Changing the conversation between teachers and parents

Submitted by PTAUK

Talk to most teachers about parents and they will, of course, tell you that parents are very important and that their school does whatever it can to involve them. Indeed many schools try to do just this. But for some parents, the experience is rather less positive. They feel only partially included in the bigger conversations about what their child’s school does. And, if they are a member of a PTA, the danger is that discussions quickly turn to funds for the school mini-bus or the next second-hand uniform stall rather than to the even more important matter of what parents can do with teachers to improve opportunities for learning.

The research into the benefits of parental engagement in schools is powerful. Here’s how Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp sum it up: ‘The evidence is consistent, positive and convincing: families have a major influence on children’s achievement. When schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better at school, stay in school longer and like school more.’

So we need to do two things. Make sure that parents and teachers really talk together. Make sure that they talk about the really important things. This is much more than the traditional stuff – progress in the curriculum (teachers to parents) and help with fundraising (teachers to PTA parents), for example. While both of these topics are important they are really only opening exchanges to a much deeper discussion about how parents and teachers can work together to develop young people who will be able to do well in exams and be happy, fulfilled and able to thrive in an increasingly tricky world.

Getting good at the 7Cs

In our book, Educating Ruby: what our children really need to learn, Guy Claxton and I lay out an agenda for action by parents who might like to shift the conversation onto the kinds of things which will really help their children grow into powerful learners. We suggest that schools and parents should focus at least as much on the development of aspects of character as on developing knowledge and skills within the curriculum. We call these the 7Cs -

  1. Confidence,
  2. Curiosity,
  3. Conviviality,
  4. Communication,
  5. Creativity,
  6. Commitment, and
  7. Craftsmanship.

Taking action

As I visit schools as well as see wonderful examples of real parental engagement, I am struck by how much there is to make sure that schools talk about the things that really matter. Here are some ideas for teachers and parents to begin to move the conversation on.

Teachers might like to:

  1. Invite key members of the PTA to become involved in discussions about what children are being taught, how they are learning it and what parents can do to help on learning. Offer to come to attend PTA meetings to discuss the school’s approach to aspects of learning.
  2. Recruit parent learning champions to act as a sounding board to the head and senior staff and communicate with their peers about all aspects of their and their children’s experiences of school.
  3. Tell parents every fortnight in accessible language what their child will be learning and make one practical suggestion as to something parents can do to help. Put up an annotated map of all the informal learning opportunities – libraries, museums, woodlands, cinemas, shopping centres, theatres, historic sites - within a mile of the school in its main entrance area.
  4. Start a school book group for parents and staff as a means of broadening topics for discussion. You could choose Educating Ruby as your first title!

Parents might like to:

  1. Offer to become a parent learning champion deliberately trying to explore things you believe are important for children to learn at the same time as listening carefully to what teachers what to share.
  2. Offer to help to write or edit a fortnightly e-mail to parents with a small number of practical suggestions for activities families can do to support their children’s learning.
  3. Make a point of talking about one or more of the 7Cs whenever you have conversations with your child’s teacher or tutor. ‘How is Bill’s curiosity developing and what can we do to stimulate his love of X?’ ‘I’ve noticed that Helen is handing in work that doesn’t look like she has taken much trouble over it. What could we do to help her develop a sense of pride in her learning?’
  4. Join or set up a new parent-teacher book group under the aegis of your PTA!

If you are a parent and a teacher reading this – and there are lots of us about – then you are especially well-placed to ask some different questions in the staff-room and at the school gate as you will see from both perspectives and act as a catalyst. There are lots more practical suggestions at or in Educating Ruby.

But let’s leave the last words to Carol Dweck:

‘If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way they will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.’

This is a re-blog post submitted by Hayley Francis on behalf of PTAUK and published with kind permission.


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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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