Notes from BELMAS Parental Engagement ConferenceOct 14, 2021
I was fortunate enough to attend the Parental Engagement RIG conference last month, run by BELMAS. But before I talk about that, let’s demystify those acronyms! RIG stands for Research Interest Group (in this case, academic research into the impact of parental engagement), and BELMAS is the British Educational Leadership and Administration Society.
I wanted to share my experience of this conference with you in a blog post because it was such an interesting session and because I believe it has some useful takeaways which can be applied at school level.
Parental Engagement guru Janet Goodall hosted the conference. If you don’t already know Janet’s work, I would strongly advise taking a look at it. If you’re a teacher, I’d recommend her 100 ideas for Teachers: Engaging Parents (there are separate versions for primary and secondary teachers). These books are full of interesting, easily applicable ideas for improving parental engagement in your education setting.
Anyway, back to the conference. Two academics shared their recent work on parental engagement: Professor William Jeynes (from California State University) and Professor Debbie Pushor (Saskatchewan University).
Professor William Jeynes talked about some of his work conducting metanalyses on the impact of parental engagement on children of colour’s outcomes. Now it’s important to note here that his metanalyses have been completed using American studies and data, so this is a different cultural context to learning in the UK. However, as is often the case with parental engagement, there are lessons to be learnt, whichever side of the pond you are on.
The first interesting takeaway is that from analysing data from 86 studies, William Jeynes found that the more traditional strategies of parent involvement (showing up at school events, checking homework etc.) did not have a statistically significant impact on students’ outcomes. Now, this is not to say we shouldn’t be doing it! Remember, this is founded on just 86 studies and based on families (specifically children of colour) in America, so we can’t expect the findings to be 100% representative of parental engagement in our own schools. For some parents, school events are an essential part of engaging them in the life of the school, and they would be disappointed if they were no longer run. However, it is food for thought and a reminder that parental involvement is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to parental engagement.
This leads me to a second exciting finding from William Jeynes. In his metanalyses, he found that the more ‘subtle’ elements of parental engagement (such as parents having high, but reasonable, expectations of their child and good communication between parents and their child) had an impact on children’s outcomes. William admitted that he was taken aback by this finding. He had expected the ‘traditional’ methods of parental engagement to have the statistical significance. However, as William said, the benefit of the metanalyses is that it allows you to put your assumptions aside and “follow the numbers”.
The second speaker was Professor Debbie Pushor, who spoke at length about the Covid 19 pandemic’s impact on parental engagement and how the pandemic has given teachers the opportunity to build on children’s learning at home.
Debbie spoke about how the pandemic has given teachers much more insight into the families of the children they teach as they were able to enter their homes virtually and gain a greater understanding of parents’ subject knowledge. Equally, parents have learned so much about their child’s learning style, curriculum, and the amount of work that goes into planning and delivering a lesson!
Debbie argued that we should capitalise on the learning partnerships that schools have made with families during the pandemic to improve family engagement going forwards. She also emphasised the importance of working with families in ways that they are comfortable with: seeing all learning as good learning, rather than expecting families to teach what their teachers want them to at home.
It was such an inspiring conference, and it was great to hear experts in the field speaking so positively about parent partnerships. For me, the key reflections that I had were:
- We need to re-think what parental engagement is and what it looks like, not just rely on traditional methods that schools have used for years. But to do this requires quite a radical culture shift. The subtle parental engagement techniques that William Jeynes mentions in his research are more challenging to implement. They need behaviour change from schools and parents. But a good way to start on this journey is by forming strong relationships with families, being supportive and non-judgemental, listening to families and respecting their needs and desires. Schools should also endeavour to be more outward-facing. Too often, interactions between the two parties are school owned and controlled, leaving parents as passive recipients of information who constantly have to ‘fit in’ with the school’s agenda and timetable.
- To make sustainable change, it needs to start from the top and work down. It is difficult for senior leaders to prioritise parental engagement when they already have many priorities to juggle and when the goalposts seem to change so often. Schools need proper funding to ensure that teachers have the time and training to forge meaningful relationships with parents.
- Initial Teacher Training (ITT), which focuses so much on teaching methods, should impart a more holistic view of children as learners and focus on relationship building with families, in addition to classroom practices. As William Jeynes said in his presentation, we are getting away from an emphasis on “heart and on relationships in schools, and there is very, very good argument that we need a new model.”
By Rachel Greeves, Membership & Projects Manager, PEN
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