4 ways to give more positive messages to parents

June 1, 2018
Jennifer Ingham

Jennifer Ingham

Assistant Headteacher at Blackburn Central High School

In my experience, the students we really need to work with have the hardest to reach parents.

A couple of years ago, I was making my Friday phone call to a parent whose son could be quite challenging. He was working well for me and I wanted to let Mum know. On the third try she answered the phone by saying, ‘What’s he done now?’ and I realised that everything she ever heard from school was negative.

All too often our contact with parents happens when we are having problems. It is not good enough to hear nothing from school and then attend a parents' evening where you are told that your child is misbehaving and underperforming across the board. Contact needs to be regular and positive.

According to the Sutton Trust, positive parental engagement has 2-3 months positive impact at both primary and secondary. To have this impact, we have to try and break the cycle of negativity. Here are the things we implemented in my school:

1. How to…ensure messages are positive

The most negative message can still be delivered positively if you focus on desired outcomes. Some parents have reasons for not wanting to engage with school and while we can’t remove all barriers we can try to minimise them.

Try to get to know your families personally and understand that the barriers they feel are real and they can do little to change their circumstances. Just trying to understand can go a long way.

Make it personal and give a little of yourself. Share the challenges you face as a parent or teacher and talk to them on a personal level. Don’t just invite them in when things are going wrong, instead put in some hours to proactively build a relationship.


2. How to…combat underachievement through parental engagement

At my school, we are very lucky to have pastoral managers (who are non-teachers) and achievement leads (who are teachers) working together to monitor, track and assist each year group. This ensures that all children are under the spotlight and any issues are picked up quickly.

Each year we target underachievers and have found that one of the best ways to develop pupils is to get parents involved and working closely with school.

In order to facilitate this close working relationship, we made sure that whenever parents are invited in for academic conversations we would not use the meeting method.

Instead, we have invited targeted groups in for enrichment activities with a structured conversation running through the activity.

These structured conversations are scripted beforehand and staff are trained to have these conversations and to weave the conversation into the activity time.

3. How to…keep engagement ideas innovative

Our pastoral managers and achievement leads reach out to target families and invite them to sessions that involve cookery, revision sessions, and reading with relatives.

Achievement and progress are discussed but during a relaxing session in a friendly environment. As our pastoral managers do not have a teaching commitment they are able to put a lot of time into building relationships, supporting our more vulnerable families and making home visits.

"Make it personal and give a little of yourself. Share the challenges you face as a parent or teacher and talk to them on a personal level."

1. How to…build a new process for better parental engagement

I found that implementing the following procedures really helped our staff to engage hard to reach parents:

  • Friday phone calls: we ensured every teacher made a positive call to a parent before leaving school on a Friday
  • One point of contact: if there is a family that may be getting a lot of negative calls, ensure this is always through one member of staff
  • Contact parents with small communications, but often
  • Keep a log to see whether positive messages outweigh negative ones
  • Invite parents to activities to ensure they get more than boring meetings
  • Include food at parental events
  • Create a plan for keeping in contact over summer
  • Include them in the school plans to help them feel ownership over decision

The key to parental engagement is making sure that we work together throughout the year, not just when we hit a crisis point.

Jennifer is a graduate from our 2015 Future Leaders cohort. Future Leaders is a two-year intensive leadership development programme for senior leaders who aim to become headteachers of schools in challenging contexts within three years.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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