.

Darren Rowan, Team leader at RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning's children's home in Coventry, talks about how to build a positive relationship with parents and the pros and cons of different communication methods

Like most professionals who work with children, I recognise the many benefits that regular communication with parents brings to their child’s independent growth and development. Parents are able to provide invaluable information regarding their child’s background in regards to developmental milestones, healthcare and dietary needs, as well as likes and dislikes. Another essential benefit is the safeguarding of their child, by being able to recognise any attachment or emotional difficulties their child maybe displaying that could show signs of potential abuse.
 
At RNIB Pears Centre, our 52-week children’s home and school provides individually-tailored education, care and therapies to children and young people with vision impairment, who also have multiple disabilities and complex needs. At our Centre, we appreciate the importance of regular communication as we recognise that parents have not only permitted us to develop and maintain their child’s educational progress, but entrusted us to provide them with a safe and secure home that can meet their basic physical needs.
 
Many would assume that communicating effectively with parents is a straight forward process; unfortunately this is not always the case.

Starting off on the right foot

To begin, we must achieve positive professional relationships built on mutual respect in order to assume that the information we provide parents will be acknowledged and valued. I would like to say that once this happens, communicating with parents can occur with no difficulties or reservations, however in my experience there will always be parents who become very defensive when receiving any feedback regarding unwanted behaviour of their child and may see it as a direct criticism of their parenting. Although this can be challenging, it is important to recognise that this is not personal. It could instead stem from the parent’s own insecurities that their child is developing stronger bonds with staff than themselves, or they might be experiencing feelings of guilt for making the decision to place their child into care.
 
There is no denying that there are challenges to communicating with parents, but the advantages in doing so are still paramount.

Written vs oral communication methods

Written methods, such as homebooks (a weekly diary) and LAC reports (provided by the care home as part of a Looked-After Child review), have the distinct advantage of being precise, reliable and leaving a clear audit trail that can be referred back to. The disadvantages are that the process is slow, does not allow for instant feedback, can be impersonal and relies heavily on the skills of the person writing the letter.
 
Oral feedback on the other hand, such as face-to-face contact and telephone calls, has the advantage of being faster, is immediate and provides the opportunity to observe non-verbal clues. The disadvantage is that information can be misinterpreted or easily forgotten, there is no audit trail to refer back to and it can also be an intimidating process when having to raise difficult conversation with parents.
 
Although the disadvantages mentioned are concerning, we can take gratification in knowing that we live in an era where enhancements in technology is ever changing, including with communication tools. It is these enhancements that are helping to solve some of the problems that written and oral communications present.

Digital communication methods

Email allows written communication to be shared immediately and provides the opportunity for faster feedback too. Attachments, such as photos, can also be incorporated into the message sent making the information shared more personal. The use of Skype has brought about additional benefits to oral communication by continuing to allow visual conversation to take place while reducing the risk of feel intimidated.
 
In conclusion, whilst we are specialists in our individual fields with regards to child development, it is the parents who are the overall specialist in their child. This makes their feedback imperative and as such I believe we should continue to take full advantage of technology to continue to use this open dialogue.
 
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact Darren directly at: [email protected]
 

Chris Stonehouse, VI Resource Base leader and QTVI at World’s End Infant and Nursery School in Birmingham, talks about Tapestry, a web-based resource that has revolutionised how they share information with parents

Effective communication between teaching staff and parents is vital for any child, but for children with vision impairment (VI) it is even more important due to parents needing to support specialist skill development at home, for example learning braille or building independence. This can be particularly difficult at World’s End because pupils come in by taxi from across Birmingham, so parents aren’t available to have those daily conversations in the playground or find it harder to come in for assemblies.
 
The Resource Base at World’s End supports nine pupils with VI from Reception to Year 6. They are all fully integrated into mainstream classes and supported by specialist teaching assistants. As a qualified teacher for children and young people with vision impairment (QTVI), I lead and support the work we do with these pupils. In the past, we had always relied on the home-school diary to keep parents updated, but while this is effective to share key information, it does not share the child’s day-to-day experiences in detail.

Introducing Tapestry

The Nursery at the School uses a web-based resource called Tapestry to record observations on all the children and their learnings. Staff can take photos of a pupil doing an activity and post them to the child’s online learning journal, which can then be shared with their parents. This seemed an ideal platform for us to use to communicate with our pupils’ parents, so we organised an account for the Resource Base.

How it’s used

We capture photos of the children at work, play and in skill sessions such as mobility or self-help, and post them onto their individual journal with an explanation of what they were doing. Parents (and any nominated relatives) then receive an email saying something has been posted and they login to the website to view the post of their child, where they are able to provide feedback and upload photos of what they have been doing together at home. Tapestry also acts as a record of all the activities that we have been doing with pupils, which can be used to provide a summary of their time at school or as information for an inspection showing the additional value of a resource base provision.

Safeguarding

Parents had some initial concern over the security of the site and who would have access to the pictures of their children, but were assured that the program adheres to very high security standards. It can also be set up so that any post by a teaching assistant has to be checked by the account manager before it is sent. We only post photos showing just the relevant pupil, but if there are multiple faces on the photo, the photo will be automatically blocked from being published anyway. Tapestry costs about £30 a year given the small number of pupils we are using it for, and I believe it is good value for money considering how much easier and more effective our communication is now with parents.
 
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact Chris directly at: [email protected]
 

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