Would it surprise you to learn that the biggest single influence on a child’s education happens outside the classroom?
Parental involvement can have a huge impact on a child’s performance at school. Many studies show that it is the foremost predictor of academic success, when all other factors have been taken into account. However, the older your students are, the more difficult it can be to maintain a meaningful relationship with parents, especially when children transition from primary to secondary school.
But when it makes such a huge difference to homework completion, attendance, good behaviour, self-esteem and overall achievement, it is clear that we should be prioritising ways to promote parental involvement in our schools.
So as teachers, what can we do to make our classrooms a welcoming space for parents? How can we open up channels of communication to get parents interested and excited about participating in their child’s education?
Here are five suggestions which could help to improve parental engagement at your school.
1. Tackle language barriers
At international schools, students typically come from a wide variety of linguistic backgrounds. If parents don’t have the same command of English that their child does, this linguistic barrier might inhibit their involvement in their child’s school life and keep communication with the teacher to a minimum. However, if you make an effort to initiate that communication, perhaps enlisting the student or even other parents to help with translation, it builds a sense of collective effort and community. This will make it much more likely for parents to get involved in school life, come in for a chat, and see the school as a place where they have a voice too.
2. Open up the classroom
Cherine Magdi teaches at the American School of Egypt, where they hold regular open days. “Our school sets one day a week,” she says, “when parents can come and meet with teachers.”
This might sound like a big commitment, but it’s highly unlikely that all the parents would descend at once – you’d probably only have a few parents coming by each week. You could even start small, and have one afternoon every few weeks when parents know your door is open and they can come by to say hello, ask questions or share any concerns.
You could also host an open evening once a term where students can come in with their families. It’s an opportunity for parents to see the classroom and catch up with you without the Parents’ Night pressure of a formal meeting to discuss their child’s performance. What’s more, it gives the parents the opportunity to get to know each other too.
3. Utilise social media and messaging platforms
Technology has transformed our classrooms, giving us resources and tools which we couldn’t have imagined a generation ago, but it also has the power to transform the way that we interact with our students’ parents. Google Classroom is a digital learning space where students can collaborate with their teachers and peers. Parents can sign up for weekly or daily alerts, showing their child’s progress and letting them know of upcoming assignments and class activities.
Some schools run active Facebook groups for parents, and there are other social media platforms such as Edmodo and LoopdLife which are specifically designed with education in mind. There are also apps and messaging platforms which teachers use to keep in touch with parents.
Alison Sexton, a teacher at the International School of Myanmar, finds that communicating through technology has other benefits too. “ClassDojo and Seesaw help when you have limited contact with families. I use Dojo which has helped with communication, and my families prefer it as many do not speak English.”
It’s also a way of including those parents who work long hours and aren’t able to pick their children up from school or attend open days.
4. Share the good news as well as the bad
Too often, teachers only contact parents when they need to report a problem with a student’s work or behaviour, and because of this, parents often view communication with their child’s teacher in a negative light. If you make a point of getting in touch to share achievements and successes, it opens up that channel of communication and generates interest in a positive way.
With twenty students in your class, if you write two notes a week celebrating an achievement or praising good behaviour of different students, that’s each parent receiving good news three or four times throughout the school year.
You could send a physical note or contact parents using shared messaging platform like the ones mentioned above.This small effort can make an enormous difference to levels of parental engagement, especially in hard-to-reach families. What’s more, notes from school will no longer be a source of dread!
5. Use newsletters, blogs and home-school books
Sarah Preval teaches at Ambrosoli International School where the teachers use the school newsletter and blog to keep parents informed about what’s going on both in the classroom and at the school as a whole. “We send out class newsletters on Mondays, school newsletters on Fridays, have a very active Facebook page and a website where every class posts weekly blogs.”
While this might sound like a lot of work, you don’t have to write a whole newsletter yourself. You could include pieces of work by your students, talk about what they’ve been learning, do a quick survey in class to find out what their favourite activity was from the week before – all things which will make the students feel more involved in their own education.
And that communication doesn’t have to go in one direction. Sarah’s school also promotes the use of “home-school books, where the kids stick in special work or photos from things they’ve done outside school.” This can give you an insight into how stimulating a child’s home life is.
Does your school have a newsletter or blog? How do you stay in contact with parents or encourage them to get more involved in their child’s education? Let us know in the comments!