Culture change affects not just those who work in a school but all those who have a stake in it. Preeminent among them are parents.
Once schools have begun to develop their approach to becoming a Learning-Powered organization, it does not take very long before they realize that there could be major implications for the way in which the school should interact with parents and carers. An overarching issue reported by all schools adopting these approaches is the need to develop effective ways of communicating and engaging with parents to ensure that:
- parents understand what the school is trying to do
- what goes on at home and in the wider community can complement the approaches being adopted at school.
For some time, schools have been committed to actively involving parents but Learning- Powered schools find it necessary to look beyond ‘involvement’ to ‘engagement’. This implies a more active and personal parental participation in a child’s learning. In recent years, research has found that parental engagement with a child’s learning makes a significant contribution to a child’s achievement, and that parental engagement is a much bigger factor than the school in shaping achievement.
Carol Dweck sums up the contribution of parental intent to the development of children who are powerful learners:
‘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.’
Schools take the initiative by communicating their objectives to parents, not just practical arrangements, but the strategic vision: what they seek to help their students become and how they are going about achieving it. In this case it means explaining to them what ‘learning power’ is, its dimensions and underlying habits and behaviors, why it is so important as a life skill.
Information sessions …
- The most popular way of introducing the Learning Power approach to parents has been through information sessions backed up by leaflets, newsletters, and the school website. The need to make the purpose and language of Learning Power accessible has proved challenging for some schools.
- Simply explaining the 7 dimensions and 17 learning habits doesn’t seem to engage parents’ interest reliably. Schools have found it important, therefore, to highlight that:
- this is about helping children to become better learners, in school as well as out
- enabling them to understand, use, and become more skilled in adopting a wide range of learning behaviors
- making the children more responsible and independent as learners with outstanding employability skills;
- the approach will take some time to really embed into the culture of the school, and that it means teachers teaching rather differently and using a new language of learning
- there will be positive effects on children’s behavior, motivation and persistence, which will feed through to their levels of achievement
- parents have a critical part to play in helping their children to become better learners and that the school would value their assistance.
Keeping parental interest alive …
One information evening may be sufficient to raise awareness, but maintaining interest requires a range of ongoing activities. These might include: Learning Activity Days; Website Content and Newsletters; Presentation Assemblies; Information in Reception Areas; Curriculum Information Sheets.
Reporting to parents …
Learning-focused reports for parents offer insight into a child’s use of, and progression in the adoption, of learning habits. This information should be written in ways that parents can readily understand and, more importantly, provoke and promote activity. It should offer a talking point about what the child does at school and furthermore suggest how the parent might pick up on the points made and support their child to develop further. These reports support parents to become partners in building a child’s learning behaviors.
How parents are encouraged to help build better learners …
Research tells us that what parents do at home has the greatest impact on a child’s learning, so schools tend to focus on offering ideas for parents to assist in building their children’s learning power.
Just as learning-focused approaches change the way teachers teach, so they can influence the way parents parent. For example, if parents want to help their children see the value of effort and to develop self-belief in their talents, then they may choose to praise their child specifically for those efforts which show them ‘going the extra mile’ rather than simply for ‘getting a good mark’. They may also create situations in which children have to work things out by themselves and hold back from helping them too soon.
Some schools are beginning to offer snappy hour-long sessions on specific aspects of the school’s learning approach such as:
- How to praise your child’
- How to help your child when they are stuck’
- Helping your child to set goals’
- Recognizing signs of learning distress’
- 10 things to do/say with/to your child’.
Obviously care needs to be taken when advising parents about parenting, but we know too that unguarded words from a parent after school can unwittingly undo all of the good that has been done during the day. For this reason alone, finding ways to help parents assist the school in building better learners has incalculable benefits.