Can Technology Drive Parental Engagement?

Can Technology Drive Parental Engagement?

Teachers know that the more parents and carers participate in their children's learning from an early stage, the more effective that learning will be.

There is a raft of benefits, with positive effects on students’ behaviour, motivation, attendance and achievement. What’s more, a parent’s engagement with their first child’s learning also brings benefits for siblings.

Creating a digital connection

Technology is the perfect medium for parents to become more involved in their child’s education. In many ways, creating a digital connection with all parents and carers (the hard-to-reach group included) can be easier than trying to encourage face-to-face interaction.

During the pandemic, parents had to take on a much more active role in supporting learning at home. It wasn’t easy. Nor was it for educators, who had to adapt with lightning speed to delivering lessons, activities and resources online. However, a valuable lesson they learned in technology terms over this time is that ‘less is more’ and becoming familiar with just a couple of EdTech tools and then using them to their full capability is much more productive than using multiple solutions for different activities.

Simple is best

The notion of accessibility extends to parents supporting learning at home, too, whether during the pandemic or simply to assist with homework. Either way, access to online resources needs to be easy or learning won’t happen. Teachers understand this well and some are continuing the activities they started during lockdowns; sharing resources and video exemplars directly from their school website or uploading videos of stories and activities to YouTube for parents and children to watch together.

Technology also delivers flexibility, meaning that the learning resources supplied by the class teacher can be used and accessed at different times. It’s perfect for homework assignments and allows the parents and children to better engage with activities perhaps during the evening or at the weekend when there is less pressure and more time to explore them together. In addition, having these as prompts to talk about what is being learned is so valuable for parents. It allows them to engage with and support their child as they learn – and involves them to a greater degree than if their child were learning solely at school.

Join the online club

Social media is a valuable tool for schools, not just because of its widespread use but also because it can help to give its users a voice that they may not feel they have the right to use in person. With millions of people communicating on its various platforms it every day, it is the technology that parents are both familiar and comfortable with.

Schools can capitalise on this by choosing dedicated EdTech apps with a communication element to prompt and support conversations; ones that parents will find intuitive to use because they are modelled on familiar technology. Even starting with short exchanges when a child has achieved something good can help to create a sense of pride and be a positive experience for everyone that forms the basis for further communication.

Parents' evenings

The time teachers most want to talk with parents is at parents' evenings. Of course, during the pandemic, face-to-face meetings were not possible, so schools turned to virtual ones. These worked so well that many schools have opted to continue them. There are several benefits. From the school’s perspective, it allows the evening to be measured with fixed times for each parent, prevents appointments from running over, and ensures concise and clear sessions with each one. And for parents, using technology solutions means they can talk to their child’s teacher whether they are at home or at work, and they will know exactly how long it will take.

The feedback from schools is that these virtual sessions are reaching more parents and are even preferred by some, as they feel they’re having a more private conversation than they typically would if they were sitting alongside others in person, for example.

Looking to the future

What have we learned about encouraging parental engagement during recent times that we can take forward?

Having found success with easy-to-access resources for parents and students from school websites and YouTube, schools will now bring these into play for revision sessions and the like, so that teaching and learning can continue uninterrupted, and any potential loss of learning is minimised whether students are in school or are unable to attend for any reason.

When schools are choosing new EdTech to implement, such as social-media-style apps for observing skills in the classroom, I think they will be more mindful of considering the parental part of the equation and how easy they will be for parents to use to support and contribute to their child’s learning journey.

And let’s not forget social media itself is a tool to support connection and conversation. Until now, some schools have hesitated to embrace it fully, perhaps put off by its immediacy. But both WhatsApp and Facebook are heavily accessed by parents, so, with careful use and good digital safety policies in place, this is a logical way to reach out.

At the heart of encouraging digital parental engagement is enabling them to do so easily. And now, after supporting their own children’s education themselves, many parents have a new-found respect for the job that educators do and this, in itself, will prompt a higher level of communication, at least for a while longer, giving schools the chance to develop those valuable connections and build on them for the future.

[A version of this post was first published by the ‘Learning as I go’ blog by Rachelle Dené Poth].

Author: Al Kingsley, Academy Chair & EdTech Author, Hampton Academies Trust and Richard Barnes Academy

Al is the author of EdTech book "My Secret #EdTech Diary" and speaks internationally on the role of effective EdTech and building a digital strategy. He is Chair of Hampton Academies Trust in Peterborough UK and Chair of the Richard Barnes Academy for alternative provision. He is also chair of the SEND board for Cambridgeshire and sits on the RSC Advisory Board supporting academies across the South East of the UK. Alongside Al's roles in education, he is also group CEO of NetSupport, an award winning international software company.