Parental engagement can be a very powerful tool in raising achievement. By working together with the school, parents can create a fantastic home learning environment and help to reinforce lessons learned in school.
Unfortunately, all too often, parents become disengaged with school and may even appear disinterested in their child’s education. This often isn’t the case, instead parents are often falling foul of common barriers which prevent them from engaging fully with the school.
Unpleasant memories of school
Many parents can be reluctant to engage with their child’s school because they have such difficult memories of their own time at school. They may be only a few years out of school and still consider it to be quite a daunting place. Open, honest friendly staff who communicate positively with parents can help to break down these barriers, though it can be hard to encourage the first step. Sometimes holding informal, fun events aimed at bringing parents into school can help to bridge the gap. Just make sure you make them feel really welcome when they get there.
Forbidden by children to ‘make a fuss’
Parents speaking to teachers can be a real no no for a lot of kids. They think their parents are stirring up trouble and making a fuss. The only way to get around this barrier is to slowly chip away at the entire ethos of school-parent relationships at your school until everyone can understand that regular communications between teachers and parents is normal and helpful.
Only get involved if there’s a problem
Many parents wouldn’t dream of contacting the school unless there was an issue with their child. Again, this barrier can only be broken down by trying to address the ethos of home-school communications. Parents need to be helped to understand that even when their child is doing very well, they can be instrumental in driving that achievement further.
Infrequent communication from the school
Many parents hear only very infrequently from the school – they might get sent home the occasional newsletter but in terms of actually hearing information about their child, it may be limited to one report and one parents evening a year. That’s not a useful dialogue. Think about how you can usefully increase the frequency of your communications with parents – and how you can make it a two way conversation.
Can’t get into school
Many parents work long hours and just aren’t available to get into school during school hours. Whilst they might be able to attend the occasional parents evening, this is unlikely to sufficiently engage them. You can get around this by allowing parents virtual access to your school – class blogs highlighting good work done by pupils or a regularly updated school website can be a great start.
Think it’s best to leave teaching to qualified teachers
A lot of parents, especially those who may have struggled in school themselves, just don’t see themselves as able to help their child to learn. This isn’t the case though. Even if their child gets to a point where they are learning beyond a level that their parents are comfortable with, their parents are still able to help them learn by asking challenging questions, testing learning and even just making sure they’ve had the time and space and encouragement they need to get their homework finished. Some schools run very successful programmes teaching parents how best to support their children – maybe this is something you could consider at your school if this is a particular problem.
Not enough information to act on
Even if you only communicate with parents infrequently, you need to ensure that you do it effectively. Often schools end up simply reporting – telling parents what their child has achieved. This is great from an information point of view but it doesn’t help engage the parent in their child’s learning. Instead, think about not only what a child has achieved but what their next aims are – can you think of any ways that parents could support this at home? If so… tell them explicitly.
An increasing number of parents do not speak English as a first language so they are unable to understand communications from the school. This can be a real issue and you should assess whether you are in a position to address this. When it comes to things like parents evenings you can invite some of your older students in to act as translators (this can be great work experience). You can of course invite the child themselves to act as interpreter for their parents – but I would advise an impartial third party is a better option if you want an honest conversation!
Don’t understand the jargon
Even those parents who are fluent in English can have trouble understanding some communications from the school. Always think carefully when communicating with parents and ensure that you don’t use the jargon you might use with your colleagues.
Parents’ evenings are a nightmare
Think back to your last parents’ evening. Did it resemble a cattle market? If not – well done. If so, you’re in the majority – but you really need to think with your colleagues about how the process can be improved and made less horrific for both parents and teachers. Smaller more focussed parents evenings can often be far more successful and enjoyable for both parents and teachers – though obviously this also means there are more of them. If you don’t want to extend the number of events, think of ways to get things really organised and stick to it. A strict appointment system can work. Oh, and make sure there is plenty of tea and coffee to go around and plenty of kids’ work on show to engage parents’ interest.
You can read about an inspiring video project that one school carried out in order to engage parents here.
Sharpen the lines of communication and try a very simple practical approach. With paper wristbands that you will have seen at swimming pools or Festivals you can communicate discreetly with all parents and sustain a consistent approach. For each child note down the 5 key daily activities on the wristband. All parents now have a chance to have an insight into what their child has been doing and to have an informed conversation at the dinner table. This clarity means that parents can ask their children about the day rather than rely on the child telling them . For children who need support with their behaviour you can agree a subtle coding so that the parent knows not just what happened but when it happened and what the child was doing. Try different colour pens to code it or small dots to indicate good behaviour and ticks to identify problem areas. The quality of the conversation at home, the ability to recall and the willingness to discuss are immediately enhanced.
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If you have any ideas about how to engage separated parents, please share them for a future post.