If we can improve parental involvement in the classroom, then we make our own lives easier…and improve the chances for our students.
I remember with my own kids thinking that once they started school I could enjoy greater emotional freedom. I could keep the joy, but abdicate some of the stress. Not a chance. Mine are teenagers now, the eldest in her GCSE year. If anything, the attachment, responsibility (we could call it love) grows stronger every day. Under such circumstances, it is unsurprising that if they come home with a poor grade, a tale of woe from Miss Williams the PE teacher or a fall out with a friend I get very worried, however much I try to put the latest incident down to growing pains.
Parental involvement in the classroom will improve – note that the verb is ‘improve’ and not ‘increase’ – if they know what is going on. Regular communication might be a pain in our busy lives, but could save us time in the long run.
That communication needs to be positive; honest but in context. A wise Headteacher (they do exist) once asked me if I hoped to alter thousands of years of evolution? I was complaining about some thirteen year old testing the limits of my patience. The Head’s comments put the situation into context. We must aim to do the same when we communicate with the parents of our students.
I am going to go against common parlance, though. It is probably just a political move – there are more votes to grab from parents than teachers – but there is a growing sense that parental involvement means knowing everything. I do think that most parents are not after that sort of detail. Actually, they are aware that their kids sometimes transgress, sometimes don’t do their homework; are sometimes a tad rude. They do not need to be told about every piece of homework (sorry, commercial apps), every detention, every golden star. A general picture about how things are going, plus reasoned information when a serious problem emerges, is more than enough for most.
Many parents possess skills and can offer openings that benefit our classes. This might be the willingness to come in once a week and listen to readers. It might be a preparedness to keep the budget in check by cutting the grass or making some costumes for the school play. But they have to know that such support is welcome.
It could be about offering a lecture, or a work place visit for older students. We can’t all be Harrow or Eton, but we can learn from the systems these types of school employ to take advantage of parental experiences and contacts to benefit all students. Harrow, for example, calls on parents and old boys to offer work experience to Sixth Formers in a field they are considering as a career.
Parental involvement can be improved if it is formalised. If we explain that we are open to parents helping, at the same time setting parameters for what we would like them to contribute (which will, of course, be extremely dependent on the age range of the children we are teaching) then we can take the benefits their experiences offer, but in a way that allows us to control those proposals to stop them from becoming a distraction.
Let’s be honest, most of us will deal with situations at school easily and competently but, when the same happens to our own children at home, we descend into panic, or endure nights of insomnia. If we, as teachers, feel helpless with our children, think how those parents without professional experience of working with young people must suffer.
Therefore, parental involvement in the classroom can be improved if parents know how to best help. Again, this is age related. An evening talk on looking for signs of drug abuse is more applicable for parents of secondary age children than pre-schoolers. Learning how to help your seven year old with his maths is a little different to working with your seventeen year old studying physics A level (although, to me, each is as incomprehensible as the other).
A clear, unpressured series of parental events – fed by their own feedback – can be a real help to parents as they seek to improve their own child’s progress.
A closed door encourages people to knock. Loudly. As a final point, it is worth noting that when we feel welcome and wanted, we have much less of a need to stick our noses into something. Parental involvement includes everything from helping in the classroom, to assisting with homework, to (increasingly these days) contributing financially to school, to providing the sort of domestic support which means our students are in the best position to make the most of the learning we can offer to them.
That involvement is most positive when it is welcomed. Learning is a team game. That might be a cliché, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
We want parental involvement in our classrooms, of course that is the case. Studies exist in their multitude showing how pupil progress increases when involvement occurs. But all three parties – teachers, parents and (most definitely) the pupils want that involvement to be constructive, not suffocating. It is we, as teachers, who hold the key to achieving this.