Simple strategies for working with parents

“Parental engagement in children’s learning is crucial so we’ve sought ways to get all parents on board, regardless of ability, with these simple strategies”, says Laura Wynne, headteacher of Argyle Primary School in St. Pancras, London. She recommends the following methods.

Find out about your parents 
Show how much you value the role of parents as children’s most important educators! Find out about the needs of parents.  For example, do they understand how school works? Is there a need for a social network? Would they appreciate a place to meet, train, or just be? Discover all this by talking to families, rather than too many surveys! Spot the key parents in the playground, or maybe the community leaders. Break down barriers by learning people’s names (and their babies’ names). Be on the school gate every day: smile, joke, chivvy, encourage, compliment, challenge.

Make a list of ideas
Make a key plan outlining different ways to engage parents and advertise and promote this. Communicate it in any way appropriate for your school whether through snappy flyers, translated mail-outs, texts, flip-charts or in the playground. Find out who will volunteer for a bit of translating if this is an issue, and even if parents can’t read it themselves, the language will catch their attention and get them asking questions. Never give up hope just because a session fails or no-one turns up; whatever happens, keep going. Vary timings, group sizes, groupings; it’s taken us 16 years of relentless enterprise with parents to get to where we are today.

Train your staff
Train all staff on how to communicate with parents of different dispositions and backgrounds, including nervous, challenging or silent families. Prioritise a series of Insets to learn all about the diverse backgrounds of your community, (your local Education Maintenance Allowance or School Improvement Service should be able to do this). Make the sessions enjoyable and fun and include voice and body language sessions. School leaders have a responsibility to provide suitable training for staff (and parents) to cover areas such as how to manage disagreement.

Host community events 
Show your commitment to parents and the community by identifying key community events and make the school available as host. We hold an Iftar – to break fast during Ramadan, a huge party during Refugee Week each June, and a May Day maypole dancing party to which all the community is invited. All parents now come to everything.

Seek and respond to feedback 
Learn what it is that concerns your parents. Have systems where feedback is seen as a gift and is acted upon quickly. At our parents evening recently, some parents told the teacher they didn’t know how to help with reading. Within three days, the teacher had organised her teaching assistant to manage the register whilst she demonstrated guided reading to threeinvited and very motivated parents. These parents have since attended the school weekly in order to work alongside the teacher in her class.

Do you have any tips for working with parents?  Post below to let others know.

Need more advice? Visit the Teachers’ survival guide