Parental Engagement – 10 Top Tips

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When it comes to e-safety, parental engagement is really hard.  Schools already do a huge amount of work engaging with parents in a variety of ways, whether it’s via email, newsletters, parents evenings, social media and more.  Ofsted added a new perspective to this in Sept 2012 as part of their e-safety inspection framework; they want the education of children to extend outside the school gates in regards to e-safety by engaging with the whole school community.

For many this is a really difficult task for a variety of reasons, for example:

  • e-Safety isn’t seen as something which is engaging;
  • Many parents say they already know what to do to keep their children safe;
  • Busy personal/professional lives;
  • Younger children, can’t get into school in the evening;
  • Rural location, no transport.

The reasons above are the main ones, and they are all completely understandable.  But, this leaves the school with a dilemma, how do you engage?

Unfortunately, no single solution works, it’s a matter of trying and then trying again.  Schools are already busy enough, so ideally there would be a solution for the minimum amount of work.

Rather than a single parents evening, think of it as a long term plan where you are gently building up to the end goal.  Here’s 10 top tips that make up a single strategic plan, but you can mix and match to suit your own circumstances:

  • Don’t do it by yourself; use the power of school clusters in your area. It not only saves you money (if you’re getting a consultant in) it spreads the workload (when I say workload, there’s very little work involved in this).
  • Find out what social media services your parents are using; this is usually Facebook or Twitter. Don’t listen to all the ridiculous scaremongering about social media and e-safety; embrace it and use its power. There are ways to set up these social networks so that you can mitigate any risks. I haven’t visited a single school (who is using social networking as a method of engagement) who haven’t reported a massive rise in parental engagement.
  • Start to drip feed interesting facts, don’t overwhelm them with “scare” stories, balance the risks with great stories too (another good reason for using social networking services).
  • Try to be innovative, forget the word “e-safety” when communicating with parents; commonly they won’t understand the term or will associate it with something else.
  • Talking of being innovative, get the students involved too. Parents are more likely to turn up to an evening if their children are doing something. For example: poll the students and ask what concerns them about the internet, use that as part of the drip feed.
  • Take one of their concerns and create a small play, this has the added advantage of showing parents that e-safety has got little to do with technology and more about behaviour, for example bullying.
  • Similarly you can poll the parents, they are more likely to turn up if you are responding to their own concerns. If you are looking at polling the parents, you might not get many answers back if you simply send a letter home. Think of other ways to do this, for example you could set it as homework for the students and get them to question their parents. Back at school they can put their answers onto a single Google document which has the added advantage of compiling the results automatically for you.
  • If you have one, get the PTA involved. The best parents evening I have been to was organized by the PTA; over 80% of parents turned up.
  • Closer to the event, use your local media. Tell them what you are doing and why. Let them run a story about what you are doing and invite them to the evening as a follow-up. This has the added advantage of great PR for the school.
  • Entice them in: cheese and wine; coffee and biscuits; make it a multi-event evening. As simple as it sounds, it does work.

Before or after the event, you will find you will have some parents that are really interested.  Invite these parents to become part of a committee to further spread the word, collaborate on your e-safety policy, or to raise any concerns of parents with the school.

If you think the tips above sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t.  Again, your key is social media for all the communication.  Granted you won’t get all of the parents, but I guarantee that far more will see a post on Facebook or Twitter than will read an email or go to your school website.

If you want to poll your students or parents, I’ve got a couple of quite basic question papers on the Resources page of my website HERE.  These are due to be updated in the next couple of weeks; if you want to be informed when they are updated just follow me on Twitter

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