Parental engagement: Building on lockdown relationships

Written by: Ben Case | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The further re-opening of schools will still involve a large role for remote education and home learning. Ben Case looks at how the improvements in parental engagement that we have seen during lockdown can be built upon as pupils begin to return to the classroom

Since schools closed to the majority of pupils in March, there has been a huge increase in teachers and parents/carers working together to support children’s learning at home.

Despite some of the challenges, it has demonstrated everyone’s commitment to helping children to continue to learn and progress.

Research shows that parental involvement in children’s learning has a positive effect on their performance in school (Clark, 2007).

Before lockdown, parent engagement was important in every primary school but following the move to remote learning it became mission critical.

Now, as schools begin the process of potentially welcoming back more children from June 1, what have we learnt about parental engagement that we should continue to apply as the school gates cautiously begin to open wider?

Video calls are a powerful tool

Whether it is Zoom, WhatsApp, Google, MS Teams, or something else, the video call has helped teachers to communicate with parents and engage them in their child’s learning.

The communication is not the same as face-to-face, but I can imagine video calls becoming a major part of parents’ evenings in the future. If parents’ work shifts clash or if they are looking after younger children, they often cannot get physically into the school. Offering parents the chance to opt for a video call on parents’ evening rather than a face-to-face meeting could increase overall “attendance”.

Schools might also look at offering video call parents’ evenings staggered across a number of evenings or even during the day (if cover could be provided), which would make it less intense for teachers. That said, some teachers do prefer to get all their meetings done in one go!

Sharing learning at home

Parents have been in the learning driving seat since schools closed. If our experience at Tapestry is anything to go by, then parents and carers now understand more about what, when and how their children learn. It would be wonderful to harness this new-found knowledge so that they continue to capture their child’s learning at home.

Certainly this may become necessary if we move to a wider system of staggered education in schools with pupils spending some time at home remote learning and some time at school.

Children often display their learning in different ways between the classroom and home environments. At home, a child may show consolidation and understanding of a concept or skill they have learned at school. There may also be experiences happening at home that can inform a teacher of a child’s interests or ways to engage them in learning. Setting up avenues to share these valuable home experiences will help teachers to know their children better and will support the planning of classroom learning.

To keep parents sharing, schools need to look at simple ways for rewarding and encouraging them. Primary schools tell us that it is all about responding quickly when parents share pictures and videos of home learning. Also, adding reminders to newsletters and other school communications is useful.

However, a sensitive approach is needed. Think about the parents who are engaging least during lockdown – and the reasons for this. What might need to change as schools open their doors to more children to help these parents share a little about what their child is doing at home? What would make them feel more confident or more motivated to engage?

Bringing the teacher into the home

During lockdown, many teachers have recorded video lessons where they model things for children to follow, set them a specific task, or simply read them a story.

For many children it must have been quite exciting to watch and listen to their teacher in their own home. It keeps them connected with key staff, providing a familiar face to see, which will support their transition when they return to school.

This approach means that they can remain “tuned in” to the way their teacher talks and communicates new learning to them, so when they are back in the classroom they will remember how teaching and learning together works. Parents can also replay a video if they feel their child has struggled with an idea. This supports both parents and children to follow new concepts. Video means even Reception children can engage independently and this provides a useful break for parents.

Having your teacher “appear” at home is a brilliant way to strengthen the link between school and home learning. I hope schools will encourage teachers to continue to create these resources. Having a bank would allow teachers to use them each year and will be useful if home learning continues to play a significant role post-lockdown.

Weekly round-up for parents

During lockdown, lots of teachers have created videos aimed at parents to tell them about what is planned for the next week. These have provided a valuable way to keep families up-to-date during lockdown and could be useful for keeping parents engaged once schools re-open further. Lockdown has shown us all how compelling video is as a medium and it is great for providing an informal, friendly tone.

If parents struggle to get to school for pick up, a video message would be very useful and help to keep them abreast of their child’s learning. Even better, teachers can suggest things that could be done at home to continue the learning or prepare for the following week’s learning – imagine the benefit of the prior learning that could be brought into the classroom when you ask children to explore their local area before doing a geography topic about where they live, for example.

Social distancing and parental engagement

It is certain that forms of social distancing will continue into the autumn term. Social distancing makes the typical school gate chat at the beginning or end of the day much less possible. Many parents cite this as a useful moment to catch up on news about their child and to talk to teachers about problems such as struggles that their child may be experiencing at home (or at school) or changes in their home-life circumstances.

I think that the communication tools used during lockdown by schools will help parents to feel that they can still have a virtual school gate chat. Parents have grown in confidence using these tools so we should be encouraging them to continue as we emerge from lockdown.

Conclusion

There is a big opportunity for a step change in parental engagement following lockdown. The parents who have worked with teachers to ensure their children continue to learn have a much more comprehensive understanding of what their child does at school, how their teacher supports them and what it means to learn. As we ease out of lockdown I hope that this common understanding will be preserved and parental engagement will remain central in schools’ plans.

  • Ben Case is education advisor for Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum. He was previously a primary school teacher for more than 10 years. Visit www.tapestry.info

Further information & resources

Clark: Why families matter to literacy: A brief research summary, National Literacy Trust, 2007: https://bit.ly/3gnJjuZ


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