Having worked professionally in the field of student and parental engagement for a number of years and developed applications and services to help bridge the gap, I’ve had the opportunity to engage thousands of educationalists, parents and academics in the field about the major obstacles to higher quality parental engagement in learning, and ultimately, I’d boil them down to three:
- I really dont have the time
- I don’t understand education today
- I don’t know exactly what to do
Sometimes we think that we have inherited the earth from our ancestors, but an alternative view is that we are borrowing it from our children. In the vein of the climate crisis, overconsumption, inequality and large scale conflict. Preparing our children for the world and the world for them is our true legacy.
- Never enough time
I’m too busy putting a roof over their head and peri peri dishes on their plate. Or cooking, washing, driving and looking after others. I told myself the same when a close friend invited me to join him for a long run a few years ago – I would think to myself where do you get the time to run for 3+ hours? Haven’t you got anything better to do? Even running for an hour seems like it’s impossible to carve out.
And then he told me in January 2021 that I would be joining him to run the London Marathon this Sunday 3rd October – for a cause that means a lot to me. Children with Cancer – having lost my father to cancer and seen friends and colleagues take years out of their life to care for their children with cancer, I know what this means to every child, family member and friend.
What I have since realised is that you have time for what you make time for in life.
The present but absent parent may meet their child’s physical needs, but not other equally important ones. Kids are thirsty for affirmation from their parents, whom they view as heroes. So, if a child never gets praised or doesn’t feel accepted, they’ll feel lonely… even in a house full of people.
What is your priority?
The average screen time in the UK stands at 3 hours 23 minutes per day (not just mobile, smartphone, TV, Playstation included). Thats 24 hours in every week – you do have an extra day in there in which you could be as fixated, not on Netflix, Whatsapp or Tiktok, but on a living, breathing person who lives in the same house as you. Play with them, walk with them but most importantly talk with them.
My Greatest parent advice
Children ignore what parents say. They pay much more attention to what parents actually do.
A woman came home from work late, tired and irritated, to find her 5-year old son waiting for her at the door.
Son: “Mommy, may I ask you a question?”
Mom: “Yeah sure, what it is?” replied the woman.
Son: “Mommy, how much do you make an hour?”
Mom: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?” the woman said angrily.
Son: “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”
Mom: “If you must know, I make £15 an hour.”
Son: “Oh,” the little boy replied, with his head down.
Son: “Mommy, may I please borrow £5?”
The mother was furious, “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I don’t work hard everyday for such childish frivolities.”
The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door…
The woman sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?
After about an hour or so, the woman had calmed down, and started to think: Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that £5 and he really didn’t ask for money very often.The woman went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door.
“Are you asleep, son?” She asked.
“No Mommy, I’m awake,” replied the boy.
“I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier” said the woman. “It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the £5 you asked for.”
The little boy sat straight up, smiling. “Oh, thank you Mommy!” he yelled. Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills.
The woman saw that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his mother.
“Why do you want more money if you already have some?” the mother grumbled.
“Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” the little boy replied.
“Mommy, I have £15 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you.”
The mother was crushed. She put her arms around her little son, and she begged for his forgiveness.
- Understanding education today
I get it – DfE, ESFA, Ofsted, curriculum developments and academisation have changed the whole education sector. And its hard, even for educationalists, to keep up with.
My father never understood English but he understood his role as a murabbi (cultivator). If you’ve ever planted something, you realise how painstaking it is to prepare the soil with the right nutrients, hope that the seed breaks through to see light, ensure you water it, provide it the right amount of sun, protect it from weeds, straighten it when it becomes crooked and let it flourish when it gains a stem.
Its important to remember your role is not that of the teacher. Your job is different. My father recognised that his role was to:
- Believe that I could be awesome which included a fair amount of comparison, motivation and prayers.
- Ditch fear of failure.
- Value yourself
- Value others
- Raising aspiration.
- Facilitating pathways
While the quality of schools and the nature of the child’s peer group matter significantly, it is from the home that our children derive lasting effects on their character, mindset and attainment.
It does not require much. Research shows that the more parents and children talk to each other, the better students achieve. My father (rahimahullah) never went to secondary school – as an orphan, he and his siblings worked from a young age. However, he was tireless in giving me the best opportunity. Settling here as an economic immigrant in the 70’s, working in a factory in Chelmsford, settling in Luton, sending me to this school, paying for my every need and befriending others to help in any possible way with my education, I am the person you see before you today. I am indebted to my parents and if you read the story of Elon Musk, founder of COO and architect of Tesla, you will find that most successful people stand on the shoulders of giant parents – single parents sometimes, working 3 jobs just to pay for their education. May Musk donated her life savings in 1996 to pay the rent for Elons prior business premises and still says it was the best investment she ever made.
The point is that you don’t need to be able to do their maths homework for you to help. Set high expectations, build good routines at home to promote health, wellbeing and regular study. Give them the opportunity to learn and help around the house.
Most importantly, just show interest. Not just nagging on the homework (although this is definitely a positive sign), also catch them doing something good, give specific praise and recognise their strengths.
Children do not hear what you say, they do what you do. If they see you shouting, they will shout. If they see you trying, they will try. You are the ultimate role models.
To summarise, your child needs your presence, concern and support more than your presents.
Knowing exactly what to do
Parenting is hard. And often times, your child isn’t giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time.
My parents didn’t really give advice, which is probably good, since I wasn’t looking for advice. No teenager really is. But they did lead by example, and I absorbed this leadership.
My parents believed education was important, and this was their greatest reason for moving to this country – to give us the opportunity that they had missed out on. And they encouraged us every day to take advantage and be our best at school.
They valued justice and fairness. They believed that society benefited when its weakest members were protected by its strongest members.
They lived modestly.
They loved us and showed that through their waking us every day, preparing us and scolding us.
I don’t remember specific praise much but I know they were proud of our achievements.
Today, my parents are both gone, but their teaching, their advice, lives in me.
We need a programme which feeds us clear, concise advice about how to help our children learn and there is no better partnership than this, then directly with teachers and leadership at your child’s school.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
The teachers in the room and behind this programme are fully committed to your child’s success. They have been here before and will help you work a way out.