Or Parental engagement and how to stop real life getting in the way!
One of the few undisputed facts in education is that kids do better at school if their parents are engaged in their learning. Yet like most facts the knowing and the doing are very different things, for two simple reasons; firstly real life gets in the way, and secondly, there are always unintended consequences which crop up when we least expect them.
With the former, we know it’s a fact that exercise is good for us and fat is bad, but after a hard week at work and just living, how many of us will regularly chose the condo gym over a lie in and roti canai for breakfast at the weekend? We know the facts, but we live real lives.
Unintended consequences, on the other hand, might sound like a lesser reason to ignore the facts, as spending time helping our kids with their homework, popping into school to learn about the grid method, or learning a sport with them, are all good, simple, defined, ring fenced, what can go wrong…
” You’re going to hit Bob! Hard starboard.” Trophy hollered.
“Have you got him?” I called back as I manoeuvred the yacht to the right of the Man Over Board dummy, Bob. My maneuvering was perfect so anyone could have hooked out Bob… well almost anyone!
“…and with a time of 3.58, Susan and Trophy have now set a new sailing school record for the fastest couples Man Overboard this year. Susan would also have had the fastest overall MOB time if Trophy had recovered Bob on the first pass… Tas can I ask you to re-brief your parents on on-deck communication?” smirked Barry our instructor winking at our Ten-Ager.
We went sailing so that Tas could get his introduction to yachting certificate. He got it but Trophy and I have been getting advice on effective communication strategies ever since from our 10 year old life coach – that’s unintended consequences!
But, it’s a fact, parent involvement in our kid’s learning, whether in or out of school, is crucial. The more involved we are as parents the more our kids achieve, the better their self-esteem, the more self-disciplined they are, the higher their aspirations and motivation toward school… the list goes on.
At my school, we’ve always focussed on this fact and invested in ensuring that such a proven way to improve children’s learning is not just talked about but implemented. This year we increased our focus further while at the same time adopting a different approach to helping parents engage.
The first thing we did was to talk (not a survey, but actual face to face talking) to as many parents as possible about the reality of their lives and what unintended consequences they feared the most. In summary, they told us real life was not predictable, so adhoc school meetings were difficult to remember; that once you put your name down for one thing it becomes 12 and finally, and rather importantly, you can’t ‘pop’ into anywhere in KL, every trip takes at least two hours due to parking, traffic etc.!
So we made some key changes: we run weekly parent workshops at the same time every week, content is published on our website, and popular subjects are repeated; volunteer roles like class rep have been more tightly defined to avoid scope creep and unexpected additional commitments; and lastly, short-stay parking bays have been introduced so parents can ‘pop’ in for short meetings.
The result has been a significant increase in parental engagement. As the unintended consequences are slowly removed, parental engagement increases. I know this is happening as our weekly coffee bill for our parent sessions has grown exponentially!
In parallel, to help parents understand their kids’ progress and prioritise their support effort to the appropriate area at the right time, we also rolled out new twice termly reports for each child containing their next steps targets. Helping parents help their children – surely that is is the right thing to be doing?
So my teacher advice to my parent self tells me to get involved, even though I have so many good intentions that appear to have gone wrong… the surgery I now need on my knee after sharing Tas’s wakeboarding experience, not to mention the now rising panic surrounding my fast approaching piano exam in June… but I know this makes a difference for Tas.
Tas is learning – and so am I.
Tas continues to praise the effort I’m putting into my piano practice. He asks me how I’ll challenge myself next, and celebrates every successful step with me. I share with him my frustrations when I’m finding my E major scale just too difficult for my clumsy fingers and he reminds me that with practice I will get it right. He teaching me.
Now that was one unintended consequence I hadn’t seen coming – and it feels fantastic!