“How do we get parents engaged?” is a question many schools face.
This blog is part of Ambition:Feed's engaging with parents challenge. Find more tips and discussion on the Ambition:Feed homepage.
Working in an inner-city Bradford school for 11 years, I found the problem of effectively engaging the parents of my pupils popping up on a near daily basis.
We’ve tried many different tactics in the past - an open-door policy, allowing parents to see the teachers for 15 minutes before or after school; open mornings, where parents could shadow their children in class and watch lessons being delivered; and core subject meetings or workshops, which provided activities and methods to help support children at home.
We had no problem engaging EYFS and Key Stage 1 parents, but we struggled with Key Stage 2. We would always have the same committed parents turning up but unfortunately the absent parents were often the ones we needed to speak to. We even started having our lovely TAs policing the doors to remind parents of the meetings and as a way of encouraging and welcoming them into the school.
At my school, we found that technology could be the key to engaging parents effectively. Below are my 5 tips for implementing technology for this purpose.
1. Do your research
Staff came up with the idea to send out a questionnaire asking parents what they really needed from school and the best possible way we could engage with them. “Easy things that we can do at home with our children” was the most popular answer.
In the staff room, teachers would be sat discussing how to improve the standard of homework being returned, and how to balance homework with the pupil’s interests in technology and the internet. This was our lightbulb moment.
Our ICT co-ordinator suggested we should make better use of all the available technology to communicate with parents.
2. Make communication easy
Like most schools, the first thing we did was make use of our website and Twitter page. Office staff added useful links such as dates, letters, resources, and pictures from the school day or trips. We also added ‘Topic Webs’ which explained the curriculum areas that we were going to be covering with each year group.
Next, the office staff set up a parent text message and email system where they were free to ask any questions or inform us of any worries. Parent’s found this helpful however it was a bit of a one-way street – we needed to find a way to really get parents actively involved.
3. Find out what your pupils are already doing
Our ICT co-ordinator went back to the some of the comments we’d received about pupils spending hours on the computer each night. We decided to ask the pupils what they were using computers for - the outcome for every year group was, perhaps unsurprisingly: “We’re playing games.”
We decided to find out what educational games they enjoyed playing in school. Once we had established our results, we researched extending our licences so they could be used by the children at home.
"Parents have enjoyed seeing their children get recognition and are proud when they come home with a reward. "
4. Give children what they need
Now every pupil has their own personal password to Education City and Timetables Rock Stars. Key Stage 2 also all have passwords to the reading scheme Lexia.
The result of extending our school licences to home licences has been very positive. Most parents are talking about it in the playground or emailing to say they’re finding it much easier to support their children because of the brief explanation Education City gives before each activity.
5. Reward engagement
As an extra incentive, we present certificates when children complete a level and a ‘most improved’ trophy is given to a member of each class who has used the websites to develop their learning the most each week. Parents have enjoyed seeing their children get recognition and are proud when they come home with a reward!
Using social media and the internet to engage parents has been very beneficial for our schools. We are always having positive feedback about how helpful this is and even some ideas for what we could do next.
Even the previously more difficult to reach parents are now more engaged with their children’s learning.
The initial set up, the overall cost and constant updating of websites can be a challenge, however the pupils achievements definitely outweighs the challenges. Without the technology links, our parents wouldn’t be engaged with their children’s learning.