As schools open their doors for the beginning of the new term, they will be looking to engage the members of their community throughout the months ahead. A community made up of parents, students and teachers, these are the people that sit at the heart of a successful school. But how to go about making sure that everyone feels that their needs are being met, that their voices are being heard, and that they feel supported by everyone around them?
Make everyone feel valued
To start with, the most important thing to develop is a sense of value and agency in the different groups - nothing is more engaging than a sense of belonging and worth within a group. We can do this by actively seeking out the ideas and opinions of people in the school and then clearly using this to help to inform policy decisions.
- How can you give your teachers more time to focus on their teaching?
- What is it that really helps your students learn and be successful?
- What do parents need to support their child and connect fully with the school?
Once you have had these conversations, then it is important to be seen to act on them. A “You Said, We Did” section in the school newsletter for example means that everyone can see the impact that they can have on the school’s success.
Give everyone access
We love to talk about an “open door” policy, but is this really the case at your school? It is not always possible for everyone to be able to get time to talk to teachers, or school leaders, so how do we make sure that we provide access when people need it? Fortunately, the lockdown experience of the last couple of years has shown us that technology provides lots of options for connecting and communicating. These might be online forums and suggestion boxes, or online meetings so that parents do not have to travel into school. The key thing is to make sure that there are opportunities and channels for each group to make their voice heard.
Make sure everyone knows what is expected
It’s vital to set expectations across the school. A mismatch here can lead to anger or irritation at the very least, and result in real disengagement across all parties. Ensure that everyone is aware that whilst their voice is important, it is not the same as having a say in the running of the school. Set clear boundaries about when staff will be available, and also when parents can expect response to emails, and then stick to these. As teachers we know the importance of clear boundaries for our students, but this applies to adults as well!
Bring everyone into the conversation
If we are not careful, aspects of the school experience can be opaque to those not immediately involved. Good communication goes beyond end of term reports, or grades and feedback. School life is far richer than that so share news, events and updates widely. Teachers and students love to see their successes being celebrated and it gives everyone a chance to see the individual beyond the classroom. Parents benefit from a sense of being part of a greater community that is vibrant and somewhere to be proud of.
Give everyone a chance to get together
Nothing brings a community together than the opportunity to spend time with each other. This doesn’t have to be whole school events such as for the school production, or Quiz Night for example. Providing informal opportunities for parents to meet form tutors at a start of year cheese and wine, or an end of term barbecue can help to break the ice. Making it easy for students to mix with other year groups, such as in study and mentor groups, or older students helping to run after school clubs can be a really great way of getting to know each other better and build stronger relationships all year round. And don’t forget, this doesn’t all have to fall on school staff. Get the PTA involved, or give responsibility to prefects to take a lead. Once that community is working together you should have no shortage of volunteers!
Engagement can sometimes be a challenge for any school, but the benefits of a community of teachers, parents and students, all working together and supporting each other mean that it is a challenge worth addressing.
Parent engagement is a key part of the puzzle for schools. Download our FREE report: Even Better Together and see what parents and schools are saying about the state of parent engagement today.