The Hidden Brain and Parental Engagement

4 Nov

I’ve been listening to the Hidden Brain podcast a lot recently which is a podcast that examines life’s unseen patterns such as subconscious biases and behavior brought about through language and culture.  It is an interesting listen and I would recommend it.  There is a section in each episode called stopwatch science where two of the podcast contributors discuss recent studies and theories in under a minute relating to the topic of that week.  One episode in particular, episode 4, resonated with me as it was focused on science and culture around the relationship between students and teachers.

During that weeks stopwatch science segment there was a really interesting study brought up about teacher-parent engagement and the impact it has on pupil attainment. The study, conducted jointly by scholars at Brown and Harvard, looked at the impact that messages from teachers to parents can have, and by default highlighted the impact parental engagement can have.

There were three groups in the study.  The first consisted of children whose parents received no messages.  The second group had messages which were positive relayed back to parents.  The third received constructive criticism, or ‘improvement information.’

The main finding of the survey was that those pupils in groups where parents received feedback, irrespective of its nature, had a substantially increased probability of passing their courses and earning credit towards graduation.  The comparison with the group that received no feedback was that there ended up being a 41% decrease in students failing to earn credit.

What is more interesting was that those in the group whose parents received the ‘improvement information’ had more effective results than those who simply had the positive feedback.  We can therefore determine that not only is feedback to parents essential to attainment but that the nature of that feedback is also significant.

I find this study fascinating for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I think it shows how vitally important that parental-teacher link it.  Community engagement and support for schools is critical to their ability to ensure the best education possible for pupils.  The best schools are at the top of their game because they have a cohort of parents that share their vision and back their actions.  It does call into question again some initiatives such as truancy fines which may lead to some short-term gains but which could in the longer-term threaten that parent-teacher dialogue.

Secondly, we know that pupils spend the vast majority of their time outside the school environment.  This was a key point Professor Donaldson made while thinking through the focus of his curriculum review.  We must obviously focus on supporting teachers to improve their capabilities and gain greater access to training wherever possible.  Ensuring the most qualified, motivated and equipped classroom practitioners are teaching in Wales must be a fundamental objective for any Welsh Government.  Equally, we must also examine where improvements can be made to resources and facilities as well as looking at policy changes that empower the profession.  However, when all is said and done we cannot escape the fact that children spend the most part of their time outside school.  Failing to tackling those external factors which impact on attainment will render any improvements at school level negligible.  This means getting to grips with the socio-economic concerns of poverty as a priority.  What this study shows is that getting parents on board with their child’s education is a significant factor in this issue.  Teachers can take a child only so far, often they secure the best qualifications against all the other factors in their lives, but as a rule if there is no wider network of support it makes it extremely difficult to ensure potential is reached.

Of course this is one study and shouldn’t be taken for gospel, even though the methodology does appear sound. You would need a wider and more varied number of test to take place and for there to be Welsh test cases to determine if this sort of education thinking travels. However I think we can take the principles on board based on what we know already works within our communities.

As well as the above discussed study the podcast also looks at the interesting concept of engineering relationships between pupils and teachers through exploring shared interests and the impact that has on attainment, especially amongst ethnic minority groups.  It is well worth checking out.

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