Ask teachers about how they feel about the parents in their school community and responses will probably be wide-ranging. We have heard of the ‘helicopter’ parents, the ‘tiger moms’ and those parents who make life for teachers, well, inconvenient. On the other hand, some teachers feel that a number of parents are not interested, have not got the time yet it is vital they play a greater part in their child’s education.
Regardless of what view different teachers hold, parents matter. Parents and teachers together have a huge influence on the life of a child and if they work well in tandem, the positive impact parents and teachers can have is significant. We, therefore, need to involve parents in our schools.
This means going beyond the parent-teacher conference, which if you asked many parents is hit and miss depending on what teacher you are talking to.
The first question we should be asking ourselves is what mechanisms do we have for parents to give us feedback to improve our schools? To do this well, we have to be prepared that not all feedback will be kind and some of it will pick out small things that perhaps, to us, are not that important or inconvenient to address right now. Genuine seeking of feedback from a parent body and then talking about and acting on some of it begins to build that trust that the education of children is a two-way relationship between school and home.
In requesting feedback from parents, we should be asking parents about the aspects of our school programs that they wish to know more about or have little understanding of. We need to look at our schools through the eyes of our parents. Schools are different now to what most parents experienced in their education and parents need to, and many want to, understand those differences. Schools, by listening to their parents, can begin to tailor their information more to what parents are going to engage with. I have often heard teachers complain that parents are not paying attention to the information that they are being sent. Well, perhaps that is because it is in a format that parents do not want to engage with, or it is information that is not that important from the perspective of the parent, but if you have never asked, you will never know.
Going beyond the general sharing of information is having parents experience what classes are like. I have seen some schools open up their classrooms for parents to observe lessons. Other schools have teachers put parents in a demonstration lesson, to see learning through the eyes of their children, to be able to experience the difference since they were at school and to be able to ask questions. These experiences are powerful for parents, they get to see, for example, how technology is used, how critical thinking is developed and why creativity is so important.
Involving parents in our schools not only helps with the school-home partnership but it goes further to build trust in that parents get to understand what goes on behind the exterior walls of the school building and, most important, builds a school community where parents are value as part learning process