Getting parents involved in education, why it’s important and what you can do to help!

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It seems like as teacher you’re constantly having to defend yourselves. You have to defend yourself to middle management and senior management, defend yourself to your colleagues, defend yourself to the teachers council or other registration body, defend yourself to parents, and even defend yourself to students. It seems no matter what you do, no matter how good or how experienced you are, you can never really please everyone. Someone will have some “helpful feedback” for you. And this seems to be happening more than ever. More and more of your time is taken up with proving you should exist. Which, takes valuable time away from thinking and creating new teaching and learning activities for the classroom. Now should you as a teacher be accountable? YES, most definitely. Should you be accountable to middle management and senior management? Should you be accountable to your colleagues? Should you be accountable to the teachers council? Should you be accountable to parents and students? Yes to all of the above. But within reason and it seems like this has been forgotten.

People are so fixated on keeping teachers accountable they have forgotten about what the job is really about, teaching and learning. It seems teacher are being held accountable for more and more things that were, once upon a time, taught at home. They were a normal part of a student’s up bringing. So in an industry that is underfunded, overworked and most importantly undervalued, more and more things are being piled onto your already heavy workload.

This has led to some unintended consequences. Students no longer have the accountability they once had. And parents no longer have the accountability they once had either. This has resulted in unimaginable things having to be taught in schools. Why is this? Well I’m sure you would agree that there are some important skills that every kid should leave school with. Reading and writing, basic literacy skills, adding, subtracting, multiplication and division, basic numeracy skills, critical thinking and research skills, among others. There are also the soft skills which are important, knowing how to work and get along with others, manners and basic courtesy, the list goes on. Now once upon a time, schools played a small role in teaching their students about these soft skills. It was more about reinforcing what was being done at home. It seems now that more and more students are entering the “real world” without these basic soft skills, people skills, “normal human” skills. So what happens? Well governments can’t really “regulate” parents but the can regulate schools. So now, more and more it seems that governments and “society” expect these things to be taught explicitly in school. On top of everything else already taught in schools.

So here’s an important question to ask, who’s holding the parents accountable? It seems more and more now that parents no longer take ownership of their important role in their child’s learning journey. It seems to all be left to the school and the teachers. As a teacher you would intuitively know that this is problematic. That in any one day at schools kids are taught a number of different things but for these new thoughts and ideas to become solidified in the student’s mind it needs to reinforced outside of school as well. And it seems this is happening less and less. What is more troubling is that things seem to be getting worse. And parents are taking less and less responsibility for their role and placing more and more burden on to teachers. To the extent where students are failing and the parents a pointing directly at the teacher. Never mind the fact that the student is up all hours of the night gaming and hasn’t had a good night sleep in weeks. Or the fact that the student has a so many chores to do when they get home it would make Cinderella proud. Yes, kids do need to help around the house but surely within reason. What about the student that has never been disciplined once at home, if the child acts out they simple get and iPad shoved in front of them to distract them. Now this isn’t an attempt to simply reverse roles and start pointing fingers at parents. But this is an attempt to highlight the different pressures that you as a teacher are under. And it is designed to begin the conversation of how do you better engage parents. For the sake of your professional integrity, for the sake of your mental health, and most importantly for the sake of improving the student’s learning journey.

The advantages of having parents involved

The evidence is clear, time and time again it shows, that parental involvement, that is, parents that are engaged and committed to their child’s education journey, is a major predictor of success. There is a long list of benefits to the child, for example, students with high parental involvement are able to achieve highly regardless of ethnicity, background or socioeconomic status. The students have better self-esteem, are more disciplined and have higher expectations of themselves. Among many others. So it is clear that parental involvement is a major element to student success, and it makes sense that a number of different sources highlight the fact that parental involvement is actually the best predictor of student success.

So what does parental involvement look like?

It can look like a number of different things, according to time, parental involvement looks like, checking homework, (even if they don’t really know what’s going on) attending meetings and events, discussing their classes at home, showing an interest in their friends and classmates as well as talking about the various school events and activities at home. That seems simple enough. So parents need to simply talk to their children about their classes, sports, friends and classmates, school trips, their favourite teacher (or their least favourite teacher) and other school activities. And it will go a long way to helping their child succeed at school. Also an article by education.com highlights that parents who can provide a home that simply encourages learning, express high but realistic goals for the child’s achievement and future career, and are involved in their children’s education at school and in the community, is the most accurate predictor of a child’s success. So it’s clear to see that parents getting involved in their child’s education can look different but the positive impact on the child’s achievement and educational outcomes is undeniable.

Now what could the “next level” of involvement look like. So it first must be said that some parents will have the skills to be able to help their kids in this way and some simply won’t. But this would involve helping their kids with homework, being an active member of the school community, which would involve being a member of, or even leading the various school committees, such as the parent-teacher association, coaching or managing a sports team or even joining the school’s board of trustee (or whatever you call it in your part of the world). These are definitely amazing ways a parent could contribute to the school community and show their child that they care about their education. But again it must be said that this isn’t for everybody.

The time article mentioned earlier also highlights the fact that kids only spend around 15% of their time at school. Given this there’s no wonder that the home plays a much larger role in kids educational success than anything the school itself can do.

Now just quickly, it must also be said that parental involvement will differ during different times in their child’s life. Highlighted in this publication about engaging parents in education. But this is more of a FYI than anything else. For example, very early in the child’s life parents are the main source of education. Whether it be singing, playing, reading, or talking with their child any type of interaction really. These have a number of different positive effects, such as child and parent bonding, as well as healthy brain development. Later in the kid’s life, when the child has their first formal experience with education, the parents role will change. Firstly helping their child transition into a early childhood program is important, the sooner the child is comfortable in this new environment the better. And as the child gets older and enters high school the role of the parents is what we have discussed above. So yes parental involvement looks different at different times and I guess these parents just need to figure it out. Be sure to check out the article if you are after a little more detail.

So what are the benefits of parental involvement?

The benefits of parental involvement aren’t restricted to a child’s achievement, there are plenty of other benefits as well. And it’s not just the students who benefit. Schools and teachers benefit as well, schools that really try and involve parents tend to have a better reputation and better community support. Regular parental involvement leads to better communication between parents, teachers and schools. This creates a better understanding between everyone involved and helps build better relations as well. Principals and teachers in schools that have good parental involvement have a higher staff morale and job satisfaction, which surely can’t be a bad thing. Parents benefit as well. One of the most important benefits is parents are able to build an all-round stronger relationship with their kids. As they have a better understanding of their child’s needs, they can relate to their child better and provide support when needed (thanks education.com).

So obviously parental involvement looks different for different families. And parental involvement will also be different in different schools and communities. But the educational benefits are clear.

So how can you help? What can you do about it?

Now the question is what can you as a humble educator do to help parents get involved in their kids education. This isn’t an attempt to put another item on the already very long to-do-list of a teacher. Firstly, it’s important to remember there will be a number of students whose parents are already involved in their child’s education. Which is great. All you will need to do is congratulate the parents on this the next time you seem them. Or you can simply send them a nice email. And it also must be said that their are some parents that you will never connect with. And in short there is nothing you can do about it, as heartbreaking as that may be. It’s the parents that a “sitting on the fence” that is, they want to help, they want to get involved, they want to do right but their child they just don’t know how. This is where you work your magic.

So how do you do this? Well research shows that parents liked to be listened to. Let’s think about that for a second. Almost all the parent events involve them sitting down (like a child themselves) and being beaten to death by PowerPoint. Horrible. And the first chance you get to really talk with them is when you’re about a third of the way through the year at the first 5 minute, speed-dating, parent-teacher interview evening. And most of the time the teacher is talking. Something that could be done at the school wide level or the year level is a “ready-set-go” evening, or a child free evening, very early on in the year. Where parents and teachers come together as adults and talk about what they can learn from each other and how they can work together in the future. This is a great way to start the year and get off on the right foot.

Now, more importantly what can a teacher do in the classroom to help foster parental involvement? The intelligent use of homework is an important one. This involves homework activities that get the parents talking with their children. This will be particularly effective early in the year. For example, getting the students to interview their parents about what it was like when they were going up. And this could work in any context really. Science and technology, society, education any context. Parents don’t need any particular skill set, the child is just reporting on their parents own experience. This can be done at the beginning of the topic as an introduction to the history of the topic, before diving into more modern concepts and ideas. This is just a simple example to get you started. It’s really all about getting kids talking with their parents.

Other things you could do as a teacher are using technology and especially social media to engage parents. Setting up an email list at the beginning of the year does take a little bit of work but once its done, its done for the entire year and is a very quick and easy way to let parents know about the important events going on in your class. This is something that is very simple but definitely very effective. Now something that can be a little scary but it definitely doesn’t need to be, is the use of social media to connect with parents. Now as a teacher you want to keep a safe distance between your personal life and professional life, but that doesn’t mean you need to completely shut out social media from your professional life. You could create a professional specific profile, whether it be a facebook profile or a Ms Smith’s senior calculus class twitter feed. Or you could create a private facebook group for the parents. This enables you to connect with parents easily and on a regular basis. As well as it provides a chance for the parents to connect and share with each other. Using technology and social media is a great way to help bring a community together.

Simply there is no denying the important role parents play in the success of your students. And yes any good parent should already be involved in their child’s life. As an educator and a school you can’t be expected to do everything. But hopefully here are a couple of simple things you can do to help engage parents in their child’s education.

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