Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Children's Learning
reviewed by Amanda Benjamin & Ken Brien - October 08, 2019
Title: Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Children's Learning
Author(s): Dorothy Lepkowska & Julie Nightingale
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 1138489468, Pages: 182, Year: 2019
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In Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Childrens Learning, Dorothy Lepkowska and Julie Nightingale offer a guide intended for school leaders and classroom teachers. Written by two U.K.-based education journalists, this short book addresses issues that that they describe as not often addressed in the parents-school relationship. Using a great deal of expert testimony, this book is meant to provide examples of successful approaches to what they describe as home-school partnerships.
In Chapter One, Lepkowska and Nightingale present a recurring theme that arose throughout their many conversations with principals, teachers, school governors, and parents: the challenges faced by schools in trying to engage parents to support student learning and well-being. They also claim that the emphasis on parental engagement is a new phenomenon. The remaining eight chapters cover a range of topics from bereavement to parents evenings. Each chapter concludes with case studies, resource lists, and practical tips for schools.
Chapter Two, on bereavement, attempts to open dialogue among school administrators, teachers, and parents on this sensitive topic and addresses some of the challenges that come with discussion of bereavement in school. The chapter includes advice from British agencies like Child Bereavement U.K. about how to encourage teachers to both use and be careful of the language of bereavement. It advocates a whole-school approach to training (p. 13) about bereavement and concludes with advice on how to write a school bereavement policy.
Chapter Three makes the case that schools need to be developing policies and curriculum to address digital safety. It begins with recent data that describe the digital world inhabited by students and not always understood by parents and teachers. This chapter argues for the importance of the relationship between schools and parents in tackling issues of technology and internet safety. In particular, the authors question the usefulness of protective strategies that attempt to limit student access to digital media. The case studies in this chapter offer cautionary tales and illustrations of school initiatives.
Raising aspirations, particularly for low-income communities, has been a priority in the U.K. for several years. Chapter Four takes on the discussion of social mobility and the importance of raising aspirations for young people from disadvantaged communities. Examining some of the factors that may affect aspirations, the chapter purports to look at ways in which schools can work with parents to increase opportunities for children by raising aspirations, particularly with respect to postsecondary education. This chapter is composed mostly of case studies along with descriptions of a few resources.
Parents evenings are a key feature for many schools as they are an important way to engage parents, encourage volunteerism, and set the climate for school culture. Chapter Five provides a guide to developing relationships with parents along with tips for a successful parents evening, with the authors sharing suggestions that challenge the traditional format of these events. The chapter underscores the importance of imparting appropriate information while engaging parents to participate in a dialogue with the school.
Chapter Six, on child protection and safeguarding children, is one of the most sensitive discussions in this book. This chapter tackles a variety of issues from mental health to the effects of exclusion on young people. Sensitive topics included sexual orientation, cultural practices, and school attendance among minority populations. Consistent with the other chapters, it also includes tips for schools on the importance of training staff and school leaders on how to take appropriate action when it comes to child protection.
Chapter Seven takes on the issue of special needs, disabilities, and the importance of parent-teacher collaboration in supporting the learning needs of children. This chapter tackles different parent characteristics that schools may encounter and how best to engage with parents. Also included is a discussion of gifted and talented students who may excel in some areas but struggle in others. A point of emphasis in this chapter is the importance of schools listening to parents, respecting their knowledge of their children, and personalizing the supports provided to students.
The final two chapters anticipate some of the emerging changes that the authors see in the education system. The first, addressed in Chapter Eight, is the number of new schools to be built to accommodate the growing U.K. population. They provide tips for how to attract parents to new schools and several case studies that could be described as best practices for school-parent outreach. In particular, it is important for new schools to have leaders who are visible, responsive, clear, and trustworthy about the purposes and policies of their schools.
The final chapter examines our media-saturated world. Chapter Nine offers some key tips for managing the media with parents in mind (p. 153). Here, school leaders are encouraged to ask teachers to think about their social media presence and to have a media strategy for dealing with both positive and negative publicity. This chapter includes advice from educational directors, parents, public relations executives, and journalists who offer their expertise about how to deal with negative media attention, disgruntled parents, and developing a positive media presence.
Lepkowska and Nightingales book is easy to read. It focuses on the relationship with parents and the important roles that parents play in education. The book relies on highlighted text features such as statistics and case studies to illustrate the importance of chapter topics. It also offers resources for teachers and school administrators. The sections with parent narratives are a nice feature of this book and underscore the experiences of parents as they engage with schools. While most of the resources, statistics, and case studies are from the U.K., the general themes would be applicable to international educators.
Although the book has some useful tips and resources, it also has some weaknesses. The chapters are quite short and rely too much on lengthy passages of expert testimony. Some more careful copy editing would have improved the clarity of some passages. Also, it is noteworthy that the chapter on raising aspirations fails to address some of the current literature that critiques the use of aspirations as a marker of success for young people (St. Clair & Benjamin, 2011).
St. Clair, R., & Benjamin, A. (2011). Performing desires: The dilemma of aspirations and educational attainment. British Educational Research Journal, 37(3), 501517.