Try a Teenage Safari!

A 10 minute meeting once a year doesn't work. We need to make space for learning relationships to flourish.

Photo of Tim Ennion

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Summary Pitch Deck:

Overview: (What’s this idea about)

Parents take a safari through their kids’ world - they jump on a yellow school bus in the morning, spend the day at their kids’ school, going to classes, taking lunch in the canteen, learning about issues that affect their kids, and then head back home on the bus at the end of the day.  

The Teenage Safari idea promotes deep collaboration with parents by helping parents understand their kids’ world through experiential learning.  Parents must be exposed to, and understand, the context of their kids’ day-to-day experience to be in a position to effectively collaborate with school and to empower their role as a ‘learning coach’.

Once parents are familiar with their kids' 'territory', they are in a strong position to offer support through coaching and to become much more deeply involved in learning.  Living out first hand the thrills and challenges their kids experience day-to-day equips parents with a new-found empathy that fuels their innate talents as coaches. During trials of these ideas we have seen very strong relationships emerging between parents, students and teachers.  If you're unsure about the power of bringing parents into their child's learning, run a child-parent learning partnership event (follow the link below) and witness the excitement - it's a reminder that learning really is a social experience!

For further details of the 'three steps to parent collaboration' we're trialling, check out the deck at the link above - it would be great to hear what you think!

Potential For Impact: (Why is this an idea that promotes continued growth?)

This idea is built from the ground, up.  In other words, it was sparked by parents telling us what they were missing and it has been developed fully in partnership with our parents.  This is why we’ve had terrific buy-in from parents and why the idea has already made a real difference to them, as well as students and teachers, even while still in a prototype phase.

Value Prop/Pitch: (How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal? Etc)

Once they are part of it and see it in action they will be absolutely convinced!  The deep engagement of parents, students and teachers, not only during the safari, but during the months that follow, is a real eye-opener.  Let them witness new relationships flourish.  

How’d I get this idea off the ground?

Start up a parents’ focus group to bounce ideas off - that has to be your priority.  Once you’ve done this, you’ll have an amazing time playing with ideas, innovating and experimenting.

How you can get started:

Start small - maybe work with just one or two enthusiastic faculties to start with.  Get your parents in there for the day, or bring them in for an evening event if you have lots of working parents.  The key is to create a buzz; to build an irresistible model that others in the school will want to be a part of.

The idea is built up of three parts (please follow the link above to the pitch deck for more details): 

1. Immersion (developing the context through a Safari)

2. Empowerment (training parents as learning coaches)

3. Collaboration (creating opportunities for collaborative learning involving parents, students and teachers)

Although these phases are naturally sequential, there is nothing to stop you trying out any of these ideas as a starting point!


Our parents tell us that they want the opportunity to have an on-going dialogue with their child's teachers.  They need space to talk about context; all those day-today issues that teenagers face in their lives that have a tremendous impact on their learning.  They want to have a rich conversation that goes beyond grades.

We understood this loud and clear when we brainstormed what it was that kept our parents awake at night.  It wasn't about grades.  What was really affecting our parents were deep-seated concerns about what their kids were being exposed to on social media, why they were so difficult to talk to, why they were always so moody, not really knowing what was going on in their kids' lives, worrying that they were the only ones that had these worries.

What became so clear to us was that the conversations about grades were the end point.  Our starting point was to put parents in the right place to even begin to think about having meaningful discussions about learning.

Our parents told us that they had no idea what their children did at school all day - what were their challenges, their highs and lows etc.  They said that they waved them off each morning, watching the yellow bus disappear into the sunrise, and that was that. 

The Teenage Safari

It was this early brainstorm with the parents that led to the idea of a Teenage Safari!  Our plan was to create an event that would immerse our parents in their teenager's world.  We bussed the parents into the school, sent them to lessons, ran workshops for them on social media, drugs awareness and careers, gave them lunch in the school dining hall, sent them to after-school clubs and then put them back on the bus home, exhilarated, bamboozled, their eyes wide open.   It was fantastic!

Our safaris have quite an impact on the way parents perceive school and their children's lives in school.  One of the first tasks we set our parents' focus group was to give us 5 words that to them summed up the school's values/ethos.  We asked them to repeat this exercise the week after they completed our pilot teenage safari.  The results were fascinating.  Gone were words like 'performance' and, much more prominent, were things like 'inclusion', 'opportunity', 'equality' and 'innovation' (see attached before and after Wordles). 

Impact of a Teenage Safari on parents' perceptions of school

Since the pilot safari we have run the experience several times with different groups of parents.  The safaris get parents through the doors (including those that are hard to reach), break down barriers and misconceptions and, perhaps most importantly, they bring people together and spark the rich relationships between parents, teachers and students that we seem to have lost at high school level. 

No time for a full safari? 

We know that if we are going to be successful at getting parents through the door we need to be as flexible as we can.  This is why we've spent a lot of time devising evening and weekend opportunities for parents to experience their child's week day world.

In the evenings we've run parent-child learning partnership events where our faculties all offer activities that both parents and their children can enjoy together.  Many of our parents haven't engaged at this level with their kids for a long time, so it's little wonder that we've struggled to bring parents' into a learning dialogue.  These evenings have been great at making parents realise that their child's learning experience is also open to them; that, even though their child is in senior school, they can still access the subject material and take on the role of learning coach.  Breaking down this psychological barrier is one of the key reasons we persevere with the 'learning partnership' idea.   

On Saturday mornings we run Coaching for Learning courses for our parents that develop the idea that all parents are perfectly placed to be their child's learning coach.  We get to work with the kids for around 6 hours each day; the parents have them for the other 18 hours.... Imagine the difference we could make if skilled up our parents to support learning at home.  This is where we enlisted the support of professional coaches from a big retailer in the UK, the John Lewis Partnership.  They worked with us to devise a bespoke course for parents that gave them the tools to develop effective, positive relationships with their kids before offering practical strategies to support learning. 

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Taking Learning Home - Parents on a Saturday morning 'How to be your child's learning coach' course  

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Parents and children learning together at an evening parent-child partnership event


Join the conversation:

Photo of Molly McMahon

Tom, this is wonderful! I love the focus on empathy to begin with, and then building in a training for parents on how to coach. Not sure if you saw this, but recently, IDEO, and Stanford's d.School led a movement called Shadow a Student. School principals were asked to spend a day shadowing a student. It was really transformative for their leadership. Check it out for inspiration! #shadowastudent

Photo of Tim Ennion

Hi Molly
Many thanks for this - what a fantastic thing to do!  All teachers should spend time shadowing a student... This is common as part of initial teacher training!  If you don't know the context it's so hard to tackle the issues.  It's the same for teachers as it is for parents.

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