Parent engagement is central to education. They are the ones who will continue teaching their children long after they are out of the classroom. The cooperation between parents and teachers will positively impact the effectiveness of any child's education.
"When parents and schools interact closely together they share information among themselves and this information-sharing helps families to better understand the schools and schools to understand the families." - Bojuwoye, 2009
Never before has engaging parents been more of a challenge. This isn't because parents no longer care or want to be involved, it's because reaching parents today takes more than sending home a letter, making an occasional phone call or holding a parents' evening. It takes creativity and flexibility.
There are so many ways a school can communicate with and involve parents. It's important to remember that everyone is different, with different time pressures and considerations; so any school's methods of communication should reflect that rich diversity.
Encourage your parents to visit your school
Sometimes, due to work commitments, it's difficult for parents to make specific dates or times for meetings and school events. Parents who feel cut off from the school are prepared to believe the worst and be the most critical. It is with these parents that school leaders need to work the hardest to make the shift from the purely critical to the critical friend. This critical friendship will help the school to raise their expectations and are concerned about the school because they want the best for their children.
Be present and listen
If you know the parents of your students are attending a particular school event; whether it's a football match or netball game - it's a good opportunity to sit and talk to them. By approaching parents in a more informal setting, outside of specified parents' evenings; you will be able to get to know them on a more personal level. This will make them more likely to show their concerns or appreciations of the school without feeling the pressure to do so.
Make the effort, word travels fast
By making the extra effort you will end up building a good rapport with parents. When the parents know who you are and that you can be relied upon, word travels fast. Parents will tell other parents and soon your reputation as a great teacher will be established. Once again, this will make parents more likely to come to you if there are any concerns, as they will be confident in your competence.
Request feedback and get ideas
Get to know the wants and needs of your school's parents by conducting a stakeholder analysis to help determine the preferred methods of communication within your pool of parents. However, there is always one important thing to remember here: people don't know what they want until you show it to them. This means you could very well be getting lots of negative feedback regarding your current communication efforts, but don't be deterred. Take this as constructive criticism, identify the weak points and key issues (is it time, accessibility?) and come up with a solution that directly addresses these issues. If you use an idea that came directly from a parent - close the feedback loop and let them know!
Communicate in all languages
If your school has a particularly high number of parents from a specific nationality it might be worth putting on group meetings in their first language. Talk to these parents and determine what they might find useful, or if they already feel they are getting the information necessary how can it be improved?
Have a social media presence
Many parents find social media channels to be a useful method of communication between themselves and the school. Be smart and more targeted with what you are communicating, who your are communicating to and when your are going to do it. If parents only want to flick through something in the 5-minute ad breaks between their favourite TV shows in the evening - a social media feed is perfect for them!
Set up a blog
A blog is a perfect platform for a school to communicate with parents. By creating blogs on what is going on within each year group, parents won't have to scroll through loads of irrelevant information, not intended for them. Instead, they can choose the year their child is in and read blog posts relevant to them. As well as covering the curriculum and learning activities, use the blog on school trips to keep the communication open between parents and the children.
If they don't come to you - go to them!
We are not suggesting that you go and visit every parent at your school because that would be incredibly time-consuming and unsustainable. However, if you have identified a parent who struggles to make it to parents evening or repeatedly misses meetings it might be helpful to suggest an alternative. Find out what times would work best for them. You might find that parents working night shifts can be available over lunchtime. It's important that the school makes the effort to identify the key issues their parents may have and come up with viable solutions. If you have made every effort to accommodate different lifestyles and pressures, then it's up to the parents to fulfil their side of the partnership.
Give parents meaningful roles within the school
Provide the opportunity for parents to get involved in the school decision-making process. Parents talk to parents about their joys or concerns with a school. Having parent governors or key influencers will create a tangible connection with the school and the rest of the parents.
Emphasise the value of parental involvement
If a parent is unaware as to how their involvement is to their child's education, they will be less likely to spend time on it. By informing parents specifically about how the partnership between the school and themselves will directly affect the quality of their child's education they will be more likely to get involved.
Invite them in to speak
In order to give children more purpose and meaning behind their education and learning, inviting parents in to talk about their careers and their journey is a perfect way of putting school life into perspective. It will also help the kids to think about what it is they might want to do later in life and open up their minds to the countless amount of opportunities and job paths that are available for them to take. This isn't just beneficial to the kids, but also to the parents so they can have more involvement in school life.
Ask for help
At the end of the day, the parents will know their child more than any teacher. Try and turn the tables around and call up the parent and simply say "I'm worried about [name]. You know your child far better than I, what can I do to help?".
Bojuwoye, O: 2009. Home-school partnership: a study of opinions of selected parents and teachers in Kwazulu Natal Province, South Africa, Research Papers in Education: Policy and Practice.efforts with parents.
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