The ‘official’ target group of this great new book is primary teachers, namely teachers in English schools, but apart from very few system-specific references, this is a unique resource also for teachers in other countries and at other levels (starting from early childhood provisions), but also for parent leaders and parents’ organisations for training purposes enabling them to cooperate better with schools and understand their role as equal partners of teachers.
The authors know schools, teachers and parents very well. They know that school teachers (as well as most parents) are very busy and may find it difficult to read longer texts. So, the book provides simple and short reads that you can do at a one-per-day or whole-book-in-one-go speed. It starts with facts, evidence and approaches that any experienced parent leader or trainer working on parental engagement will find obvious. This is why it is so important to write it down. It is not obvious at all for many teachers, I would say the majority of teachers in some school systems, and we may omit it in our trainings or narrative.
In my teacher training as well as discussion with teachers I regularly come across the fact that parents are often perceived as scary, and this is a key element that may overshadow home-school relations. This partly comes from traditional training. I keep telling people that scaring us of parents was part of my own initial teacher training a few decades ago. This book does not ignore this phenomenon, but rather gathers evidence and convincing argument to counteract it. Reading the book teachers will hopefully understand that parents are or at least can be allies if a small effort is made to engage them.
Effort is the second key word. When we push for understanding that working with parents is an important part of any teacher’s job, the reply is often about huge workloads and accountability to authorities. Janet Goodall and Kathryn Weston seems to be convincing enough when they explain how some time and energy investment in engaging parents at the beginning will have high payoffs: it makes lives of teachers easier on the long run, and by having supportive parents behind them learning outcomes are better that most often result in better test results and happier supervisors.
The third key element is practical tips. Once you decide to engage parents, you may lack ideas and tools, especially to work with parents that are not from your league, speak another language, have some hostility towards school or seem to be unreachable. Small tricks as well as easy-to-implement engagement strategies described in a simple way help those already converted to parental engagement. Using practical ideas and tried-and-tested methods in the book helps teachers to implement their personal engagement strategies with less investment, building on experiences of others and methods that have worked in other contexts.
At the same time there is a need for a word of warning. In many ways this publication is very similar to a recipe book. You may not find all ingredients in your own kitchen and not all recipes will agree with your personal taste. So, as with any good recipe book, the best way to use it is to find the tips that work for you. You cannot go wrong, all of them are based on strong and evidence-based belief in the importance of working with parents. The authors also recommend that compare your recipes with others. That way you will not only find what modifications to a recipe may improve your cooperation even further, but will also help you as a teacher, trainer or parent leader to see that you are not on your own with your issues and overcoming them is easier in collaboration with other teachers or more experienced parents.
dr Janet Goodall is supporting the work of Parents International charing our Advisory Board
Janet Goodall – Kathryn Weston: 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents (Bloomsbury 2018.)