8 tips for maximising your community’s potential

Innovate My School

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Image credit: Flickr // sunvalleygroup. Image credit: Flickr // sunvalleygroup.

How best to make the most of the individuals and organisations in your local area? We approached a group of community-minded innovators with two big challenges facing schools. First up...

What is the best way to engage parents in students’ education?

1. Matt O'Grady, headteacher at West Horndon Primary School

“It’s all about communication, visibility and accessibility! One of my biggest challenges working in education over the year has been how to bottle or capture life in school so that it can be shared with parents. Parents hand over their most precious possessions over to us in the morning, and then have traditionally heard no more until the end of the day. There’s nothing worse than hearing a parent ask a child about what they did at school that day, only to receive in response “nothing much” or, even worse, a grunt and shrug of the shoulders! Technology has changed all that - platforms such as Twitter and ClassDojo now enable us to instantly share with parents and carers an insight into what is happening in school.

“The little-and-often approach to communication, rather than the traditional weekly newsletter, enables us to drip feed information into accessible bitesize pieces that are easily accessed on phones and other devices. As a school leader, visibility and accessibility is another key strategy to build a relationship with parents, and thus increase engagement. This includes being present at the school gate morning and afternoon, standing on the football sidelines, attending fundraising events, and everything in between!”

2. Rachel Womack, director at Mango at PLMR

“The schools we work with all engage parents differently, and there are a multitude of systems available to streamline the process of day to day communication. The key word here is “engaging”, and some of the most effective methods are the simplest. If your school community is supportive then it’s all about the rewarding job of sharing pupil success with parents; whether one-on-one, using Facebook, a great school newsletter (ideally one in formats suitable for all sorts of devices), school events, or with local media coverage. If you have some challenges in your school community, making your pupils’ parents feel heard is crucial. A parent forum, simple methods for open feedback, and a true understanding of what helps parents are useful. It can be a time-consuming task, but I don’t know a single school that hasn’t gained something by undertaking it.”

3. Ricky Ye, CEO of DFRobot

“Parents should engage with their children’s education by learning with them! Many of the topics covered in today’s curriculum were not five years ago. Although concepts like Computer Science and robotics may seem too complex to grasp, the lessons begin at a very basic level, and if parents learn with their children, they will soon be able to create with them! Teachers can encourage their students to talk to their parents about these topics; ask them what they know about computers. Do they know how to code? Do they know what fields robots are used in? It gives them the chance to be the expert and could fuel their interest in learning more.”

4. Professor Becky Parker, director of Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS)

“We find through our collaborative research projects that the best way to engage parents in their student’s education is to let them be part of it. There are many practical ways that teachers can encourage students to implement Science lessons at home. Example include monitoring their family’s carbon footprint, or being aware of the impact of variables like nutrition and natural surroundings on wellbeing. Parents say that they talk more about their children’s Science education at home when the students are tackling real problems rather than just learning about historical experiments in textbooks. This is especially important in encouraging a new generation to attempt to address pressing global problems like climate change and antibiotic resistance.”

5. Sofia Fenichell, CEO of Mrs Wordsmith

“Parental engagement starts young. The best way for parents to engage with their children's education is to talk to them about words; to build a common language for life and school. By eating dinner with them, and walking them to school, there are many opportunities to introduce new words and new ideas. Teachers should prioritise communicating with parents about what books they are reading in school so that they can ask them about that and read aloud with them. Research shows that consistent, parental interaction around language and reading is a key differentiator to life success. Little and often.”

And secondly… How can schools benefit from partnering with local organisations?

6. Matt O'Grady, headteacher at West Horndon Primary School

“All schools are finding that they have to do more and more with less and less! Developing creative and innovative ways of working are becoming crucial to survival! Furthermore, schools are, and should be, at the heart of a community, a focal point for working together to improve life chances of the local children.

“I have found developing a genuine relationship with local organisations brings many benefits both expected and unexpected! The obvious outcome is the raising of the profile of the school, as well as providing new and unique experiences for our pupils. An example of this would be supporting a local football club, and in return the school pupils being invited back as mascots.

“There are further, less tangible benefits too, such as working alongside local charities and groups. Having a meaningful link with a local charity means that pupils can develop a deeper understanding of the cause the organisation is raising money for.

“Mutually beneficial partnerships can also have a really positive effect on a school, such as inviting local senior citizens groups into school for events where pupils get the chance to develop social and speaking and listening skills.”

7. Jasmin De Vivo, senior PR and marketing account manager at Mango at PLMR

“Local businesses can be an excellent source of support for schools, including helping to inspire students, and broaden their knowledge of both the opportunities available to them and the importance of certain skills and knowledge. Teachers can of course give students an overview of different career opportunities, but they’re not experts in every field - and nor can we expect them to be. This is where organisations can help to provide deeper insight. For instance, pharmaceutical, automotive, technology and engineering companies can help schools bring the STEM subjects to life; local builders can talk about running their own business; start-ups can cover how to be entrepreneurial. It’s about demonstrating the purpose of what students are learning and showing them first-hand at how it can be put into practice.”

8. Sam Warnes, CEO of EDLounge

“I encourage schools to invite local business owners to present designated entrepreneur talks, classes and seminars alongside, as well as run mock interviews and business days, so that students understand what trades and careers are within the local community. Partnerships with local organisations could also improve outcomes for students that are potential NEETs enter into the world of vocational or academic traineeships and apprenticeships, as the school may not totally understand the progressions, levy information and the new avenues available.”

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[Comment courtesy of Mango at PLMR]

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