When I was at school, parents were invited to a parents’ evening once a year, received a report and, barring the occasional school play, that was that.
Things have changed. Barely an evening goes by without me passing a horde of parents coming in as I am heading home, ready to attend literacy evenings, exam support sessions, Stem workshops or cabaret and teatime theatre.
Our school really is at the heart of the community and parents are always highly involved. As a head of department, I have tried to build on this and to look for opportunities to get parents involved not just in the school, but in my subject, geography.
I’d like to show how we can make parents into cheerleaders for our subjects by sharing the story of a Year 9 pupil, who we will call Tina.
1: Don’t shy away from difficult conversations with parents
Tina came to the school working at well below her expected level of achievement. Her work, early on, was poor and her homework was often missed or rushed. Inevitably, she started getting detentions and the first contact that I had with her dad was less than positive.
However, I made a point of calling home regularly to discuss our concerns. I made our expectations clear, and it wasn’t long before Tina’s homework started to appear on time and classwork started to be completed to a much higher quality.
2: Celebrate success
Once Tina started to focus and take the subject seriously, her work improved rapidly. Soon, she produced a piece of work that was genuinely excellent. In our department, we log excellent work and email parents to celebrate their child’s success. Sending these emails once a fortnight is a real highlight of my job and never more so than in this case.
3: Make it public
We have started to display these examples of excellent work at parents’ evenings, along with annotation explaining what makes them good. While parents are waiting for appointments, they look at the work and discuss it with their children. It makes for some very constructive conversations. Of course, Tina’s work made the wall and I have never seen anyone look as proud as she did when her dad asked if he could take a photo of the display to show the rest of her family.
4: Keep the lines of communication open
Following parents’ evening, I try to keep parents informed about what happens next. If we have discussed what needs to happen for their child to make more progress, I’ll send an email to them after the next test to let them know how they did and what the next steps will be. This takes a bit of effort, but I really feel it is worth my time. It certainly had a huge impact on Tina, who would often come to class telling me that her dad had been asking about her geography work and looking at her homework with her.
5: Make the parents students
Parents often ask how they can support their children; so let’s give them something to do. I know from experience that the pupils who do best in geography are those who take an interest in the world around them. To help with this I have a blog where I post articles relating to geography, along with prompt questions to consider. Pupils can sign up to get an email each time a new article is posted and I encourage their parents to sign up as well; I often hear that they have been talking about the latest post over dinner.
Of course, some parents will be harder to reach than others, but if we can start to build these kinds of relationships wherever we can, we will help to create lasting partnerships that will support our students to achieve in our subjects.
Mark Enser is head of geography at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex. He blogs at Teachreal.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @EnserMark