The Pros and Cons of Parental Engagement

by Louise Young
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We all know what a difference it makes to a child's progress when their parents* work together with school, or even just spend the quality time with their children at home. Whether that is reading with them at bedtime, or taking them on days out and broadening their horizons, or simply listening to them and answering the many questions of a curious child. Therefore it seems inevitable that schools spend a big portion of time engaging parents and keeping home-school communication lines open. Not everything has an impact though. Sometimes we organise things like e-safety meetings and only 3 parents turn up from the whole school. Schedules of working parents often mean that finding a time which works for teacher and parent to meet can also mean a missed opportunity. Newsletters get lost in bags, or on buses, and verbal messages are forgotten easily within busy lives. At the other end of the scale are the parents you seem to have an in-depth chat with every day. Some parents take a disproportionate amount of time from the teacher schedule. In some cases this is needed and so welcomed, in other cases it might be a tad wearing for even the most well-meaning teacher. So how do we fix a problem like parental engagement?

One way is through technology. Online systems can make it easier to ensure everyone gets the same message, and can mean that teacher and parent schedules won't matter as the teacher can send a message when it suits them, and the parent can respond when it suits them. However this does naturally lead to a feeling that we are connected 24/7. Therefore we do need to manage expectations for both the parent and the teacher.

Let's take a look at the elements of using technology for parental engagement, and some of the pros and cons of these elements.

1) Anytime Access Anywhere

Pros: Being able to access messages and updates from school anytime is really appealing for teachers and parents as nothing gets missed. This could include observations of a child which parents pick up on their phone during the work day - which can be a lovely way of making parents feel happy that their child is in good hands in the early years - and gives parents something to talk about when they pick their child up from school. This has a wealth of benefits as it helps the parent not to feel disconnected from their child's school life, which helps students to feel that parents are interested in their learning, and also means (for any children with more challenging behaviour) that the child realises that the teachers do talk to the parents and it can lessen he behaviour or help to ensure everything is dealt with quickly. Being device agnostic, with a native app, also means Kinteract can be accessed from any smartphone or tablet, as well as laptops and computers which makes it really accessible to busy families and those who do not have a computer and wifi at home. It is rare, nowadays, that a family would have no way to access Kinteract so this can make it a much more successful parental engagement tool than others you may have tried.

Cons: With anytime access teachers may feel pressured to respond to posts while they are at work. Teachers may also get messages and comments from parents in the evenings or on weekends and feel they must respond quickly. They may also find the same problem which happens with in-school meetings i.e. some parents post many more comments and notices than others so their time spreads unfairly amongst the class.

Solution: Very clear expectations from school when introducing a new system is vital. Have a very clear idea of how you want to use the elements of parental engagement with any system, and also change any settings you may wish to which may help to ease pressure. In Kinteract, for example, you can choose at school level whether to even allow parental commenting and posting. So you could make it a read-only type of system this way. Or you could allow them to comment and post but only alert the teacher if they are specifically tagged by the parent - which means letting parents know to only tag the teacher if it is something which is vital for them to see. Also an expectation on this not being live messaging is important. Let parents know that teachers will endeavour to read and respond to all they can but this will be part of their workload so will be instead of, rather than as well as, in-person meetings, or may be something teachers do not routinely check so not to expect to have a response every time. For anything urgent they should still contact school in the usual ways, for example.

2) Instant Language Translation

Pros: In Kinteract when a teacher posts an observation, the parent, and indeed student, when reading it on their device, can have it translated into any of a number of languages. This makes the messages more accessible than the usual parent-teacher conference if you do not speak the home language. This saves parents feeling left out of their child's education. It works both ways too so if the parent makes a post in the home language then the teacher can translate that into English to keep the lines of communication open.

Cons: It's hard to find much of a negative in this kind of accessibility. We suppose it is possible that a translation may not always be exactly perfect although these are getting better and better over time with so much clever technology. It could be that parents do not know how to translate the observations.

Solution: Make sure parents know that they can do translations and show them how. You can also set up the home language for them in settings if they do not know how to do that for themselves.

3) Everyone Knows the Next Steps in Learning

Pros: Allowing parents and students to see recent assessments means that everyone involved in the learning journey can see the strengths and next steps for every student. It means multiple teachers are also all feeding into the journey. Parents can see the observations which led to the teacher judgement of grades too and that justification with the evidence necessary. Assessments can be made as often as is needed so for some subjects they might want to add weekly results such as spelling tests or grading of homework. For other subjects, or at primary, there may be fewer assessments once a term or even once a year. These could be outcomes of tests, or could simply be based on the culmination of a term of work and evidence, both on the platform and in books and in class work.

Cons: Although seeing pupil assessment and progress can really help teachers to know the next steps and how the judgements are made, parents do not always understand the terminology and may be disappointed or simply confused by assessment gradings. They may not also always appreciate that a lot of the work is invisible to them i.e. in lessons and group work or discussions. So they may feel the judgement was unfair. Or they might feel overloaded with such frequent information if teachers do like to post mini assessments often, rather than building up to one big assessment a year.

Solutions: Ensure you have clearly explained to parents what all of the assessment means and ensure that they understand that this will not only include information from the platform, but will be carefully thought out and measured alongside work completed in class. You can also change settings for the whole school in Kinteract to hide assessments from students and/or parents. This can help you ensure teachers can make as many assessments as they like, without worrying about possible parental conversations following mini tests made in class. Only you will know your school community and what is best for you - which is why we leave that decision in your capable hands. You may choose to switch it off for now, then add it in when you are sure parental expectation and understanding within the platform is at a good level.

4) Broad and Balanced Curriculum AND Child!

Pros: By using a platform such as Kinteract you can share not just observations and comments relating to the curriculum, but also every achievement past the curriculum. You may wish to tag in information about a child being kind, or simply for being confident to speak in class when they are usually shy. These elements do not always get recognition within the day-to-day assessment and tracking, yet they are often the most important to the parent and indeed to the child. Progress does not always look like an upward graph of reading results! Progress might look like being 6th in the sack race (up from 13th last year!) or might be about finishing a plate of vegetables at lunch when they didn't used to touch them. Kinteract wants every student to have a learning journey which reflects their whole life and not just a timetable of subjects. Parents really love to see all that extra stuff but it's often what we don't have time to discuss on parents' evening, or what we have forgotten about by then as these little wins can happen at the most random times. Kinteract means you can be letting parents know you value everything about their child. And this goes both ways - parents may wish the school to see that while their child is shy in school they actually have a rich and varied social life in their home life. Or may wish to share that their child is now eating vegetables at home too!

Cons: Workload! If parents expect constant updates then the teacher may start to add information more and more often. Parents may also feel the pressure to keep showing the school every achievement of their child outside of school. Teachers may be very proud of these achievements but when they have notifications coming thick and fast showing every picture from gymnastics class, flute lessons, trips to the museum, dance class, debate society, and their Christmas lunch....they may get a bit weary feeling they should like and comment for all of these, wonderful as they are.

Solutions: Again expectations are really important here. Ensure parents know that they can add to the learning journey any time - this is the portable learning journey after all and will travel with them as they move schools to any other Kinteract school, and even to university and the workplace one day - that teachers may not read every post or comment if there are too many. You may want to issue guidance such as 2 posts maximum per week per child. That might seem too many or too much so make it whatever works for you! Also, crucially, in Kinteract you can make changes in setting here too and stop parents being able to add their own posts, and you can even stop them commenting on posts from the teacher. We of course hope that you won't need to switch off either of those but you know your community best and we are sure you can make the right decision so that is in your hands.

However you choose to have your settings in Kinteract, we are confident you will see many more pros than cons from using Kinteract across your school community. When everyone is involved in the learning journey it is hard not to see the impact. Teachers may find that the time spent is starting to replace other catch-ups and meetings they have had so even workload goes down. Everything in Kinteract is kept secure and parents can only see information relevant to their own child(ren) so you never have to worry. It's also really easy to use! Get in touch for a demo if you haven't already!

* when we say parents we means parents or carers. Anyone fulfilling that awesome, yet sometimes tiring (!), role is a legend in our eyes!