Parental engagement is vital. You’d have a tough time finding a teacher who wasn’t aware of the benefits of parents getting involved in their children’s education.
Unfortunately, it’s really not that easy. Parents often don’t show any desire to take a more active role. There are a number of reasons behind this, from a lack of confidence, to a negative perception of schools formed in their school days, and sometimes just not knowing how or why they should get more involved.
Many of the barriers will take a long-term strategy to get past, but here are ten ideas you can implement today that could improve your home-school communication and, ultimately, increase parental engagement.
1 – Be Available
Schools must be run like schools, not like doctor’s surgeries.
There is very little that is enjoyable about a trip to the doctor’s, and the process of having to ring up, book an appointment, and wait for a time that is good for them (almost entirely regardless of how suitable it is for you) does not make those occasions any better.
You need to be available for parents. If Mr Johnston rings up the office asking to see you, don’t put him off until next week; see him as soon as you possibly can – sooner, even. Otherwise, he might think twice before expressing his concerns or posing his questions next time. The more open and available you are, the more likely parents are to come to you when they need you.
You want them to feel comfortable in the school environment, so make it a personal challenge for the rest of the year to make yourself completely available for parents, even if it means delaying a meeting for ten minutes.
2 – Remove Barriers
Don’t wait for parents to come to your classroom or office to see you; be as accessible as you can be. Just the thought of having to wait outside the head teacher’s office for a quick chat is daunting enough to put some parents off coming to see you.
Rather than expecting parents to come to you, go to them. I’m not suggesting that you start doing random home visits on the off-chance that Alfie’s mum might have something she wants to ask you. Just make yourself accessible. Stand by the gate for ten minutes at the end of the day. Welcome students (and parents) by the entrance to school in the morning.
Putting yourself out there and letting parents become familiar with who you are and what you do will make you far more approachable. The number of potential communication methods available to use is growing daily, and some of them are fantastic, but nothing quite beats human engagement.
3 – Stop Sending Letters Home
Not everything has to be communicated by letter. Whilst I appreciate that it is an easy and relatively cost-effective method of getting your message out to parents, it isn’t the only option.
The main issue with letters is that they do very little for parental engagement. They are very much a one-way communication tool. Sure, a parent could fire up a laptop, type out a reply, print it and post it to your school office, but it is unlikely. And, yes, they could read a letter and try picking up the phone to speak to someone about it – but again, you’re creating an extra step they need to undertake before they can get a hold of you.
If you want to engage parents, you need to make sure that the majority of your communications are easy to respond to; otherwise, your communication will only be one way, which alienates parents. Emails are a perfect example of this; they are quick, cost-effective, and allow parents to reply easily. But there are other communication channels that do an equally good job – maybe even better.
4 – Drop Them A Text
Let’s face it: texting is the communication method of our time. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s instant. It also enables parents to reply with ease, so it’s got an advantage over letters already.
There is an issue with texting, however. It can seem a little bit… intrusive. Whilst, sure, some people are happy to dish their mobile phone number out to anyone and enter it into every form they fill out online, at the same time, there are a number of people who are not so liberal with their personal information. Whilst there is little danger in them allowing their child’s school to text them with updates and news, they might prefer to reserve that capability for friends and family.
The real thing to consider here is the need to be accommodating. If texting would work for your parents, then go for it. If not, then you need to think of another way. If you want to encourage parental engagement, you need to stop telling parents how they should communicate with you, and start asking them how they want to be communicated with.
5 – Go Social
Have you added social media to your communication mix yet? Rather than posting one-way announcements on your social media pages and leaving it at that, open up a dialogue. It’s a fantastic opportunity for honest, open-ended communication with your students’ parents.
I saw a school’s social media account recently which replied to a parent asking about the P.E. uniform policy by telling her that she needs to contact the school office for queries of that nature. Again, you need to ask parents how they like to communicate, rather than telling them to communicate how you want them to.
If a parent reaches out to you in any way, even through Twitter, reply to them. It may not be your communication method of choice, but at least they are coming to you. Social media needs to be social; it’s in the name!
6 – Run Workshops
It might be quite daunting to suggest to parents that they could come in for after-school classes, but it often works. Run a workshop on I.T. skills, or run an after-school class teaching French to parents (and their children). Not only will it get parents involved, but it might help your students learn too.
Parents should be invited into school more reguarly than just once a term for parents’ evening. They need to feel like the school is there for them, both pastorally and educationally. I spoke to a science teacher recently who has parents in one evening a month to try some of the experiments their children are doing. It’s fun, it’s educational, and it helps parents to see what lessons in your school are like.
7 – Flatter Them
Parents can be an invaluable resource in lessons or extracurricular activities. You’d love to run a workshop to teach your students how to change a car tire, but no one on the staff would be able to demonstrate the method nearly as well as Daniel’s dad; he is a mechanic, after all.
So ask him. Flatter him. Tell him how much the students would benefit from him helping out. Psychology tells us that people respond more positively if they feel like they are needed. When was the last time someone asked you for a favour and you said no?
Similarly, if you teach in a multicultural school, tell your parents how great it would be if they could come in and speak to some of the students about their culture. It makes them feel important, it makes for an interesting PSHE lesson, and it gets parents engaging in the school and in their child’s education.
8 – Be Positive
All too often, parents associate a letter or phone call home with something negative. Why else would you bother to contact them? The reality is that if you want to increase parental engagement at your school, the last thing you want to do is to only relay negative messages to parents; just imagine how that could make them perceive the school.
You need to be positive. Don’t solely message home to report on misbehaviour or unexplained absences. Make sure you make an effort to let parents know about the good things, too: the excellent work, or the incredible effort their child has been putting in. Parents love it when they hear that their child is doing well.
9 – Let them know why!
It would be very difficult to find a teacher who hasn’t been told about the benefits of increased parental engagement in schools. Are the parents at your school as aware of this? Be honest and upfront. Tell parents why it is so important to you that they get involved in their child’s learning. Tell your students about the benefits too while you’re at it. If they understand why you contact them regularly, and why you try to involve them as much as possible, they may be happier to contribute and involve themselves voluntarily in their child’s education.
10 – Use Your Student Planners
Does your school use student planners? They’re not just tools for recording homework; or, at least, they shouldn’t be. Fully customised student planners are the ideal tool for regular, open-ended home-school communication.
Add a comment box for parental comments into the weekly section design, or even feature pages devoted to home-school communication. It’s simple, but it works. A well-designed student planner or pupil planner for primary schools can really help your school’s home-school communication.
Request a sample pack now if you would like to find out more about customised student planners.