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The role of leadership in successful parent engagement

24 October 2019

When parents get involved in their child’s education, children do better at school. According to education researchers, families can improve their children’s academic performance in school and have a major impact on attendance and behaviour. So, how can schools form effective parental partnerships, and get parents to commit to their child’s education beyond volunteering at the school fete? It starts with educational leadership.
Here are four ways to get parents immersed in achieving classroom goals through educational leadership:

1. Create a parent-friendly environment

Starting with the premise that parents are a child’s first teacher, it’s important to welcome the parents’ perspective when it comes to deciding what’s best for the child. So, request feedback and listen to what they have to say. To do this, engage the parents through various tactics – ask them to fill in a questionnaire, provide a daily diary that bounces between the teacher and parent or invite parents into the classroom. Also, consider connecting with parents in other creative ways such as workshops and other school-based programs like parent-student cooking classes.

To further build partnerships with parents, strategically take steps to schedule regular and results-driven feedback sessions about their child’s progress. Use this as an opportunity for collaborative goal setting and demonstrate that when parents are involved in their child’s schooling, the rewards are great.

There is plenty of research that supports the need for schools to engage with parents. For instance, researchers at the University of Oxford found that children whose parents participated in the Peers Early Education Partnership (a program geared towards supporting families of children aged 0-5), "made significantly greater progress in their learning than children whose parents did not participate." 

Parent engagement in schools can also promote positive health behaviours. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “students who feel supported by their parents are less likely to experience emotional distress, practice unhealthy eating behaviours, consider or attempt suicide or disengage from school and learning.”

A male teacher having a meeting with a parent about a student's progress.

2. Use effective communication channels

Parents are often busy and juggling multiple commitments, so it’s important to communicate with them efficiently. Gone are the days of simply stuffing a newsletter into the child’s backpack and sending it home in the hope that it will be read. Schools now need to ensure that any news and updates – whether it’s about the curriculum, excursions, special events, carnivals, workshops, summer programs or any other school-wide issues – are communicated in various ways. There are several channels that can be used to reach parents, from text messaging and emailing to using postcards, or conducting parent-teacher conferences.      

Technology now allows schools to reach parents much easier and in real time. Social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to communicate matters such as fundraising requests or events such as fetes. Classroom specific blogs can also be used to keep parents up to date with learning activities, excursions and student accomplishments. For example, Melbourne Catholic Primary School St Charles Borromeo publishes a student blog that shares a wealth of news items and stories, from the hard work of students in the science lab to a pictorial of their book week parade.

Additional techie tools that educational leaders can use to their advantage include videos, podcasts and several education-specific apps. Through targeted communication, schools can achieve high levels of engagement. In the U.S., a high school that implemented an interactive voicemail saw parental attendance at orientation jump from 50 to 1,000. However, it’s important to provide parents with options, as not everyone communicates in the same way or is tech-savvy. So, ask parents about their preferred communication methods and invite responses from them. 

3. Cultivate involvement with action steps

To foster family-led learning, schools need to put processes and practices in place to help parents “reinforce the importance of school, homework, and activities that build student skills and feelings of success.” This thinking adheres to Epstein’s model of overlapping spheres of influence – a comprehensive framework on school, family and community partnerships.
According to Epstein’s model, effective partnership programs establish a base of respect and trust to build upon. Success comes from programs that consider a student’s individual needs and interests, their talent and age and how well they are doing at school, along with the capability of their parents. The framework outlines several practices schools can adopt including:

  • Family support programs to assist with health, nutrition, and other services
  • Courses and training for parents, alongside yearly conferences
  • Home visits at transition points
  • Sending student work home for review and comments on a weekly or monthly basis
  • Providing information on all school policies (including homework) and reforms
  • Information on how parents can assist students in setting yearly goals and improving skills 
  • Creating a calendar with activities for parents to do with their child at home or in the community
  • Linking all families with parent representatives or parent groups at school

Southern Cross University Online’s Master of Education (MEd) gives a deep understanding of the educational leadership concept outlined by Epstein. There are also a number of Australian Government resources available to schools and parents with ideas on how to nurture each individual student’s potential. When educational leadership teams in schools invest in strategies that assist parents, students of all backgrounds do well. So, schools need to integrate parental partnerships into their overall mission. 

A father helping his son with his reading homework.

4. Value diversity across families

When developing and implementing programs and practices, schools need to consider cultural, religious and socio-economic differences. The behaviour, actions and attitudes of parents and students will vary depending on their background and level of education. The onus is on schools to find common ground and eliminate any barriers to effective communication.

Cultural differences may affect student performance and disrupt learning, so schools need to create a link between home and school to enhance lessons. According to the authors of Bridging Cultures Between Home and School: A Guide for Teachers, schools should “re-evaluate traditional models of involvement” and instead “become more collaborative, more inclusive, and more culturally relevant.”

At the most basic level, schools are required to provide cultural awareness training for school staff and parents. And where language is a barrier, schools must deliver information in the language that parents are fluent in, so there’s no room for miscommunication. Alongside this, providing translators will enable parents to fully participate in their child’s education.

Learn more about our online Master of Education (MED). Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 589 882.