How to develop effective strategies for engaging parents

Research suggests that a strong relationship between school and home can enhance children’s learning, yet engaging parents and caregivers consistently and meaningfully in their children’s learning remains a big challenge for many educators, particularly among low-income families and farming communities, who are themselves likely to be illiterate. Despite this challenge, our desire to see parents take a more active role in their children’s education means we strive to find innovative ways of creating meaningful parent-teacher relationships. It is vital educators in developing countries like Cambodia identify the specific challenges within their own communities to strengthen this all-important interplay between school and home. From regular home visits to inviting parents, their families and members of the wider community to attend our regular Epic Showcase, we endeavour to make connections with our parents in a variety of ways.

Community Social Worker, Chanthat, a key member of the Special Education Project (SEP) here at Epic Arts plays a vital role in helping to build and maintain good relationships with parents by bringing together different sections of the community to develop a shared vision and promote the values and ethics that underpin Epic Arts. The range of disabilities within SEP are extremely varied and run the gamut from cerebral paralysis to down syndrome. The stigma attached to these children and their families make it all the more difficult for individuals to publicly talk about their experiences.

Epic Arts prides itself on listening to the aspirations that parents have for their children. Our small team of teaching and support staff are knowledgeable about all our students’ specific needs, and their willingness to engage in honest discussion about students and their progress helps parent’s feel supported. We communicate with them on a regular basis providing them with news about opportunities, events and their child’s progress. We try to ensure that all parents have a voice and identify with Epic Arts and its goals. At the end of each term we hold a parents meeting where information and guidance is shared. It’s an opportunity for parents, village chiefs, commune chiefs and teachers – all those involved in the children’s educational welfare to share experiences, as well as offer parents advice on ways they can support their children at home. They also make use of this time to talk openly and frankly about challenges they face in the wider community that hinders their child’s educational and social outcomes. Building positive relationships with parents has allowed Epic Arts to gain a greater understanding of their needs.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned about encouraging parents to attend parent meetings. 

In no particular order…

  1. Create a welcoming environment. Have members of your team greet parents on arrival.
  2. Ice-breaker activity. An energising ice-breaker activity can help put people at ease.
  3. Think about the seating arrangements. Try to avoid arranging the chairs in a classic proscenium arch conflagration. Experiment. A circle allows all present to make eye contact. Use beanbags or simply ask participants to sit on the floor. This encourages openness 
  4. Resist the temptation to lecture. If you must give a speech, keep it short and keep the number of invited speakers to a minimum. You want conversation flow, not conversation corks.Studies have shown that the average person pays attention in a meeting for approximately 20 minutes before becoming fidgety or starting to daydream.
  5. Make the meeting interactive.The word meeting fills most people with dread, and parents are no different. Learning through doing is powerful and memorable. Break into smaller groups Often the most meaningful conversations occur one-to-one. Remember some parents might feel intimidated by large groups.
  6. Break into smaller groups. Often the most meaningful conversations occur one-to-one. Remember some parents might feel intimidated by large groups
  7. Use props and materials to help stimulate discussion. Visual aids and practical activities allow parents to express their own creativity and use their imaginations.
  8. Feed them. Feed the body, nourish the soul. You’ll be surprised how a selection of refreshments makes people feel valued. It might also boost turnout!
  9. Help them get there. The costs of a tuk-tuk or taxi can be the difference between an appearance and a no-show. Providing transport means you’re in control. It’s cheap when you consider the benefits it reaps.
  10. Adopt a person-centered approach. Recognise the benefits for both parents and your organisation. Like all good relationships, the parent/school bond should be a two way street based on equality – equality of power, status and communication.