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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Friend or Foe? - Getting parents more involved

 This post is a kind of reply to Jason Renshaw's latest post. I began writing a comment in reply to something Leahn (from Early EFL said) but it got longer and longer, so I thought it would be better to make a post out of it.

Parents and children
Jason discussed his ideas on what should be expected of teachers and parents of young students, in terms of greetings, general friendliness and interest; and the importance of teacher-parent relationships. I agree with pretty much everything Jason says, at least in theory. However, there are a few practical implications that can make these suggestions difficult.

 Apart from the very young children whose parents actually come upstairs to pick them up, the only time we ever see parents in my school is if they have a complaint. Only once or twice in the past eight years have I had a parent come in to find out how his/her child is progressing. This is unfortunate but reflects the idea of after-school English classes being an alternative babysitting service. It can, be however, the same from the teacher's point of view. How many teachers ring or write to the parents when the child is doing well? If the only communication between teachers and parents is about "bad stuff", surely there is something wrong? This is why Leahn describes parents as being the enemy. You know, when the secretary  informs you that a parent is coming in to speak to you, that you are in trouble! And this is not good - the teacher becomes defensive, the parent comes in with the wrong attitude (everything is the teacher's fault, even the fact that little Timmy never does any homework because it is apparently the teacher's job to enforce homework, even though this is physically impossible) and the meeting's result means that neither the teacher nor parent goes away completely satisfied and they both hope that the next meeting will be way into the future. This is, unfortunately, the case more often than not.

So after that little rant, it's time to think of some solutions.

Time is generally an issue here - if there are no breaks between lessons and parents are double-parked outside school, little communication is going to take place. Many of the older children walk to school alone, or the car is waiting outside to pick them up. Many parents pay by direct debit and never enter the school.
I think that one solution to this could be a regular email sent out to parents, even if it is only once a term. It could be a kind of newsletter, but I think a personal mail would be more productive. If you make a note of the positive things each child does, it won't be hard to write a quick update on how he/she is doing. I think it best to focus on the positive (Little Timmy has been trying really hard this term), language progress (Timmy can now talk about his free time) but any problems or concerned should also be mentioned, if not in detail. These things are best discussed face to face, so you could mention that you are concerned about Timmy's lack of attention and that you would like to arrange an informal meeting with the parents to discuss this.

I have a class wiki for the little ones where I post things we have been doing, trying to encourage parents to take part in their child's learning. I am wondering to what extent this could be done with older children or teenagers. It is quite alright for parents to sit with their 6 year old at the computer, but would this be feasible with an eleven year old?

If any of you have tried something like this out, I'd love to hear about it. How do you successsully involve parents with their child's learning? Is it possible to do so with older kids? Let me know in the comments section, or reply to Jason's original post, if you prefer.
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