Can we improve parental engagement by “teaching” them?

The staff room is an awful place sometimes. That is a place to vent frustration or even anger at events that have happened. 

Quite often I find the frustration quite justified. We have all had complaints from parents, some of us physical threats and the knowledge that an hour or so of our already little time is going to be wasted on going through the motions of due process. Sometime, the reason for parental complaint lies deeper than legal rights and wrongs. I want to pick up on that further down.

There is, however, another side to the staff room that I love. It is the “bigger half” (don’t strike me down, god of sums) which is often outweighed by the darker, smaller side of the staff room. 

Last term, my department was joined together for a lunchtime coffee. Between sports duties, corridor duties and revision classes, this is rare. We were chatting about various pieces of nonsense (due dates for the expectant parents in the group, how much rain there would be in the holidays, who was teaching what levels next year, when would the results be in etc etc) when the conversation turned to a discussion with a parent from a few months ago. 

The parent had bounced an idea that the maths we teach is probably not beyond them, but as the parent was unsure of the exact content and the parent had not been involved in learning for many years, they just felt under-confident to offer their services to their child.  

We discussed this over our coffee (I firmly believe Nescafé has more to do with successful CPD than the swankiest of hotels ever can) and found there would be enough interest in this to offer an hour a week as an after school engagement. 

The costs? Do you remember the days we got paid for offering CPD? You are getting old. Number of cups that need dishwashed? Approximately 100ml of milk and 10-20 spoons of coffee. Printing, but we would not be teaching the parents the course, that would be impractical. Perhaps?

I have just spent the best part of three weeks getting my head around moodle, this will help my students as it will also engage them with blog writing and help us reduce the volume of paper we use. Several features of moodle blow glow out of the water for me, for maths. Perhaps once I have these features nailed in my learning, I will be happy to use glow for the other features. Who knows!

It then struck me. Moodle is a good option for parents. A page to outline what we teach followed by a few questions to demonstrate what we assess. Feedback is provided and a copy available for the teacher who enrolled them. An option is available to not give feedback should that be preferred. 

Putting this together with some guides to support families with Maths will also be a major resource. For example, how can parents help with estimation and rounding?  Learning the rule “5 or more round up” is great but getting the child to estimate the weight of sugar when making a cake or measure of milk when cooking (2 very simple thoughts) embed the spirit of CfE better than any text books can.

This is not an overnight thing, planning and co-operation may well be required.

So, an easily created log in to a slightly augmented set of online homework resources, a copy of a short list of activities that could be fun yet helpful in enriching the child’s Maths experience and a weekly coffee/chat/Maths discussion. Are these going to go down well? Are we going to get parents to get involved? Will it help with their understanding of what we are teaching, and why? Will it make for a better relationship between school and parent? 

This questions are not rhetorical, I look for your views. Please let me know if you have experience of this and (regardless of your experience or subject) let me know what your thoughts are, before I spend too much time working on it. Your views are crucial in moving this forward. Please respond either by tweet or comment?

8 thoughts on “Can we improve parental engagement by “teaching” them?

  1. Kenneth Allen

    Great post Eddie. I believe that parental engagement is key to improving the educational experience within the school. In fact, wider community and stakeholder commitment should all be an integral part of an holistic educational foundation. I think your ideas would be of considerable benefit to that ideal.

    1. eddiewhite Post author

      Thanks Kenneth, I always see pupil success to be like that fire triangle from chemistry. Instead of fire/air/fuel, it is pupil/parent/teacher (parent = any adult out of school)

      The fact is that school is part of the education. It is not the only education they get – the education a family brings is more vital than school so finding ways to blend them is even more important.

  2. Hamish Budge

    Keeping with the fire analogy success like a fire needs opportunities to develop. That opportunity is sometimes missed in the classroom possibly due to a momentary lapse in concentration (hey it happens!) or maybe even the occasional discipline issue.
    Having the core content organised on-line allows students to catch up or accelerate at their own pace. The classroom can then be freed to allow more individualised learning rather than time spent offloading content.

  3. john sexton

    As ever a smashing wee post Eddie. Like you I have been considering parental engagement to support the learning and teaching taking place in the classroom. Here in West Lothian we have been looking at providing a set of “sugggested common approaches/strategies” to the numeracy outcomes for all teaching staff. So far we have considered fractions, decimals and percentages with further topics to come this year. You can find these at http://publicwebsites1.glowscotland.org.uk/Maths%20and%20Numeracy%20Guidelines/ It wasn’t such a big step to develop this approach to develop a similar site for parents. You can find this at http://publicwebsites1.glowscotland.org.uk/WLNS/
    Both sites are hosted through glow but are public areas therefore no passwords etc needed. I am hoping for a big push in parental involvement this year as I do feel that parents are very much an un-tapped resource in the teaching process.

  4. eddiewhite Post author

    Thanks John,

    I think we are all getting our heads around the whole CfE malarkey enough now to think about phase two, the one where we try and make learning at home.

    I wonder if, had the exams stayed the same and it was only method and application that we were spending on time on, would we all be further on with parental engagement?

    Thanks for the links to your work. In my last cluster, we used the highland council numeracy booklets for pupils and parents and ha to make amendments so all people in the cluster had a general agreement of content. Didn’t think it worked too well overall as the work to “tweak” the original document was too much compared to the benefit of it, if you know what I mean.

    We need to meet up at some point, when is anyone’s guess.

    Look forward to reflecting on your work. Do you use Glow Learn?

  5. john sexton

    “I wonder if, had the exams stayed the same and it was only method and application that we were spending on time on, would we all be further on with parental engagement?”
    I can only agree! (unfortunately).
    Fortunately my current position allows me the time to “tweak” much of what many others have started and develop it further with more practical approaches and instruction. I too share concerns about approaches not working too well in reality. Hopefully this year as I develop the common approaches in numeracy for both staff and parents this year with several “pilot” schemes I can share further the stuff that is successful. Hoping for great things 🙂 I always live in hope.
    I have not went as far as opening up an online leaning environment resource with parents as yet. I wouldn’t even to attempt to do so with glow learn (glow learn is not in the least user friendly). However I am thinking of looking at edmodo as a means of setting up such an environment but this is just a wild idea in my head at the moment. Who knows.

  6. Eileen Prior

    “parents are very much an un-tapped resource in the teaching process”

    Absolutely agree. In fact I’d say they are very much an un-tapped resource for schools. Many, many parents want to be involved but lack the confidence or knowledge to do so. Teachers who can bridge that gap for parents will see the impact, I’m sure.

    Would love to hear in more detail about some of this work – could go on our website or newsletter – let me know!

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