The power of story time in the community

Jodie Lopez

Jodie Lopez is a self-confessed geek and proud of it. Her career started in sales and customer service, and she left this to become a Primary teacher. She is now a freelance consultant and founder of lovEdtech. Jodie speaks at conferences for schools about using technology on a shoestring. Jodie is passionate about ensuring that every penny spent on tech in schools is both fit for purpose and keeps teachers coming back for more!

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Image credit: CBeebies Bedtime Stories // British Broadcasting Company. Image credit: CBeebies Bedtime Stories // British Broadcasting Company.

Schools all want to have great communication with parents. They know the value and impact of partnerships which help to meet a child’s needs 24/7. It isn’t always easy to manage, however, as there just isn’t the time in the day, or even the week, to meet regularly with all parents. So what often happens is a stream of information coming from school to home, often with very little coming back the other way, even with the best of intentions.

Schools send home newsletters, use text services, or even apps to keep parents in the loop. They send everything from homework updates, to reminders of PE days, to school trip itineraries and photos. Schools often offer classes after school for parents too. These may cover e-safety, or how to support children with their Maths homework now that the teaching of it has changed so much since the parents were at school.

We often spend a lot of time putting ourselves in the position of the teacher for the parents; so much so that we can easily overlook ways to ensure the expertise from home also makes its way into school. There is a whole wealth of shareable knowledge and wisdom which can also be harnessed.

When I was an ICT coordinator at a large three-form entry Primary school in London, we faced many challenges. One of which was a high proportion “It’s easy to overlook ways to ensure that expertise from home makes it into school.”of students for whom English was their second, third or even fourth or fifth language. Their parents were often not English speakers, and the child would translate at parents evenings and meetings. We knew that the parents wanted to support their child in learning English, but they often lacked the pronunciation or understanding of nuance or grammatical structures to teach them English at home.

Therefore, during one INSET day where we were encouraging staff to learn to use filmmaking as part of a literacy approach, the nursery staff team came up with the idea to make a film which involved them reading aloud a children’s story book. Think CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories but without a budget or a wealth of Hollywood’s finest actors. The result, however, was still really pleasing. So we decided to host it on the parent page of our learning platform so that parents could access it from home. This would allow them to play it for their child near bedtime. The whole family could benefit from being read a story in English by a native speaker, as well as nurturing a love of books and stories. It proved to be hugely popular so we added some more across the school, covering a range of stories and age groups.

Something was still missing in our online ‘Story Room’ however, and that was the diversity which was present in our school community. Yes, it was great that parents “This was CBeebies’ Bedtime Story, but without a budget or Hollywood actors.”could hear stories in English. But how about celebrating home culture and hosting stories in other languages too? This started with some Modern Foreign Language entries - videos we recorded in school with parents willing to come and read a book, or simply tell a story, in their home language. We then asked them, or another speaker of the same language, to also tell the story in English and added that as a resource too.

The story room grew gradually to include stories and languages from across Europe, Africa and Asia. Parents were suddenly the stars of the learning platform as well as the teachers, and we were able to share the wealth of culture, outside of the physical school walls, across the whole community. It was never as big as I would have liked by the time I moved on to another school, but is a project I started at my next school too, and is one I would always do again if I am to go back to teaching one day. Or I may help my son’s school to get one set up once he starts in Reception (don’t pre-warn them, as places are not guaranteed yet!).

We also started to ask parents to share recipes from home on the platform too, and held an International Day where parents brought dishes from home for everyone to have a taster. It was a really great day which celebrated everything which our diverse community held dear: learning, sharing, collaboration, respect, cooperation and friendship.

I would highly recommend these activities, and would like to thank everyone I worked with, and the parents and pupils, for bringing it all together so perfectly.

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