September is with us once again, and the children are settling into their new classes. You’ve probably sent the first letters about timetables and extracurricular activities out: Perhaps you’ve already planned out when the first parent-teacher meetings are going to be. And, of course, all the mums and dads are getting into their everyday work stride, too. However, it may be that you’re faced with an issue: apart from dropping off and picking up their children, and the usual round of letters and meetings, the parents don’t actually get very engaged with your school. Okay, so there are some mums and dads who are absolutely wonderful: they devote hours of their free time and plenty of energy to getting involved, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could improve parental engagement across the board? Well, there are ways and means of helping families become more involved in your primary school.
‘It takes a village’
Unfortunately, some parents seem to hold the view that school is just a place where their children get educated. This is, of course, not just oversimplified, but wrong – our schools are so much more than that. They are not just assets to the community, they are communities themselves. They are where our children grow and learn to socialise, work together and find their identities. According to the old saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’: and a successful, fully integrated school community is one that involves and engages with parents. Emphasising this holistic aspect of their children’s education is a great way to help mums and dads be more connected with your school, and is a message that can be conveyed through many different media, whether it be a sign on a noticeboard or a letter home, or via text messaging and social media.
‘I haven’t got time!’
However, we do have to address one issue – in our ever-increasingly busy, always-connected world, both parents may be working hard, and feel that devoting time to their children’s school and education is too difficult, apart from attending the odd meeting and school function – and, of course, helping with homework! It’s understandable – people may be flat-out busy, and feel that in their list of priorities, increasing engagement with school isn’t in the top ten. But despite having a full workload, mums and dads should be encouraged to find time to be part of their children’s educational world – after all, schools help create our future world, and who doesn’t want to be part of that journey?
Improving parental engagement
So, how can your school encourage parents to be more involved, and in which kind of roles? Here are a few suggestions for producing better parental involvement and the tools and methods you can use.
Get the parents involved in the learning process
One thing that’ll really help parents engage with your school is clearly signposting what their children will be learning, why they’re learning it, and what the outcomes will be. Clear objectives, whether through the year or in the individual lesson, have demonstrably better learning and engagement outcomes. Parents, too, will feel more comfortable with being involved if they see a clear learning journey. They can become part of the process, even if it’s in just simple ways, such as providing materials for use in class, or helping their children give feedback on what they’ve learned. And rather than give an end-of-term or end-of-year report, there are ways that you can show their children’s ongoing performance.
Get them involved in the planning process
A great way to get anyone engaged with a task is to ask for their input. Once people have contributed their own ideas to a project, they tend to feel an emotional attachment to it – and the same goes for getting mums and dads more involved in your school. Ask them for their input on things such as school events and trips or even approaches to lessons and subjects. Emotional investment equals greater engagement, and that leads to better outcomes all round.
Emphasise the range of roles and skills your school needs
Many parents assume that being involved with their school means volunteering at events such as a Summer Fair, or being a school governor. They’re not wrong, but there are so many other ways they can contribute. A community is made from people with many different kinds of skills, and this is equally true of schools. Parents will have an enormous range of knowledge and skills that you can draw on, so don’t be afraid to state what kind of things you’re looking for – from accountancy to project management!
The key to increasing, improving and retaining parental engagement is clear communication, whether that is explaining the overarching vision your school has for education or demonstrating how well the children are doing. While the traditional route of school notices, letters and texting is one way to do this, nowadays it’s easier and more convenient to use Apps to get the message across. After all, everyone has a smartphone these days, so take advantage of the technology! Apps such as School Jotter make communication and engagement so much easier for everyone. For a start, simple things such as an instantly accessible school calendar help parents with planning. You can send key information out without the expense of printing it – and it’s more likely to reach home rather than get lost in the bottom of a bag. You can produce newsletters to keep parents informed of what’s happening, or class timetables. You can even connect apps to your Learning Management System, so that parents can see what their children are learning in almost real time! And, of course, an app doesn’t just have to be one-way communication – parents will be able to engage with you, for example through the use of online surveys and questionnaires about things happening in school.
Our children are growing and learning in an interactive, online world, so it makes sense to use the very tools that they themselves will use in the future. Apps and online tools make communication between schools and parents so much easier and convenient, and really help mums and dads engage more with your school – and feel part of your learning community.