Parent Workshops in the Primary School of ISB

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Parent Workshops in the Primary School of ISB

By Warren Bowers and Bobbi Netzel

One of the keys to a successful school is a positive relationship between home and school. Many things contribute to this, including an inviting physical environment, a strong and supportive Parent-Teacher-Association, connections on social media, and open communication at all levels.

Parents Information Sessions, or Parent Workshops, have been implemented with varying degrees of success in many schools across the globe. In the Primary School at ISB, our Parent Workshops are very well attended, have high energy and we receive positive feedback from the parent community. SO, what makes them successful?

For the Parent Workshop to be successful, there have to be parents in attendance. We can’t ‘make’ parents come, so we need to create an atmosphere where they want to come. Below are some things that we believe make our Parent Workshops well-attended, interactive, enjoyable and positive.

Firstly, parents must feel welcome to visit the school and have a sense of belonging. Having members of the leadership team greet families in the mornings and farewell students in the afternoon shows visibility. Parents know they are always welcome to visit the school, especially for special events such as assemblies, cultural activities and class presentations. If parents are comfortable and happy visiting the school at any time, coming along to a parent workshop is not anything out of the ordinary. 
Secondly, we ask for parent input to the topics covered. In our first workshop of the year, we give a brief overview of the PYP and the ISB philosophy. We share our hopes and expectations for the school year and strategies that will help achieve the goal. We discuss the format and purpose of these parent sessions and then ask parents to give us their thoughts and ideas for future meetings. We also follow this up with a survey so we reach parents who were not able to come to the first session. We use this feedback to guide future Parent Workshops, focusing on where the biggest need or interest is. In saying this, when timely or unexpected issues come up, such as a flu epidemic or a rising concern in the parent community, we are flexible with our topics to address the need.

Thirdly, we make the sessions interactive modelled on good teaching practice. As workshop facilitators, the principal and PYP coordinator co-present to illustrate collaborative practices. At ISB, our teachers have been using Visible Thinking routines as part of the teaching and learning programmes in classrooms. We use these routines regularly in parent sessions, explicitly explaining not only the content but the context of why particular routines are chosen over others. We also show clarity of learning explicitly at the beginning of the session so that parents know What they are learning about, Why they are learning about it, and How they will know if they’ve learned it.  

Fourthly, the principal and PYP coordinator are not the only facilitators. We include our teachers, and sometimes our parents, as part of the process and they facilitate workshops on various topics ranging from differentiation to home learning practices. Parents appreciate hearing different perspectives, especially from those who are directly delivering the programme.

And finally, the environment is important. When they first arrive in the meeting space, parents are greeted with the smell of fresh coffee and pastries. We also offer fruit juice, water and fresh fruit. The room is warm in the winter and cool in the summer and tables are arranged to promote conversation and never in rows.

These are just five things that we feel are important factors to our successful Parent Workshops. We are always looking for ways to improve. For example, having students facilitate parts of the sessions could add value, as could having sessions facilitated in other languages. We have yet to trial these. If you have experienced other ways to make Parent Workshops successful, we’d love to hear about it.