James Whitaker

Two years ago, I was coming towards the end of my first month as a teacher; tired, exhausted and ultimately still shell-shocked. That seems like a very long time ago now.

This summer, I completed the Teach First Development Programme and moved onto pastures new, taking up a job as a Parental Engagement Officer at Parent Hub. To those who worked with me, this may have seemed a strange move, especially seeing as I was terrified to call parents for at least the first two terms of my teaching career. However, over the past few months, parental engagement has become something of a passion.

Thinking back on my own practice, I feel like I missed so many opportunities to get parents on board with the learning – phone calls were few and far between, usually focused on curbing some kind of unwanted behaviours or congratulating a small few, and parents’ evenings always felt rushed and bit conveyor-belt like. I always found myself focusing on telling the parent what the situation was, but rarely asking for their input or giving them any tangible support.

Herein lies the problem (in my opinion). Time is always a huge pressure, for both parents and teachers, and knowing what would be useful for either party is really tough. We know that we want to improve ‘parental engagement’, but I was never really sure what I wanted from parents, and they never seemed to know what they wanted from me.

Since leaving the classroom, I’ve been reflecting on this and have come to the following conclusions:

Communication needs to be transparent and two-way

Scrap jargon.

Ask for help and advice from the parents, whether it’s about behaviour, learning styles or whatever – they are the experts when it comes to their child.

Teachers should be able to give parents specific strategies and advice to support students’ home learning

What are the current topics of study?

Are there any useful websites they can access at home?

Is there a list of keywords and definitions to share at home? In the correct home language?

Communication with parents shouldn’t feel like an extra thing to do (which it often does at the end of a full day!), but should be an integral part of practice

Technology is our friend – apps and social media are a brilliant way to contact a wider audience quickly.

Parental engagement should register on the CPD agenda for schools

Teachers might need support and guidance on the type of communication to be sending to parents – I know that I certainly did!

Research shows that if we can absolutely nail getting parents engaged in their child’s learning then the outcomes for our pupils skyrocket. It’s just the ‘nailing’ bit that’s hard. Anyone got any silver bullets?

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