Polished shoes. Wonky pigtails. A school bag nearly as big as her. The first day of the school year was sparking with nervous energy in those days. There were photos and big, last-gasp cuddles and reassuring little nods of the head.
Now it’s high school. Excitement about seeing BFFs, banter about the best and worst teachers, the car door slams and she’s gone. There’s a cheerful, “See ya”, but no backward glance.
There will be no waiting at the classroom door at 3.15 pm, peeking in to watch the chatty class pack up. That’s all done. The lines have been drawn. School is the domain of kids and teachers now. No parents allowed.
That’s what we have been trained to think. However, research has shown time and time again that in cutting that connection with the school, you do your kids no favours. Parent engagement is proven to have a profound impact on your child’s academic and social success. Studies put that impact as high as 60%. It is important enough to rethink the boundaries between home and school.
What is Parent Engagement?
Parent engagement is about the important people in the education of a young person working together. The aim is to create a stimulating and supportive environment for learning and development…at school and at home. That means, kids, teachers, parents, and in many cases extended family, all stepping up.
Fact is, education isn’t confined to the seven hours of a school day. And it doesn’t only rely on the expertise of a teacher. We all contribute to ‘growing a child’ so we should be talking about how we can do that together.
Our school model was created in the Industrial Era. It was designed to teach as many people as possible at once. Like a factory. And it works. We have many great teachers with lots of experience and specific expert knowledge. However, what it lacks is relational knowledge. That bank of knowledge is still held by parents.
Only parents know the rhythms and subtleties of their child. You know their boundaries, their fears and the social and emotional factors that will impact learning. They’re the things a teacher of 30 students who sees them 4 hours a week could never know.
Essentially, the parent engagement movement is a mind shift. It’s a move towards a stronger relationship between school and family, valuing the skills and knowledge each party has to offer.
Parent Engagement vs Parent Involvement
Traditionally parents have been involved in schools but not engaged. You are commonly invited to assemblies, carnivals and celebrations of success. And that’s great, but as the years go on, fewer and fewer parents attend. There is a growing feeling that parents don’t belong in high schools. Often this is reinforced by teens who would ‘rather die’ than have Mum or Dad at school.
Being engaged with a school is different. It doesn’t mean you have to be in the school. Although you can be. It means that you are aware of the aims of programs, school decisions, and policies and that you contribute in your own way from home. You’d be amazed at what a difference that makes. The impact increases when you develop supportive relationships with teachers. Another powerful form of engagement is talking about what is being learnt at school. Not just, “How was school today?” But deep discussion of specific subjects in the curriculum.
In administration, if parents are given a good understanding of why school decisions are made, there is a greater chance of support. Equally, if a school has a greater understanding of families and their concerns, we have a greater opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of your kids.
What Does Parent Engagement Look Like?
- Helping with time management and organisation
- Reading with kids and discussing their reading with them
- Deliberately using kids’ numeracy skills in cooking, building, travelling etc.
- Talking about current affairs together
- Family discussion of the ideas presented in Health, Wellbeing and Citizenship lessons. Things like internet safety, positive body image, study skills and resilience
- Parent-child-teacher meetings that are about planning forward rather than just reflecting on results
- Developing great working relationships with teachers and the school
- Greater involvement in school decision making
- Providing the resources and understandings families need to support children
- Considering family involvement in the planning of events and academic tasks
- Ensuring staff have the skills and knowledge to engage parents confidently
- Sharing aims and programs of various academic and wellbeing subjects as appropriate
- Being creative in involving parents and teachers who are time poor (Eg. podcasts instead of seminars)
- Creating a culture of involvement, effective communication and valuing families
What Impact Does Parent Engagement Have?
It is commonly accepted that parent engagement can account for 40 – 60% of a child’s school performance. It is hard to be more specific than that because there have been hundreds of studies into Parent Engagement and each study varies in focus.
Different elements of parenting, teaching, and types of outcomes (academic, social, attendance, etc.) have been examined. There are also variations caused by socio-economic status and where you live, among other things. However, all studies acknowledge that the impact of parent-school partnerships is significant. It matters that you’re involved. It matters more that you’re engaged.
Respected education researcher Dr John Hattie notes that where Australia is spending a lot of money on school reform strategies and education policy, his data suggests we should be looking more closely at resources in parent engagement.
We no longer live in a factory era. It’s no longer good enough to drop kids at school and expect them to emerge educated 12 years later. The boundaries between school and the real world need to be bulldozed. A good start is to make learning an anywhere, anytime activity. Parent engagement is key in that process.