Why schools should take more effort in engaging parents
As a mother and a former secretary and faculty member, I know that the most challenging part of the job inside a school is dealing with parents and make them engage in the proposed activities. It is well known that “parental involvement greatly influences students’ academic processes, their attitudes towards schooling and their educational success”. Besides, Cary adds “higher enrollment in more challenging academic classes, better attendance and improved behaviour at home and at school” . This result is seen in “families of all economic, racial/ethnic and educational backgrounds and for students at all ages” .
Bardroff & Tann summarize this theme by saying that “parental involvement can have a tremendous effect on the academic achievement of students” .
So why it is so hard to involve parents into the institution that is responsible for four to eight hours, five days a week of their children’s lives?
Communication between schools and families is the key to success in this realm. However, even though most of the institutions still do not know how to do it properly, and miscommunication can make parents keep away or even rethink their choice even more on the internet and social media times. We, as human beings, are in the early stages to find out the consequences of the number of hours spent on technological apparatus in our daily routines.
In a Waldorf environment, this is not so different from any other community nowadays. Even though Rudolf Steiner schools do not have any technological device available in the classroom for the use of students, parents and teachers try to make the best use of email, apps and social media in order to improve communication. This text intends to show some recent studies about the theme and propose some questions to meliorate the information paths inside your community.
Communication inside schools: a two-way road
“A Waldorf school is a living organization involving many people who each have their own relationship to the endeavor, and who find themselves in groups that have particular roles and responsibilities – all important to the overall function and health of the organism.”M Soule, A New Image of Waldorf School Organization
It is well-known that “many parents and teachers are still reluctant to use such media to enhance two-way pedagogical communication” . However, it is impossible to deny that, somehow, these tools made the information reach its destiny in a more efficient way than the good old face-to-face.
Nevertheless, still according to Borbalda and Bochaca, this technology was used mostly to transmit information , not differentiating so much of the old student diary or notebook with the teacher errands for the day, and the parents´ role was just read it.
Information and Communication Technologies, also known as ICT, permitted parents and teachers to improve their relationship by using “easy, efficient, and effective methods of transferring information” . Bardroff and Tann’s study shows that when the family is conscientious of what happens inside of the classroom, they can help the child in the learning process .
So teachers, don’t be afraid to talk with parents. They are your most precious allies when it is about the wellbeing and educational growth of their children. They are not your enemies, but even though you should keep them as close as possible to you and the school.
How to do it?
“To believe that anthroposophists always rail against new technology is to seriously misunderstand this movement and its contribution to our knowledge of the human being. It is necessary to see the complexities of life from a holistic perspective.”Rudolf Steiner *
Now that we understand the importance of having the parents’ support, we have to ask the question: How we do it in this 21st-century world?
Bordalba and Bochaca said that “alignment between the parents’ and the teachers’ behaviours is required”  which means they should agree about the paths information will travel. As institutions, schools should not wait for the parents to manifest their needs, but the managers should take the lead and guide the parents into digital communication. The use of technology does not mean to avoid the daily talks and goes massively into Digital Communication because it will not result in active engagement.
Still, according to Bordalba and Bochaca’s study, some teachers successfully adopted a double method in communication: face-to-face and virtual, using emails or some other platform. This situation occurred mostly because some families did not agree to use the digital medium to do it .
Talk to your child’s teacher in person is the essential aspect of a Waldorf school, not only in the scheduled meeting but in a daily or weekly routine about occasional ongoings and needs. The regular exchange enables teachers to know the general state of the students and parents to understand the behaviour and development of their child or teenager.
Digital media, on the other hand, is a variety of methods to share straightforward information between school (administration and faculty) and families. Simple information is, for instance, celebration reminders, copies of documents, calling for some activity, advertise some events, and so on. Therefore, “the role of ICT is just to redistribute the channels for a better communication, choosing the most suitable medium according to the nature and purpose of the message”.
Teachers’ communication over the grades
“There is no desire on our part to deride technical innovations, but we should be able to keep our eyes open to what they do to us, and we should find ways to compensate for any harmful effects. Such matters are especially important to teachers, because they have to relate education to ordinary life. What we do at school and with children is not the only thing that matters. The most important thing is that school and everything related to education must relate to life in the fullest sense. This implies that those who choose to be educators must be familiar with events in the larger world; they must know and recognize life in its widest context. “Rudolf Steiner *
However, the communication pattern also changes according to the students’ grades. While the little ones need more attention and direct conversation with parents, the higher levels of students are more independent and can deal themselves with teachers. So, this is directly related to the fact that lower grades ́s teacher emails parents more, while the other end, teachers exchange more emails among themselves .
As parents, we should realize that in any communication system, there are barriers that interrupt or block the flow and affects the teacher deeply in his role. Sometimes teachers experience “‘ socio-cultural,’ ‘accessibility,’ and ‘field and status’ related barriers” in singular moments, while the “‘individual’ barriers” are more common to happen, which is worse for novice educators at the school . So, being a mother or father in any school demands perseverance in communicating with the teacher and availability to assist the professor with the transmission of general information. Only a supportive community can communicate appropriately and effectively.
About digital Communication, Kuusimaki et al. say that it is “one of the necessary twenty-first-century skills, including both technical and communication competences,” and teachers should use it to provide “truthful and supportive feedback to students and parents in different learning environments” . Nevertheless, the teacher and the school board must set the limits between using virtual tools to send parents’ observations and comments on the student’s life and the interference of the families in the classroom’s decisions. Definitely, it is not an easy task.
Questions for the school community
“It is man’s thinking and inventiveness that has brought about technological innovation. Curiosity, playfulness and imagination are qualities that should be encouraged in education if we wish to perpetuate technological growthDavid Mitchel, Technology and the Celebration of Work as Developed in Waldorf Education
Then, defining these limits is essential to improve the scholar wellbeing. Moreover, make all the reasons clear to the involved parts allows the acceptance of those rules.
So, a community with communication issues should ask these questions as a group:
A. How our communication occurs nowadays?
B. How is the ideal communication inside of the school in our point of view?
C. What subjects must be discussed face-to-face and which can be discussed by emails or other digital platforms?
D. Face-to-face communication has any specific moment of the daily or weekly routine to happen? Why is that?
E. Which digital platforms will be used, and why?
F. Who is responsible for sending each type of information? I highly recommend making a chart with pictures of the responsible person of each subject to turn this abstract information flow more visible to everyone. To place it on a wall in the main corridor and to send a copy for each family is the best way to make people go after the right information.
The middle way
“When new inventions affect modern life, we must take steps to balance any possible ill effects by finding appropriate countermeasures. We must try to compensate for any weakening of the human constitution through our outer influences by strengthening ourselves from within. But, in this age of ever-increasing specialization, this is possible only through a new art of education based on true knowledge of the human being.”Rudolf Steiner *
Although technology harms are not so clear for science and for all of us who make use of it, we must consider that they are sometimes the easiest way to reach all the community. So, find the balance and avoid an overwhelming amount of information at once.
Let’s use it wisely and encourage parents’ engagement in real encounters and talks. After all, a screen cannot transmit feelings and expressions, and a “lol” is nothing but words compared to a real shared laugh.
1. Bordalba, M.M., and Bochaca, J.G. (2019). Digital Media for Family-School Communication? Parents’ and Teachers’ Beliefs. Computers & Education, 132, 44–62. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2019.01.006.
2. Bardroff, L., & Tann, J. (2012). Improving parent involvement in secondary schools through communication technology. The Journal of Literacy and Technology, 13(1), 30–54. https://goo.gl/CeCd8J.
3. Cary, A. (2006). How strong communication contributes to student and school success: parent and family involvement. Maryland, U.S.: National School Public Relations Association. https://goo.gl/Dd7AX3.
4. Hu, C., Wong, A., Cheah, H. M., & Wong, P. (2009). Patterns of email use by teachers and implications: A Singapore experience. Computers & Education, 53(3), 623–631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.04.007.
5. Kuusimaki, A.-M., Uusitalo-Malmivaara, L., & Tirri, K. (2019). Parents’ and Teachers’ Views on Digital Communication in Finland. Education Research International. https://doi-org.ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/10.1155/2019/8236786
6. Ozmen, F., Akuzum, C., Zincirli, M., & Selcuk, G. (2016). The Communication Barriers between Teachers and Parents in Primary Schools. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, (66), 27–46. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1149130&site=eds-live&scope=site.
7. Citations retrieved from: https://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/WJP19issue.pdf
8. From “Soul Economy and Waldorf Education” lectures given in Dornach, Switzerland, December 23, 1921 to January 5, 1922—from the lecture given on December 31, 1921: “Children from the Seventh to the Tenth Year”