Leveraging parental engagement

Meena Sriram

Are schools merely places that children attend to gain knowledge? Going by the way the virtual world is progressing, knowledge is available everywhere and children have more access to information on the web now, than ever before. So, what is it that makes schools a necessary institution?

Schools are a second home for children. There are quite a few children who don’t have supporting home environments and who look to the school to satisfy their emotional and social needs.

Would it make a difference to have parents involved in the lives of children? Should schools be concerned about parent involvement? A collaborative learning environment which reflects the same philosophy at home and school helps nurture stronger-willed, emotionally sturdier children. Maria Montessori says, “Parents are the primary educators through the lives of the children and not just in the formative years.”

When parents are involved in the lives of children, there is a sense of belongingness. The lives of the children are instantly enriched and they feel they can touch the stars. Children feel confident to express their thoughts and influence others. When the child is surrounded by a supportive environment, he/she grows into a self-sufficient being.

So how can schools build parent engagement? Should a school take time out to do this?

When schools involve parents, the two worlds of the child become one and they can work together for the benefit of the child.

Parent-teacher meets are how most schools involve parents. But these meetings, be they individual or group, by and large, tend to be just about the child and don’t really focus on the overall environment of the child at school or home. Sometimes parents don’t turn up for such conferences. Some of those who do, barely listen to what is being said and there is no dedicated discussion. So what can schools do?
• Organizing casual get-togethers for parents could be one way. Schools could try having class meets where the parents of each class could meet up and have a good time together. This can be organized on the school campus itself. Some parents along with a volunteer from the school can take the responsibility of organizing and planning the get-together.
• Parents could, like in many schools already, be involved in extra-curricular activities. They could teach children in their capacities as resource people or address children in the assembly, or accompany them on a picnic or help organize visits to places of interest.
• House visits for the younger children could be an event planned by the school, where parents volunteer to host an entire class for one day. This enables children to understand the lives of their classmates. Parents get a glimpse of children from other households. This expands the horizons of both the parents and the children.

Schools along with interested parents can also think of organizing meetings of parents with similar interests like cooking, which can lead to a food carnival. Or a group of parents interested in exploring gardening in school can meet. Thus, parents could plan and guide hobby clubs, which are of interest to them as well.

The flip side of such meets is that they might intimidate the teachers at first, as the first few discussions may certainly be about the teachers and their performance. Quite possibly while coordinating sessions or trips, the inability or lack of a well-planned system in the school may get exposed. Having vociferous parents share their ideas may disturb the psyche of some others in the environment. Schools must look at this as positive feedback to see the gaps and work on fixing them instead of feeling hurt and shutting down the opportunity all together!

The school could gain by introducing several interesting clubs or opportunities, which provide the parents the necessary space and environment to explore and work on their talents and thus bring the school closer to their hearts. Many parents have unrealized dreams from their childhood, which they would like to nurture in others besides their own wards. The school could provide the stage!

When the families of children become part of the school ecosystem it paves the way for teachers to look at the child in the classroom with a different perspective. The child is not troublesome anymore but becomes lovable. The classroom becomes inclusive as all children have some idea of the other’s family and background.

Parents become more resilient to challenges thrown by the school and hence are open to new situations and possibilities. They will become more interested in the work of the child and slowly the quantity and quality of the work being turned in will see a steady improvement. The barrier between parents and teachers will become less bleak and conversations more friendly. Both parties will actually feel the need to contribute to the wellness of the common benefactor, the child! Both parties will be open to suggestions from the other side and willing to cooperate to make it happen for the child.

With such initiatives in place most young parents build lifelong friendships with other parents. These are bonds that need to be emphasized on and constructed steadily, brick by brick, for schools to become those thriving ecosystems that provide love and compassion in their folds.

Schools must open their doors to parents not merely to listen to performance details of their wards but to be part of the symbiotic ecosystem that will nurture their child to grow into large hearted, generous and contented adults.

The author is the academic administrator with the Chinmaya Education Cell and has about 28 years of teaching experience working with all age groups. She can be reached at meenasriram@gmail.com.

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