Getting parents invested in your teaching strategies is of enormous value to the student.
Firstly, it cannot be overstated how important it is that parents understand the strategies you are using for learning in your classroom. Teaching has changed significantly in the twenty-five years since they were at school, which can cause a familiarity barrier. On a practical level, parents can be alienated by the methods we use and the technology we take for granted (primary ‘chunking’ and phonics are prime examples of this). If parents cannot relate to the concept their child comes home talking about, it is inevitable that instead of furthering the conversation, they switch topic unwittingly.
Secondly, young people who experience reinforcement at home of the attitude that learning is their ticket to life success, school is important and that their parent values education has more reason to invest emotionally in the community of school as well as engage with the day-to-day classroom learning.
If you are looking to strengthen the effect that parental reinforcement can have on your teaching, here are five ideas to cultivate a triangulated learning culture.
Curriculum Sharing in a yearly presentation
By inviting all parents in for a start-of-year presentation, you immediately show your expectation that parents will play an active role in their child’s education. A simple slideshow of what the year has in store can empower parents to confidently engage with their child about what they are currently learning for the whole year. Gather as many year group teachers as possible to contribute. You can use a few photos from last year’s trips then give an overview of the topics you’re covering over three terms and allow for questions. It helps to send them away with a curriculum overview for all subjects and (for primary) the spellings lists for the whole year.
Good news calls home
Young people of all ages are actually motivated by validation. Calls home are of high value, but failing that use notes home with a detail of what you were impressed by.
Playground farewells, open door night and weekly meetings
Unfortunately teachers have too heavy a workload for an open-door policy after school every day so escort the class out every afternoon and make smiling eye contact with as many parents as possible. This might seem basic advice but you can clear most queries by being available this way at the gate. One ‘after school’ open room a week will suffice as your open night and then you only need be flexible for parents who can’t make that. For children with behavioural issues, it may help if their parent has a standing visit to ‘look at their work’ weekly. Have the confidence to request the parent they appeal to for validation.
This could be a homework diary but I am inclined to believe that regular, enforced homework does little but test parents and produce mounds of marking. Instead, a conversational book can allow notes of celebration of achievement and teaches the student responsibility for taking their own reminder notes for preparation-at-home. Find non-homework ways to involve parents with home learning such as the task of talking about a concept before a new topic (‘Big talk’) or multi-media research projects with open-ended outcomes of their choice.
Focus on the future
Finally, parents evening is often a lot of effort for a missed opportunity. To get the most out of this valuable meeting, switch your focus and pitch your conversation about moving forward, rather than what has been. Refer briefly to recent successes then set and agree a specific target for that student for next term and empower the parent with ways they can reinforce this at home.
What methods have you found to harness the power of parents?
About the author
Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for eteach.com and fejobs.com. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.