In a fast-paced working week full of lesson planning, marking, meetings and assessments, often as teachers, we can neglect the group of people who have the single most influence on every pupil - parents. Without a doubt, at the heart of every successful school is a foundation of strong, positive parent-teacher relationships.
What does the evidence say?
Increasingly, evidence suggests that levels of parental engagement are consistently associated with children's academic outcomes. Estimates vary, but between 75%-85% of a child's waking hours are spent outside the influence of school. A study by the Department for Education (2003) showed a direct link between a parent's involvement in their child's education and their academic success.
Parental involvement in education seems to be a more significant influence than poverty, school environment and the impact of peers.
Evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation, (2018), suggests that effective parental engagement can lead to learning gains of +3 months over one academic year.
Why are effective parent-teacher relationships a win-win?
Having positive parent-teacher relationships is, without a doubt, a win-win situation for both parties. Teachers benefit from additional input from an academic, social and behavioral point of view, as well as being able to draw upon knowledge of the whole child. Additionally, parents feel more involved in their child's education and feel more confident in how to help their child academically.
Here are '6 Bees' for schools that can significantly improve teacher-parent relationships:
Communicating frequently with parents in simple ways such as a smile, or a friendly greeting can go a long way. Small interactions can help break down potential barriers that parents may feel perhaps due to their own school experience or their lack of confidence. In a world with many parents that have hectic work schedules, all parents must receive updates on classroom events, homework and any school opportunities. Using online platforms such as Tapestry and Edmodo works particularly well as parents can easily access classroom information, see current work and also leave a comment.
Ensuring that communication systems are accessible for all to use and are consistent, is vital. Weekly class learning summaries and half-termly whole school newsletters can help all parents to keep up to date with current learning topics and activities. Explicitly referring to the personal learning of the class is essential, as well as celebrating successes as often as possible. Allowing communication to be two-way proves useful; asking parents how they think they can be better involved in school life is critical and over time and will ensure that home-school relationships continue to improve.
Invite parents in as much as possible to 'Come and see'. Let parents see for themselves what learning in their child's classroom looks like and let them understand the classroom systems and expectations. Meanwhile, any misconceptions they may have can be dispelled.
Get to know parents and their interests, and build alliances with parents who have specific resources and skills. Parents can often come in as special visitors to model specialized skills. For example, a nurse or doctor coming into to explain about the importance of health, an art teacher or graphic designer coming to work on a specific art project or a scientist demonstrating experiments as part of science learning. Children seeing people they are familiar with will further encourage them to immerse themselves in their learning.
I firmly believe that parents have the right to know early on when any gaps in their child’s learning or their behavioral actions start to impact on their school experience. Having an open dialogue early on helps 'nip it in the bud' before the problem escalates further.
Inviting parents in to discuss allows them to talk about what they think could work and honestly say what they could potentially do to help at home. This approach benefits both teachers and parents to feel reassured that they are working together for the child's best interest.
Where possible, always start with positives. Try to communicate good behavior to parents as well as negative. This way, when difficulties arise with behavior, it is much easier if something positive has already been communicated. Otherwise, parents are likely to associate communication with negativity and naturally want to avoid it.
Sometimes parents want to help with their child's learning but are unsure or worried that they might interfere with strategies taught at school. Providing very specific ways to help further learning is vital. Information on the school website can help give ideas for detailed questions and precise methods.
If possible, hold workshops where teachers can explicitly model how to help. These will include frequent teacher-pupil interactions such as 'Please explain your method' or 'What do you predict will happen next?'. With some pupils, more specific guidance might be needed to model certain concepts that they might have particularly stumbled across and would benefit from home intervention. Examples could be helping a child become number fluent by recognizing that 8+6 can be worked out quickly by working out 10 + 4.
Ultimately, as teachers, we need to remember that as parents, they know their child best; what their strengths and interests are and so we need to listen, really listen. Often they will have potential ideas that might aid their learning or emotional needs. We need to listen to them - they know the whole child.
Working effectively with parents is something that requires sustained effort and hard work, but when done well, it can have one of the most positive impacts on a child's academic performance. Despite the alarming evidence, many schools do not have a specific plan for how they work with parents. The 6 Bees offers a starting point for schools to review their current parent-teacher approaches critically.