Will is a highly experienced school leader and advisor with many years service working in some of our most challenging communities. He is the author of several education books including Leadership with a Moral Purpose and Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners.
What can I do to involve my children's families more in their learning in school?
We asked Associate Will Ryan and this is what he had to say
Scroll down for a transcript of Will's great advice
How can I involve my children's families more in their learning? It's a brilliant question and I'll tell you why it's a brilliant question. Typically, a child is going to spend 15% of his time in school, but 85% in the family home. Now, if OFSTED were talking to you, they would say “well it's about the quality of parents evenings, about the annual report, it's about the information on the website”, but I think it goes far, far deeper than that.
Let's talk about the big one - let's talk about parenting! Charles Desforges of Exeter University did some research a few years ago and he concluded that if you take an average, performing, primary school and put into it school improvement professionals, people like in the role that I used to have, the growth over a range of measures for seven-year-olds might be about 5%.
But if you aim at making the parents as good as the best parents nationally then the growth becomes something like 29%. So, how can we make the parents as good as the best parents nationally? And in the limited time I’ve got to talk to you today, I'd love to talk to you about language - a language of love and a love of language.
The Four Cs
And, if it's done well it will lead to four significant things happening, all beginning with the letter C. Children will develop Confidence, Curiosity, a sense of Collaboration and Conviviality and the ability to Communicate.
My seven-year-old grandson comes to stay with us periodically and the last time he came I said, “are you going to bring your reading book Ronald?” because he needs to read. Ronald looked at me and said, “no I don't think I’ll bother, I’ve learned enough about that now”.
Now, Ronald does need to read, he's got a closed mindset to reading, he's got poor experiences perhaps along the way. And the first thing is yes reading with children is highly significant, but it must be done well, it has to be done in the way that develops an open mindset. It mustn't be critical, and it needs to involve the use of praise - not just general praise like “you're doing well Ronald” but tell Ronald why he's doing well such as “Ronald you built that word up beautifully, Ronald you read that page excellently” and don't forget the power of story time.
Made For Stories
Children are made for stories; they are made to have stories read to them and they are made to have stories made up for them. Children love stories, especially stories about parents and parents who mess things up.
The Great Outdoors
Now, I'd like to go on to talk a little bit about outdoors. Dr Richard Louv would argue that many children today are growing up with nature deficiency disorder - they they're not outdoors enough and therefore they might know what a fronted adverbial clause is, but they don’t know what it sounds like when a robin sings. We need to get the children outdoors more. More research for the television channel Eden, suggest that many children think that cows hibernate in winters and conkers might come from an ash tree or a beach tree, or maybe even a sycamore tree?!
Chris Packham from Nature Watch says that young children should at least eat two tadpoles during their life, they might taste a little bit gritty but the power of learning outdoors and doing things outdoors is superb. Yes, it is about playing football or rounders or tennis, but sometimes it’s just about opening the children’s eyes to the world around them – what is beautiful, what is not beautiful, what is ugly and so forth. Open the children's eyes to the world around them!
And then let's just talk about communication - we need to play games with children. And I’ve got a friend who says “When I play a game with my child, I have to grind their nose into the dirt and beat them remorselessly, and then do a celebration around the room”.
No! Play it in a spirited way where you can coach the children. Play loads of language games with children, play eye-spy but can you play eye-spy with alliteration.
For example, I-spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘S-S’, what is it? Sunny-Skies or green grass or whatever it may be. Can you play similar games with children, so they kept they saying what things start to look like as you move around. But one of the biggest things you can do is play games around language register.
To be successful in life, children need to have access to a range of language registers. They need a formal one for when they are in interviews for jobs, they need a casual one for when they're playing football or sitting with their friends in the park. They need a consultative one to help them form views, they need an intimate one so they can start to express their feelings and I suppose if they're going to become station announcers, they need a static one… Wittgenstein said ‘The limits of my language are my limits of the world’ - it's about right. If I’ve got one tip for families, it’s make your home a language rich place."
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