Parents as partners

Vidhya Nagaraj

Delhi World Public School, Tumkur Road, opened in June 2018. The school is located in the suburbs of Bangalore and the parents belong to diverse socio-economic backgrounds and literacy levels. From the beginning the school has attempted to reach out to the parents and involve them in all school activities and student wellbeing. The school made a conscious decision to partner with parents and keep the doors of communication open with them. The school communicates with the parents through a monthly newsletter and WhatsApp broadcast group (where the school shares information about various activities that are related to education and children, webinars and other relevant events for children and parents). Parents are an integral part of our classroom assembly, this is an opportunity for them to see the various on-going activities in the classroom, to interact and bond with the teachers outside parent-teacher meetings. Parents have been invited as judges, substitute teachers, volunteers during school events and thematic weeks and they have even accompanied kindergarten children on school outings.

But the pandemic brought in a new set of challenges – how would the parents cope with their children’s academic needs? How would children continue to learn? What kind of support could parents provide from home? We had many students without any home support and parents who did not know much about academics.

We had to think of ways to continue engaging with the parents. During the pandemic, the school entered the home as never before and parents suddenly were part of everyday school activities. We decided to take advantage of this situation and worked towards the following objectives
• To help parents become co-teachers during the pandemic and support the school in the teaching-learning process.
• To get teachers, students and parents to take collective responsibility for the academic progress of the students.
• To create an awareness among parents about the various teaching-learning practices adopted by the school such as story-based pedagogy, thinking routines, art-integration, thematic weeks, hands-on learning, mind-maps, etc.
• To help parents understand children’s needs.

Parents’ expectation from the school
The parents, having gone through conventional mainstream schooling, expected our school to follow a rote based method of teaching and learning as well. They expected teachers to complete the entire syllabus (without omitting a single page) well in advance and give one month of revision and prepare the students for the exams. They wanted teachers to give questions and answers and copy objective questions from the textbook verbatim. They were unable to understand the rationale of having thematic weeks, story maps, concept maps or prepared speeches as part of school activities. The pandemic forced parents to become co-teachers and help continue the learning process at home, for which the parents were neither prepared nor equipped.

Parent engagement sessions
The school conducted an orientation program for parents on how to use ‘Google Meet and Classroom.’ Many of our parents were not tech savvy. For such parents, teachers provided individual sessions and taught them to access Google Classroom and Meet. The next challenge was to come with approaches to collaborate with the parents and empower them to become co-teachers.

While brainstorming with the faculty on ways to collaborate with parents, we came up with the idea of supporting parents through ‘Parent Engagement Sessions,’ a webinar series specifically designed to support parents to cope with school work. For this, we first had to find out what the parents wanted from the school. We designed our own ‘need analysis,’ with the following questions:

  1. What are the three things that you wish we knew about your child?
  2. What is it that we as teachers should know about your child that would make a difference to the child?

Equipped with the information collected from the need analysis, we designed and conducted eight parent engagement programs, which we held from July 2020 to February 2021 on Saturday evenings.

Each of these sessions was carried out with meticulous planning and designed to accommodate parents’ needs and feedback. The communication about the sessions was in Kannada and English; 6 out of 8 sessions were held bilingually (Kannada and English).

Pedagogical awareness sessions were conducted by in-house faculty members who had themselves gone through intense professional development programs.

These sessions involved
• Parents’ feedback about their children, which was used as feed forward in teaching and learning.
• Strategies and techniques to study conducted by in-house teachers.
• Mind map session to understand how concept maps and mindmaps could be used to learn and reinforce concepts.
• Writing issues, such as organizing ideas, spelling errors and handwriting difficulties.

The parent engagement series gradually began to help the parents and teachers collaborate. It helped parents understand the teaching-learning practices in school and the objective of activities such as thematic weeks, prepared speeches, art and hands-on. Parents have been actively supporting children at home in school work. For instance, in grade II, we have seen progress in three out of seven students, who had learning gaps and needed additional support. The parents have taken inputs shared through the webinars and have worked with their children, which helped the students bridge the learning gap.

Every month, the school conducts prepared speech activity for kindergarten to grade VIII. The objective of this activity is to help students improve their communication skills, learn to speak before an audience and gain confidence. Each month students are given various topics to prepare. The students are encouraged to read and find out about the given topics and prepare a 2-3 minute speech.

In our first two years, very few students would come prepared and displayed minimal interest in these activities, despite efforts by teachers to motivate them. This year, one of the parent engagement sessions was on ‘How hobbies and interests can instil confidence in children and help shape the personality of an individual.’ Three young college graduates shared their experiences about being involved in extracurricular activities in school and college. They spoke about how these activities benefited them, shaped their personalities and influenced their career choices. Parents recognized the importance of children participating in various co-scholastic activities. Post this session, we have seen a remarkable improvement in participation from the students. In the last prepared speech activity, the judges found it challenging to mark the students, as each student had come well-prepared. This improvement is attributed to parent support.

The parent engagement sessions helped teachers too. Teachers received support from the parents during online classes. These sessions were an opportunity for teachers to showcase their subject expertise and grow. There was a sense of pride among the teachers, while conducting the webinars. The webinars were also an opportunity for the teachers to learn from their colleagues. Teachers shared that they have taken some of the learning from these webinars and applied it at home with their own children and have found solutions to various learning issues.

Conclusion
The parent engagement series was an attempt by Delhi World Public School, Bangalore to reach out to parents and help them become co-teachers during this pandemic. Despite our efforts to reach out to the parents and conducting these sessions in the bilingual mode, we were unable to get the entire parent body to attend these sessions. Most often, the sessions were attended by 30 to 55 per cent of the parents. However, we also received immense support from the parents who saw value in what we were doing. We had parents and guests who attended every single session and took inputs from these sessions and tried to incorporate them. For instance, we had a parent who shared that after the session on reading books, they have started investing in books and reading has become a family activity. Parents reminisced their own childhood and became nostalgic and shared some of the values and habits that their parents had instilled in them. As a school, it was a gratifying and fulfilling experience to reach out to the parents during the pandemic and make a tiny difference.

The author is an educator with over two decades of experience. She is the founder principal of Delhi World Public School, Bangalore. She can be reached at [email protected].

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