Communication is key!
High performing schools know that good communication across the entire school, engaging fully with the wider community, will result in high levels of parent engagement. This, in turn, has been shown to have a strong positive impact on student outcomes. Stronger parent engagement is a goal for many schools, but one which can sometimes feel a challenge to achieve. However, there are some simple steps that schools can take to simplify the process and bring parents more fully into the learning conversation.
Step 1: Send personalised and targeted parent communications
Talk to the individual to keep them fully engaged. Making sure that parents receive messages and information that is both relevant and interesting is crucial in engaging them in school life. To avoid ‘spamming’ parents with unnecessary information, think about what you want to push to parents and what you are happy for them to browse in their own time. This needs you to be consistent in your messaging strategy: allocate your use of different formats, (emails, SMS, newsletters) for particular types of message and parents will already understand the nature of the communication and its urgency, before they open it.
Step 2: Provide visibility of learning for increased parent involvement
Embrace transparency through ongoing communication. The more parents understand about the learning experience the more engaged they are and the better they are able to support their child's learning. This requires teachers to make sure that parents have access to both the curriculum and the learning resources their children are using. However, parents also need to understand the progress their child is making and the challenges they face. A policy of continuous reporting might feel like it's opening a can of worms, but it reaps significant benefits in the long run as parents and teachers can collaborate more effectively in the learning process.
Step 3: Support parents with home learning
Find ways to educate parents in the learning process. It is sometimes too easy to forget that we are the education experts, and things we take for granted are completely unknown to them. We can do this by setting out expectations clearly and concisely, for their children, but also for parents themselves. They need to know that it is perfectly normal for grades to go up and down - if they didn’t then we aren’t challenging our students appropriately. For most parents it will be many years since they have studied Geography for example, so providing a clear structure, along with resources will mean that they don’t have to be an expert in all of the subjects their child is studying. Let them know how to support their children, what good study habits are for example.
Step 4: Gather parent feedback
Understand the importance and value of listening to parents. Good communication is a two-way process and people are more invested in ‘the team’ if they feel that their voices are heard. Many schools have a variety of forums for this sort of process, like a PTA for example, but it is not always easy to get the thoughts of the wider parent community and to do so on a regular basis. Understanding the concerns of the school community allows leadership to be more proactive in their approach to communication, to head off issues before they escalate, and to track the impact of school strategy. Regular surveys will ensure that parents feel that they have a voice, (and a stake) in the success of the school.
Step 5: Make parents feel part of school life
Prioritise engagement over-involvement. School life goes far beyond the classroom. It is the richness of activity that engages students, and sharing this with parents will go a long way to helping them understand how the school is supporting their child’s development as an individual. This can sometimes be the hardest aspect of schooling to make visible to parents, but technology means that we are no longer constrained by paper newsletters that go out once a term. Video and audio can bring a report on the school production to life, whilst a school e-zine, curated and edited by students can bring a new and exciting dimension to news and updates. Where possible, give parents an opportunity to contribute to school news, through the PTA perhaps. In this way, schools can bring their entire community together giving a sense of belonging to parents, teachers and students alike.
Like any community, schools thrive on an atmosphere of openness and communication. When everyone is engaged in achieving a common goal, the greater the likelihood of success, but even more importantly, the healthier the relationship between the home and school environments. Schools are far more than simply bricks and mortar. They are living, vibrant communities that give each school its unique ethos and culture.
“Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.”