Wednesday, November 03, 2010

To P or not to P?

Involving parents? Should we? Shouldn't we? With young learners I think it's worth a try although certainly there's no guarantee of success in every case. What do you think? Are parents your valued teaching assistants, the engine room behind your students' rapid progress or are they a source of arghs and yikes?

Parents, especially those who enroll their kids in private language schools want their children transformed into confident English speakers. They usually want this to happen in about a week. They also usually lack the confidence to get involved. I have found most parents are happy to get on board if they are shown simple things they can do at home but don't want their lives taken over. I think some schools see sharing goals as a sign of weakness; a sign that they may not be able to do it all in 50 minutes a week with a Halloween and a Christmas Party thrown in for good measure. How do we start? By communication perhaps. Here are a few ways that schools can communicate with parents. I'd love to hear more ideas on this.

10 ways to communicate with parents

1. The Newsletter

Keeping in touch with your customers is not just good business. A fun, attractive newsletter is a great way for a school to motivate students and parents. Does your school have a newsletter? What sort of stuff does it include? Does it end up under the car seat or lovingly kept in a folder and treasured?

2. The Transparent Curriculum

Clearly stating the school’s goals gives everyone something to aim for. The curriculum should not be a closely guarded secret formula but should be available for everyone to refer to. How much do your students and their parents know what you have in store for them?

3. The Homepage

Nearly all students now have access to a home computer and this is a great way to reach them and their parents. Good school homepages have all sorts of information, news, games, activities and links to other learning sites.

4. The Starter Pack

Getting students and parents off to the right start is really important. Informing parents about the benefits of home study will help everyone. The starter pack should include all sorts of tips for home study as well as explaining the school’s goals and expectations.

5. The Open Class Day

Having one or more open classes a year is really motivating for students and, although pretty hard work for teachers, it gives parents an idea of what their children are doing every week. Open Class Days are a chance to perform something that students have been practicing. They give everyone a chance to show off. They are also the single best way to generate pressure and misery in teachers! What about your experiences? I think most of us have done 3 Billy Goats Tongue-Tied.

6. The Parent Workshop

Holding a parent workshop where the school shares ideas with parents about home study can be really fun. This can take many forms and is a great way for a school to network in the community.

7. The Report

Feedback is important for everyone. Without being too judgmental, it is always possible to give some useful feedback and tips for further progress. Even if it is just a short comment written on the students’ attendance cards, it’s a good idea to show students and parents that the school cares about them as individuals.

8. The Ceremonies and Certificates

Every kid likes to be told that they are great and most parents love to see their kids getting a certificate. Sniff, sniff! Pass the hankies!

9. The Advice

When parents feel that the school is approachable, they will be much better able to help their kids. Schools should make it clear that they are happy to give advice on the telephone, by fax, email or even in person.

10. The Homework

The easiest way to encourage your students to work on their English at home is to give them homework. Do you or don't you?

10 pieces of advice schools we might give parents. I'm sure you have more to add to this list.

1. Be positive (but don’t push too hard)

Parents have to be a bit clever here. Although nobody can help as much as supportive parents, nothing puts kids off quicker than pushy ones.

2. Do just a little… every day

There is a Japanese expression chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru which translates as “If you pile up the dust, you’ll have a mountain”. Make English-time a part of the day’s routine.

3. Create an English environment

Have English-language books, videos and other such stuff around the house. Some parents put up posters and some even label the things in the house with their English names. This is very helpful when you can’t find the refrigerator.

4. Think globally

Bringing up globally aware kids will prepare them for international communication. I mean, that's the point, isn't it? If you can interest your children in people and places around the world you are laying the foundations for using English to communicate in the future.

5. Learn together

Children follow role models and a parent who becomes interested in language learning will likely be a help and inspiration to their kids.

6. Share your ideas with other parents

Learning English is not a competition (or at least it shouldn’t be!). When you find some good methods or materials, share them with other parents. Remember, what goes around, comes around!

7. Visit English bookshops and libraries

A great place to get ideas. The staff will be happy to help and for those far from a big city, there’s always Amazon.

8. Watch, listen and surf

Turn your TV, CD player and computer into your teaching assistants. There are no shortage of great materials out there waiting for you.

9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Fear of making mistakes prevents more people from learning English than anything else. Unfortunately, some language schools capitalize on this fear. Don’t worry! There is no ‘standard’, ‘correct’ English. Just dive in! Or not?

10. Ask a teacher for advice.

Or not? How approachable are you?


Students, teachers and parents should support each other to reach shared goals, shouldn't they? When everyone knows what these goals are, everyone can work together. Too often, only teachers and students are involved. The home support is not there. Implementing all of these ideas will not be possible for most teachers or parents but given the time, the energy and the financial resources, these are some of the things we could hope for in an ideal world. Involving parents is a surprisingly contentious issue for a number of reasons, not least that it involves an initial investment of hard work to put such ‘systems’ in place.

There are also arguments that students should take responsibility for their own learning. Your experience may have lead you to consider that parents should be kept firmly at arms length and do way more harm than good. We've all had good and bad experiences with parents. What do you think? Is it worth getting them involved or not? I'd love to hear people's ideas and stories on this one.


Mari at Engilsh Square said...

Hi, Patric,

Great post!

If I can add something here:
I send a brief e-mail with a positive comment to my student's mom when a student shows a remarkable effort or have achieved a goal, whatever it may seem small from an adult's eye. Of course no moms feel bad when they hear something good about their child, and this helps start a nice dialog with them. Also having built a trusting relationship this way makes it easier for me to contact them when I need their help!

Patrick Jackson said...

Hi Mari. Great to see you here. Thanks for the comment. I think that your beautiful new website is a model for schools looking for ways to communicate with parents. Great job!

@creativeedu said...

I have included your post in my Daily Digest of educational blog posts as I thought it would be of interest to other teachers. You can see it here: