2 Feb 2015

5 Thought Bubbles to give you insight into how to develop a partnership with parents in the first two weeks of school

I had the pleasure of meeting with some new parents this morning as they waved goodbye to their children and made their way into the morning tea. 
As is the case in most schools on this first day, there was a mixture of emotions and relief that the day had finally come and that soon it would be over. 

Parents are very eager at this time to know what is happening and how they can help their child settle into school. Most schools will have set goals for settling the children at school, but how can you engage parents in this process?

1. Let parents know what strategies you use at school to settle the children so that they are aware of the expectations for the children and can support these as well. Build their understanding of what their role is in supporting learning at home.

Children may have one set of rules at school and another at home. The idea of developing a partnership is to bridge the gap between the two and build an understanding of those routines so that they don't clash or confuse the children. Sometime it is almost like one parent having one rule and the other the total opposite which can be quite tricky for children to navigate. 

In my experience, most children take the rules at school very seriously, not so much the rules at home which seem to be there for challenging. If parents have a broader awareness of the routine at school, it then becomes easier to support and to reinforce at home. Children are then able to become more aware that routines, rules and learning happens everywhere, that they are all important and that their parents and teachers are on the same page in supporting them as they learn. 

2. If the children have been asked to unpack their own bags to begin the process of becoming more independent, ensure the parents are aware of this and why.

It is easy to judge those parents who still unpack the bags for their children and seem to do everything for them. It is a process for parents to move from having a totally dependent child to all of a sudden not being needed anymore. For some, this transition comes naturally and is easy. For others, it can take time. Being mindful of this means that the communication of what is expected should take all people into consideration as each person comes from varying backgrounds and experiences. 

If parents are provided with the what and not the why, it can contribute to the gap and disconnect that can occur for parents when children begin school. Providing parents with the why or the purpose makes that transition a little easier for those who are holding on to their children as much as they still can. 
Reassurance that the child is developing their independence and how this will help them as they grow, with the ultimate aim for them to be self led and motivated learners will make sense to parents. They in turn will see that taking a step back is helping their child and themselves to nurture their child's independence.

3. Keep parents up to date with expectations and routines so that they are also able to set and support these goals and routines with their children at home. 

Once again, increasing awareness and communication around routines and processes at school can ease any anxieties parents have of what is expected of them in their supportive role and what is expected of their child at school. 
Parents are often provided with school policies but they don't often go into the strategies and routines or expectations that relate to their child. Open communication and transparency on what the children are doing each day, what their allocated jobs are at school and how it all works gives parents the opportunity to have conversations at home.
My children were allocated a job of responsibility at school today and they delighted in telling me about it and what they are expected to do. My kids love to talk about school but not all children do.
It is important that these things are communicated. A class newsletter or bulletin might be a good start to let parents know about the children and learning that is taking place in the classroom. 

4. Encourage teachers to take ownership of how they will engage with families to build a culture of engagement and communication from the beginning of the year.

Each class teacher has their own unique way of doing things and setting the class culture for the year. Including parent engagement in classroom culture should be mandatory at the beginning of each year. Establishing how and what they will communicate with parents, how they will engage them in learning and how they can provide information for parents to support learning at home. Most of all, how they can make parents feel welcome as partners in supporting their child. 

5. Let parents know when teachers are available and seek further opportunities for regular interactions. 

When parents are aware of when teachers are available, it puts less stress on the teacher who may be due at a meeting at the end of the day or who is trying to settle the class in the morning, especially if a parent wants to have a conversation at those times. 
Setting the scene early in the year and ensuring that parents are aware of availability and how to contact them is a great starting point and will avoid any issues down the track. 

Weekly Perspective: In her book titled, “Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids”, Dr Laura Markham writes, “Children thrive when they feel connected and understood. Children need to feel deeply connected with their parents or they don’t feel entirely safe.”

Providing opportunities for connection with children through learning is a great way to foster understanding and growth of the relationship between parent and child on their learning journey.

Next week's topic: How to support teachers in developing relationships with parents.

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