Engaging Parents

As schools are becoming more embedded in their local communities, partnerships become more critical.  There are growing examples where parents and local experts are contributing to the learning agenda in practical ways.

As I said in a previous post, it is understandable that parents often feel left behind in the learning journey (probably symptomatic of their experience of an industrial model of schooling in which teacher was seen as expert).

As all educators know, parents can be the harshest critics or the greatest supporters.  It’s not always easy to maintain healthy partnerships with parents when there is a divergence of views and so much angst around aspects of the learning agenda.  As Frances Manning says, the focus should be on process not packaging!

So why isn’t always about process?

In Visible Learning, John Hattie says that the inability of parents to ‘speak the language of learning’ can be a major barrier to student achievement.

If we are adopting new ways of learning and teaching, then perhaps we need new ways of engaging parents. If we were to develop some universal protocols then my top five would be :

1. engagement with parents from the beginning

2. regular community forums and walk-throughs (parents need to see learning in action) – what about the use of blogs as a way of educating and engaging  parents in the conversation

3. involve students in giving feedback to their parents on their learning
4. demonstrating the difference new approaches to learning are making
5. finding ways of celebrating good learing and teaching
6. ensuring an outlet for parent feedback

Learning in today’s world is a journey, not a destination. As we build on what we know works and respond to teacher ingenuity and innovtions from their own learning we need to ensure that the whole school community is on the same journey!


11 thoughts on “Engaging Parents

  1. This post is quite timely for me as I am about to work collaboratively with the parent community of my school to develop their mission and vision statement. In doing this I have suggested that they follow the intent set by the school i.e:
    – Providing Catholic Education
    – Developing and Delivering Authentic Curriculum and Pedagogy
    – Embracing the Challenges of Education in the 21st Century.
    Obviously the role of the parent community will be different to that of the teaching community. Theirs, I am currently thinking, will be one of support within an informed framework for decision making rather than just being a fundraising body.

    In aligning the parent community my aim is to ensure that they are a part of the process of development within the school. The education and learning of the parents will be built upon as the school works to identify the indicators of success.

    I would be interested if anyone else has developed something similar with parents at their schools.

  2. this is a clap moment, thanks greg you have hit the nail on the head, we need to continue to keep educating parents and engaging them. i am off to do something about it in my school, appreciate the motivation.

  3. Interesting. While in Melbourne at the end of last year I was fortunate to visit a primary school in Brighton which has embraced contemporary learning in a fundamental way. The school dates back to the late 1800’s but is undergoing remarkable rebuilding to allow for their vision on learning to be supported. One question I asked was how did they deal with parenatl concerns given the significant change. the principals reply was they had no parent opposition because they were involved from the beginning doing all the things Hattie suggests.For them it worked wonderfully well.

  4. Greg,

    Timely indeed. I think that walk throughs are a great idea in theory, but fail simply through the time/availability conundrum (for parents). Blogging might be the way to go.

  5. Cameron, I agree with your comments on walk- throughs but I think the main problem is the lack of an reflective framework for such visits. You don’t get depth by visitation as a friend of mine has observed. You get depth by enquiry and reflection. So this has to be an integral part of school visits. Going with a colleague(s) is also powerful

  6. Perhaps the essential purpose of engaging parents is to provide clues and information as to the learning characteristics of the child. Every child is different. Good education has always been about engaging the student in areas of interest and strengths to serve as a scaffold into new subjects and skills. A student who is engaged and has confidence in their teacher and their own ability to learn can be taught by a variety of methods. If the student is not engaged no method is successful.
    A parent knows things about their child which nobody else does, and a skillful teacher can extract this information from parents, who may not be aware that they posses it. Student profile questionnaires which many schools use, are a great start; but interpreting this information effectively, applying it in the classroom, and sharing essential ideas between all a student’s teachers are areas which could be developed and would produce improvements in learning outcomes.
    Of course, many students succeed under the industrial model of education, with no additional input from parents. However for some students who are not suited to this model of education and are at risk of disengaging, it becomes essential to extract information about a child’s learning characteristics from the parent, to share this information, and to apply it for the benefit of the child.
    Educators must always be asking” How does this child learn?””How can I engage this child?” Often it is the parent who holds the key information, and it is the school’s responsibility, as a professional organisation dealing with an amateur (the parent) to obtain and apply this information.

  7. Yes, but… accepting all of the above but suggesting it misses the vital recognition that is learning in the home and the community, the messy, unstructured, difficult to quantify learning that has more impact on acheivement than any other factor. We are still too entrenched in thinking parental involvement means involvement in schooling, rather than involvement in learning. See my book on hte subject:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Family-Learning-Engaging-Practice-Education/dp/1903765994/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269943310&sr=1-1

    1. Good point Jeannie. I often find in my discussions that this is an either/or. For me, there is no duality in the learning process. Formal learning and teaching must always take account of what happens in the home and build on that experience. Unfortunately our society has gone down the dual path – separating learning and living. It would be good if we could merge the two. This is why we have schools for example who operate out of the 19th century model and are struggling to keep up to today’s world. We need to find ways of bringing the family and the social experiences children have into the learning spaces. For many this is a daunting task but I’d argue it is one that is critical. John Dewey argued for this in the 1900s.

  8. I think part of the traditional thinking is betrayed in your response ‘We need to find ways of bringing the family and the social experiences children have into the learning spaces’. We also need to think of how we’ bring the learning spaces into the home and the community! We still tend to think it all happens in schools.

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