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Partnering With Parents Part 4: Speaking Their Language

This is the final blog in a series about parental engagement. If you want to contribute your own experiences or thoughts on the topic, please get in touch. Alternatively, jump to the bottom of this page to find links for the previous posts.

Can you speak teenager? It’s arguably one of the most challenging languages to learn, despite the fact we have all, at some point, spoken it ourselves. Not only do children of this age have to contend with the jump from primary to secondary school, but they also have hormones increasingly playing a role in their temperament. Add that to the pressures of a modern life, and it’s hardly surprising that many parents feel that they are less likely to be engaged with their children at secondary school than primary.

While there is probably a fair amount of truth behind the trope that teenagers would rather not speak to their parents, there is research that points to the opposite being true. In a paper by Catherine Meenan, she says:

Goodall (2015) addressed a query about the likelihood of teenagers of a ‘certain age’ talking to their parents about homework, for example; “When we did research with teenagers up and down the country, we asked them what they wanted from their parents. With one exception, the other hundred said they wanted moral support… If we could shift that question from ‘what did you do today’ to, ‘what did you learn today’, because it is about conversation.”

Starting the Conversation

In the same way that a whole-school approach is effective for primary schools, consistent communication and conversation forms the foundations of an effective strategy for engaging with parents at a secondary level. Many of the barriers that centre around parents having struggled at school are often amplified once their child moves into a more structured-by-subject curriculum, and confidence in what they feel comfortable helping with quickly falls. Meenan highlights the key points in starting the conversation:

First and foremost, teachers can encourage parents to have conversations with their child in the home. The conversation needn’t be overly intellectual. This is the most important form of parental engagement.
– What and how schools communicate can be improved so as to make sure all communication is relevant to the student’s learning.
– The exchange of information needs to be bilateral; school to home and home to school.
– Communication needs to be more tailored, both in terms of who parents can talk to (named contact preferred) but also what is being communicated.
– Innovative examples include parental observations of lessons, videos, photography and using community spaces for events.

In its Parental Engagement Toolkit, School Home Support identifies six elements to be promoted by schools, the first being meaningful communications that must be two-way. This is particularly apt for parents of secondary-age pupils; by ensuring that they are a part of the conversation from the very beginning, there is a higher likelihood that they’ll actively engage with the school as their child’s education progresses. There are a number of ways that schools can approach this task, such as encouraging basic conversations at home between children and parents. As Meenan points out, this doesn’t have to be an intellectual discussion; even a brief chat about what’s on television can be a segue into more in-depth conversation.

As with most strategies aimed at maximising parental engagement, having a strong conversational approach requires consistency and a persistent attitude – particularly for hard-to-reach parents.

This series of blogs was put together to give a general overview of some of the main aspects of parental engagement, and we’d love to take the conversation a step further by hearing from you about your experiences and strategies around parental engagement. You can email us here, or comment below.

Parental Engagement Part 1 – What is Parental Engagement?
Parental Engagement Part 2 – Barriers to Engagement
Parental Engagement Part 3 – Primary School and the Whole School Approach