Parents – making them part of the solution

We spend every day of our working life talking to our colleagues at school about the challenges of the students in our care – and rightly so. The students in our classes are given feedback daily on their learning – that’s part of teaching. But how many times do we talk to the parents of the students beyond biannual parent/teacher meetings? Education is changing before our eyes. It’s a challenge for us and we experience it first hand every working day of our lives. I think we forget sometimes that the changes we are implementing are so foreign to the parents in our community there is no wonder why they have so many questions.

So how do we react? How often do we proactively seek to communicate with the parents of our schools? If you surveyed a group of teachers, I think that situation in the cartoon above is probably the most common interaction we have with our parents. Does this really build the supportive collaborative relationship we area trying to encourage our students to develop with others as 21st Century Learners? As we revolutionize the education system we have to make sure we modify the parent/school relationship as well.

The more parents have hands on experiences with school, the more they become accepting of the changes we are trying to initiate in education. As someone who has gone away on school camps with parent helpers, I have seen first hand the appreciation parents develop for our work as they observe and ‘live’ what our job entails. Why don’t we replicate this “parent helper” experience more often in a classroom setting? These are just my initial thoughts and ideas for what we could do at schools. It’s a bit of a ‘What If?’ list that I invite others to contribute to.

1. What if we organize regular, timetabled, informal chats in the staff room for interested parents (limited numbers to keep it simple) before or after school to just share what’s going on in the classroom, the latest initiative your school is starting or a strategy or two you are developing that week?
Keep it to 15 minutes, just sitting around the table ( compulsory coffee in hand ), with no expectations to always be there but give parents an opportunity to hear some positive messages from the school and build a positive community relationship between parent and staff. I don’t want to cut into teacher downtime here but i don’t think 15 minutes once a month would kill us.

2. What if we create a blog that is open to parents, students and staff? 
Schools could share information about new initiatives taking place at school, post links to websites that explain what teachers are doing in the contemporary classroom, give access to websites that can help parents support their children in their learning. Of course this could happen through your typical school website but instead of static, rarely updated website, a blog would allow for two way communication and content contributions from everyone in the community, including student work to showcase the best of what the school can achieve. It would also allow for moderated discussions through comments and discussion boards so that parents could provide positive feedback to the student and ask reasonable questions directed to staff about the work being done.

3. What if we open up some of our staff PD to interested parents?
Most of us teachers are learning new ways of teaching these days. What if we did this learning alongside parents so that they could talk to us in real time about how their children are being taught today. Parents could then be informed participants in the traditional parent car park talks after school and let other parents in on the secrets of the school. It could be a part of a staff meeting, a student free day, a before school “techie brekkie”‘ or an off site conference with attendance open to anyone. It would mean less confusion about homework, less contradiction over “times tables” and more open communication between school and parent about teaching methods. Like everything else I am pondering here, it would have to be carefully thought through so there is no extra commitment for teachers and parents don’t overstep the mark on what is expected of them.

4. What if we bit the bullet and went for full Parent access with Edmodo?
For those who don’t know, Edmodo has a parent account that allows for access to their own child’s work on Edmodo and also allows for communication between child, parent and teacher. Not everyone uses this option ( we certainly aren’t yet ) but planned and implemented properly, this would provide an effective way for parents to track work and check in with their child’s teacher via an easy online service without any additional set up or planning.

5. (Staying old school without tech) What if we just made far better use of the old fashioned student diary?
If the student had the diary beside them all day every day, we could write comments about the work at the same time we record comments in our assessment records. I would be. Nice change for parents to read about the successes of the day rather than the usual reminders about school uniform and late homework issues. Of course, if the student was in a 1:1 iPad or laptop school, their diary could be in electronic form and the process could be far more streamlined.

6. What if digital portfolios or file books were accessible all year?
Too often in schools we keep all the work that children do throughout the year in folders, files, computer programs etc and don’t release them until the end of the year/semester/term for the parent teacher interviews. We stress over the the layout, the organisation of the work, how many stickers they have on their work, how attractive the published pieces are and so on. Why don’t we make it accessible to parents all year?

Digital or paper based, send it home every week, finished or not. This would make the parents aware of the progress their children are making on tasks and projects and also make the children more accountable for their work, knowing Mum and Dad are going to see it all the time. Parents would get used to seeing the real work their child does, not the artificial perfectly published work for display purposes only. It could place the need for unnecessary homework preparation – sharing the work done in class would allows for revision of work without having extra work to prepare or complete. Parents would know exactly what their child is doing before the formal interview and can be more active in dealing with issues before it’s too late. I would prefer it digital and easily accessible from school and home. Digital portfolios are more engaging, easier to maintain and build on and allows for online interaction between student, parent and teacher.

7. What if we have have more open days or evenings so parents can see their children in action with their teachers? Have an occasional late start/late finish day to accommodate the working parent and let the parents see first hand how their child is learning.

8. What if we have regular online surveys created for specific information we want to get fromparents? With all the online do-it-yourself survey tools available these days, this is a simple task and could be a way for parents to feedback to the school in a non threatening way.

In today’s always connected tech driven world, there is really no reason for parents to be out of the loop. School should be a 3 way partnership. We need to embrace relationships with parents to ensure the best possible results for our students. If we don’t communicate with each other we can’t expect miracles. All of these ideas would need to be carefully thought through and the expectations of parents need to be controlled but I think we need to be finding ways to share what’s happening at school and what we are doing with the children more effectively. It will never be 100% access either way but we can make a go of it.

What other what ifs can you think of? Am I expecting too much of teachers and parents for this to really happen? Let me know what you think. Join the conversation.

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