Parents, we get it, we really do.
You’re busy, you’re frustrated and sometimes you feel like no one is listening, but is that a good reason to go on a public rant that may damage the reputation of someone else? Have you gone through the proper channels first? Social Media is a great way to get attention, but if we are not careful the attention can be negative. When it comes to complaints, a public statement should be the extreme last resort not a first.
A common issue in the world of parenting are issues arising between parents and between parents and schools or other bodies associated with a school (such as sporting associations). Misundestandings can see these issues play out online. It’s always important to remember that at the heart of the matter, all sides want the best for the children in their care.
When it comes to our children, especially in a school environment, it can seem at times that your suggestions, questions and concerns are falling on deaf ears. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t approached things in the right way, because we have already been in an emotional state. Many schools have adopted a proactive whole school approach to issues, particularly in regards to bullying, but some schools are still trying to do so behind closed doors (with best intentions). This can mean that their communities become frustrated, and so turn to the internet and social media to vent. What we are demonstrating to our children in this instance, is to not be respectful and that aggressive tactics and calling people out is acceptable. This may backfire later when children start bullying on line by publically voicing any thoughts they have about another student or a friend or family member.
At times we have disagreements and confrontations with other parents, school staff or other related associations. As much as it can seem like the only thing to do (and you may feel very strongly its the right thing to do), it is important to understand potential legal ramifications of taking a complaint into a public forum. Often we don’t consider that our Facebook profile are still a public forum even if we have privacy settings on.
Legal issues may include allegations which may be deemed as defamatory or harrassment or may also breach legislation in regards to privacy, bullying and anti discrimination. Remember that social media acts like a megaphone and amplifies words which can very quickly be shared and spread. Most schools will have policies in place for dealing with complaints and for outlining the use of social media. In Victoria for instance Concerns and Complaints are underpinned by the statement of Dignity & Respect “The Department is committed to providing safe and supportive work environments where diversity is valued and everyone is treated with respect, fairness and dignity. Discrimination, sexual and other forms of harassment, bullying, violence and threatening behaviour are unacceptable. All employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and other Departmental workplaces are expected to act accordingly. The Department (which includes schools) and school councils, will act to ensure that the safety, security, health and wellbeing of all employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and other Departmental workplaces are protected.” [2009 Addressing parents’ concerns and complaints effectively: policy and guides]. You can access the guide here.
Modelling respectful behaviours for our children can help them to develop great communication skills. There is an expectation of confidentiality in regards to complaint procedures. This is in place to protect both the person complaining and of course reputations. A side benefit of this is that we teach our children what confidentiality means. We should not confuse confidentiality with privacy.
Confidentiality is an ethical practice relating to the way information is treated. It involves an expectation of trust and that information will not be divulged outside of the terms of the way the information was provided. Confidentialilty is about data and therefore really is seen as an extension to privacy. It is important to learn the skill of confidentiality. There will be many times in our children’s lives, where confidentiality is expected (think medical records or financial records for example).
Privacy is our right to be protected and relates to people rather than data. At the same time we have to teach our children about when confidentiality may be misused, to protect them from predatory behaviours. Learning protective behaviours to help you have conversations with your children about “good” secrets and “bad” secrets and having a “safe adult” to turn to is something we all need to do (not telling about a surprise party is a good secret, keeping a secret about someone stealing or taking drugs is a bad secret). A handy resource on protective behaviours from Bravehearts can be found here.
What schools can do:
- Clear and transparent policies on how complaints should be implemented.
- Develop clear policies around the use of social media by the entire school community (staff, parents, students and associations).
- Ensure that the community is kept informed on actions taken by the school. This is important in regards to complaints around bullying etc (without breaching confidentiality).
- Encourage discussion and a whole school approach to a problem, don’t isolate parents or ignore them.
- Listen. Don’t undervalue the concerns of a parent. Parent’s don’t complain for no reason. Create an environment of nuturing, you may find there are other issues at play.
- Be aware that concern and fear are often the catalyst for complaint or action by a person.
- Offer support and an action plan.
- Have a nominated contact person in the school as the first point of contact.
What parents can do:
- Be respectful of the reputations of others, including any school or association. A complaint taken out of context can quickly escalate and cause unnessary harm.
- Please don’t single out staff and attack them verbally (or physically), approach the school following procedure. Ask to meet with the Principal or approach the School Council. Putting your complaint in writing to the school is also is important.
- Don’t confront parents of other children in front of other children, especially in the school yard or classroom. Model the behaviours you would like your child to learn. Teaching our children through our own actions how to negotiate and debate rather than attack is important (and its hard when things are emotional, especially when we have concerns around our child’s wellbeing in any way).
- When making a complaint, maintain confidentiality, courtesy and respect.
- Make an appointment. Show respect for the staff member’s time.
- Never harrass another parent or a staff member (including via internet or text). This is bullying and harrassment.
- If you don’t really like the style of teaching, seek to understand. Just as we all have different parenting styles, teachers have different teaching styles (this goes in reverse for teachers too!).
- Be respectful of school rules. You may prefer your child to have their mobile device on them all the time, but it can be a distraction. The school may have a rule that mobile devices are put away. Teach your child to respect rules and the needs of others by supporting their request.
- Seek understanding of the legal ramifications of taking information online.
- Don’t post online as a first resort.
- Please don’t ask to friend teachers on social media platforms. Professional standards recommend that teachers retain a professional relationship. It’s important to respect their privacy.
- When a staff member refuses a “friend” request don’t take it personally.
- When acting on an issue which your child has brought up, make sure you fully understand your child’s concern or complaint and get as much detail as possible.
You can find further suggestions from the Department of Education & Training here.
What Staff can do:
- Listen to the concerns of parents. If a parent requests a meeting, it may be appropriate to have a second staff member there, and invite the parent to have another person also. This helps to ensure clarity and avoid misunderstandings.
- Don’t blame or judge a parent’s parenting style. We all parent differently just as teachers have different teaching styles.
- Immediately halt any discussion if you start to feel emotional or the person you are engaging with is becoming emotional or aggressive.
- Engage with parents and other wider school community through appropriate forums such a monitored Facebook group.
- Do not friend parents or students on your social media accounts, use appropriate education department platforms instead.
- Retain a professional relationship and do not be afraid to say no to connection requests.
This is information is provided as general guidance only.
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