Published in ‘Gray Matters’ column in Suns in November 2016.


Communication can help or hinder organisations, including schools. Education plays a vital role in developing our next generation and the partnership between parents, teachers and students is of critical importance. This link can be sullied by poor communication.

Parents and teachers do not always see eye to eye on issues of child development. There may be disagreement on classroom priorities and teaching methods. There may be issues of parents believing that their children are being treated unfairly or bullied. The matter might be one of understanding a child’s personality. Teachers may also be keen to discuss matters with parents but are unable to reach them.

Without clear communication channels, things can be misunderstood and become distorted. It is at these times ‘whispers’ about teachers, classes and schools can start. Matters that should be discussed in a frank and free manner are allowed to fester and build. Molehills can become mountains of misunderstanding.

One of the difficulties in establishing clear lines of communication comes with the nature of the Territory. Many people know each other personally, meaning that complaints and concerns can be raised at an inappropriate level. Rather than parents going to teachers with concerns, they are more likely to contact the Education Department or email the Minister. In that context, the minister or the department should put it on the complainant to contact the school. Instead, a ‘ministerial’ file is created and a ‘please explain’ is served on the school principal.

The arrival of a ministerial means the school has to drop tools and respond. Resources have to be marshalled and priorities disrupted when a ministerial lands on the principal’s desk. Many matters could be managed with much less disruption if parents followed a procedure of going first to the teacher and then to the principal. Answers to queries would be offered more quickly because ministerial processes are long winded.

Ministerials can also impact on school principals because the first they know of issues might be in the form of a ministerial. The better situation for everyone, is for a parent with concerns to discuss these with the child’s teacher and then with the principal if the matter remains unresolved.

Quality communications build relations between the school and community. It is for the school and its council to convince parents that matters will be handled fairly if teachers and principals are the first port of call. It is for parents to follow this line of action rather than by-passing schools and going to the Education Minister.

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