“Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.”

“Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.”  P. J. O’Rourke is a funny guy, but I’m not sure he was joking when he said this.

In a recent discussion with new teachers about the role of parents, one said: “I think establishing productive partnerships with parents and carers is a real challenge. I meet a lot of parents who don’t seem to want to be involved at all in their kids education.”

My experience is that most parents do want to be involved in learning opportunities with their children but many are not at all sure what to do – especially where ‘partnership’ means helping with homework tasks that may have changed a lot since they were at school.

Some studies show that parents even feel ‘inadequate’ by trying to help with homework tasks. These tasks might seem obvious to the ‘professional eye’ of the teacher but actually may be difficult to interpret outside the context of the school and the classroom – which after all is a ‘professional space’.

Once ‘school-work’ enters the home under the guise of ‘home-work’ it’s in a different context and arguably takes on a different meaning for all concerned.

Some parents are intimidated by teachers too – (though some of you may find that surprising..!) but it’s true. The authority and status of teachers, especially where parents have had an unsuccessful or unhappy experience at school themselves or are recent migrants from minority backgrounds unsure of how to interact or engage – can put parents ill at ease.

Of course, good teachers recognize this and are sensitive to it.

There’s a lot of research around that says that involving parents of all social classes and backgrounds raises children’s attainment. That’s great. But the issues are not unproblematic. Once you involve parents, some research shows that ‘middle class’ children’s attainment rises faster than that of ‘working class’ children – thereby exacerbating the educational inequality we are trying to reduce.

So… that new teacher was right to say that establishing productive partnerships with parents and carers is a challenge. But it’s one we should rise to.

Parents are experts in their own children. Teachers are the education professionals. That sounds to me an excellent basis for a productive partnership.

What do you think?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.


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