Parents have a crucial role to play in their children’s education, says James Whitaker – and the right technology can help them do just that…
It’s official – parents matter! In fact, according to research by Professor Charles Desforges, for a child of seven, the influence on learning of parents matters six times more than that of the school. And this effect is still 30% greater by the age of 12, after which time the child itself starts to become the most significant influence.
In other words, it seems that at no point does the school have the greatest impact on a child’s learning.
To many heads and teachers, who witness on a daily basis the influence pupils’ home lives have on their engagement, behaviour and academic performance, the results of this research may come as no great surprise.Yet few schools devote real attention to harnessing the power that parents hold in ensuring their children achieve.
My view is that, broadly speaking, parents are the untapped yet critical partners in the network of support that schools and teachers create to help young people succeed.
So, armed with this insight, how should we approach engaging parents to support their children so that learning and aspiration are supported outside of school?
Parents as partners
Too often attention is given merely to involving parents in the life of the school – identifying projects and events and telling families how they can contribute. Whilst these are an important aspect of building a real school community, the real focus should be on engaging parents as partners in the learning process of their children.
During my time as a maths teacher I felt limited by the options to engage parents that were available to me. My school operated a text messaging service to notify parents of upcoming events or send an attendance alert. The admin team managed this and if I wanted to send anything out I had to submit a request.
For me to communicate with parents on a regular basis the only option was to pick up the phone - a worthwhile practice but one which is often time consuming and inefficient. I would usually catch parents at work, in the supermarket or making dinner and generally not in a position to be discussing their child’s progress in my lesson.
Once or twice a year we’d organise a parents’ evenings for each year group, but I always felt the impact of these was limited by their infrequency.
The key issue is what happens to inform and engage parents in between these conversations. And this is where technology can help shift the paradigm.
Smartphones have transformed the way society communicates. Convenient, instant, on-the-go and personalised communication is what we have come to expect of the content pinged straight to our pockets. And yet this revolution hasn’t hit schools…until now.
An app approach is different. It allows parents to receive tailored information from individual teachers in real time but digest and respond at an opportunity convenient for them. It’s account-based, which means it isn’t reliant on up-to-date contact details. Parents can manage everything from a single place, and it remains safe whilst removing the need for individuals continually to remember security details or proactively login to one of a range of web portals.
Crucially, it’s a format of communication with which we are increasingly familiar and at ease. With 75% (and increasing) of the population aged 16-64 owning a smartphone, people are more likely to access theiInternet through their phone than a wired broadband connection at home.
An app appoach enables communication to continue almost effortlessly in between phone calls and face-to-face meetings, so that meaningful relationships between teacher and parent can be developed and sustained over time; this could lead us to a situation where, for schools using technology in this way, parents’ evenings would simply be a formal continuation of a deep and mutually beneficial partnership that is happening every day.
With closer OFTSED scrutiny on parental engagement, I am convinced it’s time to embrace technology to help teachers to build partnerships with parents in a way that is convenient, meaningful, and most importantly, beneficial for young people. I hope you agree.
TOP TIPS TO ENGAGE PARENTS IN THEIR CHILDREN’S LEARNING
Convenience is King!
Implement strategies that make it easy and convenient for the parent to get involved. Events at the school aren’t always easy, or even possible, for families to get to; try using technology to keep them in the loop so they don’t miss out.
Partnership is a two-way thing.
We all feel more valued when we’re invited to contribute towards something. Regular, two-way communication between teachers and parents is essential to build a meaningful partnership.
General is generally not good…
Parents are more likely to engage with messages that are specific as to how they can help their child. It’s fine to send general broadcasts that advertise events at school, but the focus when communicating with families should be on messages that are tailored to supporting their children.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Whitaker is the founder of ParentHub