Families often start to withdraw when children start at secondary school – but keeping them engaged will always pay off, says Michelle Doyle Wildman
Working with teenagers can be a challenge at the best of times, as every secondary teacher knows; however, creating and maintaining a positive learning environment, which gives every child the opportunity to achieve and reach their potential is, of course, as high a priority in Key Stages 3 and 4 as it is in primary schools. Establishing strong, positive relationships with your students is enormously important – and the ‘rabbit in the hat’ that can help you do that very often comes in the guise of ‘the parent’.
At Parentkind, we carried out some research among teachers which showed that almost all (98%) agreed that parents have a positive impact on their school. Despite this, however, barely a fifth (19%) said that their school had any formal parental engagement plan in place.
Teachers emphatically tell us that building trust and improving relationships with mums, dads and carers is the biggest benefit of parental engagement. This in turn helps improve academic achievement, pupil behaviour and school attendance; while at the same time making it easier to develop a shared school ethos and culture, with input from parents having a positive impact on school decision making. All in all, then, it’s difficult to understand why formal parental engagement strategies do not seem to be the norm.
Be the champion
For this to change, it’s important to get buy-in from the top. School leaders, heads, governors, trustees and boards need to acknowledge that investing time and effort into building relationships with families can help their school go from strength to strength, and in fact should underpin improvement plans. So what can you as teachers do to kickstart this process and formalise your parental engagement strategy?
Well, as a first step, you could offer to become your school’s parent engagement champion. Make yourself visible and spread the word among the parent community, as well as with colleagues. Consult through surveys, or via the school parent body, on issues that matter to the community you serve and which are of concern, and collaborate with families to find ways to address them.
For example, you might consider working with family liaison officers to help address challenges that some within your community may be facing. Or, if you don’t have one already, you could look at establishing a Parent Council to act as a formal, consultative body with a distinct voice, and the power to influence school decisions.
Next, work with your SLT to develop a proper, written parental engagement plan, which can be regularly reviewed and which allows you to track and assess parental engagement. Over time, you should begin to see the benefits, in the from of greater buy-in from parents and the community, and growing support for your school’s aims and ambitions.
Don’t miss out
Finally, consider formal training on parental involvement strategies as part of your own CPD. This might include learning about overcoming barriers to engagement, and taking a whole school approach where the teaching community and leaders work hand in hand with parents for the benefit of the children. Such personal professional development could lead to practical outcomes, such as establishing a parent voice group within your school.
We know that you as teachers acknowledge the value of engaging and involving parents, but more can and should be done to establish clear processes to make parental engagement part of your day to day work and embedded within overall improvement plans. By under investing in this area, schools are missing out on clear opportunities to build trust with the communities they serve, and support young people to achieve all of which they are capable.
Parentkind has produced joint guidance with NAHT and ASCL on How to Build Effective Home-School Partnerships; see parentkind.org.uk/ EffectivePartnerships. In collaboration with Parent Councils UK, Parentkind also offers training courses on parental engagement. For a full list of forthcoming events see: parentkind.org.uk/For- Schools/Training.
About the author
Michelle Doyle Wildman, is acting CEO at Parentkind (parentkind.org.uk).
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