What are the common pitfalls that lead to poor parental engagement, and make it just that little bit harder to build a thriving school community?
Let’s have a look at three things that school teachers will want to avoid next time that they reach out to parents. Experienced teachers and leaders will no doubt nod their heads in recognition and agreement with the scenarios that follow.
One: waiting until parents’ evening
Teachers are busy. In fact, a study by the TUC found that teachers work more overtime than any other professionals. With that fact in mind, it’s easy to understand when important information doesn’t get passed on to parents until parents’ evening.
The practicalities of school life mean that parents’ evening is rarely more than once a year. Even when it does come around, the typical parents evening slot is only five minutes long. Is that enough time to cram in all the information that you want to share?
Even worse is when you’re sharing news about poor behaviour or attainment. Look at it from the parents’ point of view. They’re sat there, hearing that behaviour is poor and has been that way all year. Inevitably, they will want to know why they are only finding out about it now. ‘We could have done something if we had known about it’.
How much time did you spend managing that behaviour? How much effort did you invest in raising that attainment? Just think how much easier it could have been if you’d been in regular contact with the child’s parents fighting your corner.
Two: only sending the bad news
Many schools have great systems for sharing positive news with parents. ‘Positive postcards’ are particularly popular, parents love to receive brightly coloured messages on good news through their letterbox.
While they value it, they’re somewhat less fond of the bad news. They need to hear it so they can act on it (see the previous point) but it’s hardly going to be the highlight of their day.
Unfortunately, poor parental engagement often stems from the fact that school systems are usually organised so that communication with parents is more likely to happen when there is bad news to share. Imagine, however, the value of balancing that with much more frequent good news.
On Monday, Mrs Smith is at work and receives a notification about the amazing work her son’s class did during that morning’s lessons. On Wednesday, she learns about how well rehearsals for the school play are going.
All that good news doesn’t make Friday’s call about truancy a positive one but it means that Mrs Smith knows you share more good news than bad. It will certainly give her more motivation to help you resolve the situation.
Three: outside of school
Building your school community is a great way to make your school happier and improve outcomes. When pupils, parents, teachers, leaders, governors all work together, success is sure to follow.
It’s important, however, to ensure that the school remains the hub of this community. Inevitably, you will encounter parents outside of school. This is not the time to enter a discussion about test results, poor attendance or the new uniform policy. Poor parental engagement can often be caused by a lack of preparation, meaning that chance encounters increase this likelihood.
You, the teacher, probably won’t start that conversation but there’s every chance that you could be on the receiving end of a challenging conversation like this outside of the school gates. Don’t do it.
Don’t be rude. Just politely mention that the supermarket/restaurant/pub isn’t an ideal location for an important conversation and offer to discuss it when you’re back at school. Of course, it’s vital that you do follow it up. Get in touch the next day and address the matter head-on.
If the conversation is important, then it’s equally important to give it the setting that it deserves.
Sharing your experiences
Did any of these scenarios resonate with you? Do you have a ‘poor parental engagement nightmare’ to share? We would love to hear your stories, so please feel free to post over on our Facebook Group.
Equally, if you know anyone who could benefit from the message in this post (trainee teachers? NQTs?), then please do share it with them and encourage them to visit our blog for regular advice about engaging with parents.