As teachers, we want to do the very best for the young people in our care, and we work hard to support them and to build good relationships with each individual pupil. We know our classes incredibly well, but we aren’t the people who know them best. That is very obviously their parents and carers, so it seems only sensible that we work hard to foster positive relationships with whole families and that we work together to support the children.
But how do you engage parents and encourage them to take an active role in the education of their children? It’s a question that is asked over and over again, and there isn’t an easy answer.
Firstly, you have to understand that most parents and carers want to be more involved and would love to attend all of the meetings and sessions they are invited to. But consider why they sometimes aren’t able to. Why some parents don’t manage to make consultation evenings, or why you don’t see them at the door at the end of the day because they have to send their child to after-school club.
So many of our children’s parents are working. Working to support their families, working one or two or sometimes three jobs, working odd shifts and relying on family members for childcare. Often it’s not that they don’t want to be involved in the school life of their child, it’s that it’s almost impossible for them to be.
The cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on our families, as of course has Covid, and so many more families are struggling to keep themselves going and provide the basic necessities for their children. Every school that I know of are working tirelessly to try and support families during these difficult times and lots have even opened their own Foodbanks and second-hand shops to try and ease the financial strain where possible. But it’s an ongoing issue and we’ll continue to support in any way we can.
So what are we able to do to make parental engagement a little easier? How can we encourage more parents and carers through the door of our schools?
Try to be flexible where you can with parents’ evenings and meetings and offer a range of appointment choices. Obviously, you can’t always cater for everyone, but having parent’s evening options that are later on one particular night might just mean that you have more parental uptake. It might mean that working parents are able to attend afterwards and it makes it easier to take a shorter amount of time off rather than in the middle of the day. I know it’s not ideal for us as teachers, especially when you have your own family to get home to, but if we want more parental engagement, we have to offer more options.
Create opportunities for parents to come in and work with their children in workshops or family learning sessions. It’s a great opportunity for parents to spend time with their children and the teacher and to build positive relationships. It’s also a good way for parents to get to know what their children are learning and to look at things like teaching phonics or specific maths strategies so that they are more able to support their children at home. It’s a great way to engage parents, but as previously mentioned, there will always be some that are unable to attend due to work commitments. Our school invites not only parents, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings, or other family members to come along if the parent isn’t able to.
Find a variety of meaningful ways to communicate with parents and to keep them informed about what is going on in school. The more that parents know about what is happening in school, the more they will feel involved in their child’s education. Most schools have a newsletter of some kind which is so useful to parents to help them see what has been going on in school, but consider how you send this home to parents. Emailing information and letters can be a great way to communicate because people can open the information at their leisure and also access it from anywhere via their phones. Paper copies of newsletters and any other letters or reports should also be made available for any parents if requested as they may have an additional need such as dyslexia and might find it easier to read from a physical sheet of paper.
Does your school have a social media account? If it does, consider how this can be used to keep parents informed of what is going on in school and to communicate what is being learnt in school. I love following my child’s school on Twitter and seeing what the different year groups are up to. It’s also an easy way to reach a huge audience in one go.
Be approachable and build relationships with parents and carers as much as you can. Spend time on the door catching up with them in the morning or at the end of the day. That daily contact can go a long way to making parents and carers feel more comfortable about approaching you and asking any questions or voicing concerns. Show that you are really listening when you have conversations. Active listening is so important and sometimes parents just need to feel they are being listened to and heard. Then you can start to unpick things together.
Parents and carers are the most important people to the children you work with, and if you can work effectively alongside them and bring them on board, you’ll make huge progress in terms of children’s academic but also social and emotional development. They need our support just as much as we need theirs, so open up the communication where you can.