People can communicate in a variety of ways, ranging from informal or spontaneous conversations to formal communication in scheduled meetings. Maintaining effective communication between home and school can assist all parties in deciding reasonable adjustments for students with disability.
Communication is the exchange of information by speaking, writing, or other means. It can also be non-verbal, such as when a person conveys their feelings through a gesture, posture or facial expression.
Informal communication is a casual or spontaneous exchange that is more likely to occur in a social context. It relies on social norms to convey meaning and is therefore less reliable and less precise than formal communication (eg people communicating informally may assume they understand each other when they may not).
Formal communication is a deliberate exchange, typically used in meetings and written correspondence or between people who may not know each other very well. It relies on language conventions and customary codes of polite behaviour. Formal communication is a more precise and reliable form of communication that can be used to hold individuals to account.
Access and participation
Communication between students, their families and education providers is necessary for deciding reasonable adjustments for students with disability. Decisions about how to communicate and how often will depend on the student’s needs and the school context.
Communicating day to day
Informal communication is a brief, unscheduled exchange that can occur many times and in different ways. Informal communication between school staff and families can be face-to-face, by email or telephone, using a communication app, or through a diary carried between home and school by the student. Families and education staff can decide what mode of informal communication suits them best.
Planned (formal) communication
Formal communication is a less casual exchange between individuals or groups, and is usually face-to-face or in writing. Scheduled meetings and consultations are types of formal communication. Formal communication is often useful when planning and reviewing adjustments.
Formal communication can assist in reaching agreements on decisions and actions, particularly during a consultation meeting. Conventions such as an agreed agenda, appointing a chair of the meeting, nominating a person to take notes, active listening and respectful exchange usually make meetings more efficient and productive.
Formal communication is useful for:
discussing the likely impact of a major transition, such as enrolment in a new school, the start of a new school year, or a change of teacher
discussing issues that have not been addressed informally
bringing together a range of people to hear several perspectives on an issue
making decisions as a team.
When communicating formally, people are expected to consider how their words will be received and acted upon. It’s important to be clear in formal communications so that opinions are interpreted and recorded accurately. Individuals may be held to account for an opinion or decision expressed in a formal communication.
Effective communication – both informal and formal – is the key to identifying and planning reasonable adjustments for students with disability. Informal communication can help to build trust between home and school, while formal communication assists individuals to reach agreement and indicates who is responsible for carrying out decisions and actions.
Non-verbal communication is important too. Messages can be conveyed by tone of voice, glances, gestures, postures or silence. For communication to be effective, each party needs to identify and affirm what is being communicated when unsure.
Informal communication: In practice
Regular informal communication builds trust.
Examples of informal communication are
A teacher calls the student’s father to tell him his child has not eaten her lunch for the past few days, and suggests they discuss how to approach this.
A parent writes a note in the diary to say that their child had a seizure last night and may need more monitoring and assistance with tasks today.
A parent and teacher have a quick discussion after school about an upcoming school concert.
Formal communication: In practice
Complex issues may need a formal meeting.
Examples of formal communication are:
A school principal meets with two parents to discuss their child’s enrolment application.
A meeting is held between a student with disability, his parents, his teacher and a speech pathologist to discuss reasonable adjustments.
A teacher and a parent meet regularly every month to discuss and review adjustments for a student with disability.
A draft summary listing agreed decisions and actions from a meeting is circulated by the note-taker to all participants, via email, for confirmation.
When Nina’s mother learns that Nina dislikes ball games because she has been the last person selected for a team by the appointed captains, she decides to talk to the school. How might she do this?
Pop into the classroom and try to talk to the teacher before school.
An unscheduled visit may be interrupted and the teacher might not be able to give the issue her full attention.
Make a time to talk with the teacher within the next few days, to discuss Nina's participation in sport.
Scheduling a time to talk with the teacher ensures that the issue will be discussed promptly.
Request a meeting with the principal.
Although arranging a meeting with the principal may be necessary later, the first step would be to try to find solutions with the teacher.