1. Parents love their children and want the best for them. You, too, want the best for all of the children you work with. That’s the basis of any engagement strategy – you’re all working for the same goal.
2. Parents are at least as individual as the children in your class – what works for one child does not work for all, and the same is true of parents. To support them to engage with their children’s learning, you need to get to know parents – what they want, what they need, and importantly, what they are already doing to support learning.
3. What’s really important is that parents engage with children’s learning – not that parents come to school. Some parents may never be able to come to school, for a whole host of reasons but that doesn’t mean they aren’t or can’t engage with learning, or that they do not need support to do so.
4. Think about the barriers your parents face – these will be different for each cohort, each school, sometimes each family. Do you know the bus schedules that allow parents to get to school? Do you know if they are working shifts which makes it difficult for them to come to school? If they can’t come, how else can you support them to support their children?
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5. Parents know their children well, but differently than school staff do. It’s very useful to ask the simple question, "What can you tell me about your child that will help me to help them learn?"
6. As educators, we know the difference between giving people information and having a dialogue with them. Schools are very good at giving parents information and that’s important, but it’s not the same as having a dialogue – and it’s having those dialogues which will build the relationships that will support children’s learning.
7. Ensure your website is easy to navigate for someone coming to it for the first time – and for someone using a phone to look at it. Having pictures of the classrooms can be very useful (and reduce anxiety for both parents and pupils).
8. Let parents know what children will be learning and give ideas about how to support that: for example, “We’re looking at fractions – talk about dividing a pizza or cake”; “We’re looking at writing stories – talk to your child about what you like in a book or movie."
9. Consider meeting parents outside of school, particularly for parents who find it difficult to come into school. A leisure centre, a local hall – wherever parents might be comfortable. Sometimes it’s first steps like this that can lay the foundations of good relationships.
10. You already have many of the skills you need to support parents, because you support learners all the time – sometimes it’s a matter of approaching interactions with parents as learning opportunities – for parents and education staff.
Janet Goodall works in the field of parental engagement and is a consultant with parents’ organisation Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council). She is also an author and a lecturer at the University of Bath, and tweets @janetifImust