12 things that would make me feel parents are welcome at a primary school (some of which have happened at my daughters’ school and some at other schools I’ve seen):
- Consistent messages in the newsletter that the school values the involvement of parents
- Being told that parents are welcome at school assemblies
- Community events like BBQs, trivia nights, and social gatherings
- Information evenings for parents about a range of relevant topics
- Teachers welcoming parents in the classroom
- A range of ways parents can volunteer in the classroom or the rest of the school
- An active Parents and Citizen Association (P&C) that is an important part of school decision making
- The principal being at the school gate at the end of the day to say bye to kids and to chat to parents
- The principal having an open door policy (and meaning it)
- Information in the newsletter about what is happening in classrooms
- Parental feedback being sought on a range of issues
- Friendly office staff.
What makes you feel welcome in a school?
Schools send messages to parents in many different ways. These messages can create a clear picture in the minds of parents about how the school sees them. Does the school see them as partners and valuable resources in their children’s education? Or does the school see them as a potentially disruptive influence needing to be controlled?
These messages can be delivered in subtle ways including how welcome parents feel at the school, the tone of notes and newsletters, how approachable staff are at the school, and the opportunities for parents to be actively involved in the school.
Of course not all parents will want to be actively involved in the school. Epstein (2001) has identified six types of involvement and caring by families in their child’s education.The following brief summary is from Jennings and Bosch (2011):
Each of these types of involvement can contribute to children’s educational (and broader) outcomes, and schools can play an important role in recognising, and valuing, the different contributions that parents make. Acknowledging these different types of involvement by parents can assist schools in seeing parents as resources rather than problems.
Schools need to provide very strong, clear messages that parents are an important part of their children’s education. The Family – school partnerships framework: A guide for schools and families identifies 11 principles which underpin effective Family-School Partnerships
- All families and schools want the best for their children.
- All children have the right to the opportunity to reach their full potential.
- Families are the first and continuing educators of their children.
- Effective schools provide a nurturing and supportive learning environment.
- Families and schools value quality teaching and respect teachers’ professional expertise.
- Families and schools value the diversity of families and use this as a resource for building partnerships and communities.
- Family-school partnerships are based on mutual responsibility, respect and trust.
- Leadership is critical to building, maintaining and renewing partnerships.
- Family-school partnerships improve student motivation and learning.
- Family-school partnerships strengthen the connections between schools and their communities.
- Partnerships can involve all organisations that support families and schools.
These principles send a clear message that both schools and families have important roles to play in educating students. It isn’t about valuing one over the other; it is about valuing the roles both play.
The Framework goes on to suggest seven dimensions for promoting partnerships (and also strategies for developing partnerships):
- Communicating: Schools go out of their way to make parents families feel welcome and valued, and ensure there is a two-way exchange between families and schools.
- Connecting learning at home and at school: Families and schools understand the overlap between the home and school environments, and work together to create positive attitudes to learning in each child.
- Building community and identity: Schools facilitate activities that improve the quality of life in a community while honouring the culture, traditions, values and relationships in that community.
- Recognising the role of the family: Emphasises that as primary educators of their children, parents and families have a lasting influence on their children’s attitudes and achievements at school. They can encourage their children’s learning in and out of school and are also in a position to support school goals, directions and ethos. Parents look to schools to provide secure and caring environments for their children.
- Consultative decision-making: An inclusive approach to school decision-making and parental involvement creates a sense of shared responsibility among parents, community members, teachers and school leaders.
- Collaborating beyond the school: The wider community can provide services which strengthen and support schools, students and their families.
- Participating: Families’ time, energy and expertise can support learning and school programs in many ways.
The School Learning Support Program (2010) produced a great resource on “Positively Engaging Parents”. While it focuses on students with additional learning needs, it has much wider application. The whole documents is positive, clearly articulates the importance of parents (and schools), creates a clear message the parents are of real value, and provides practical suggestions. To give a sense of this powerful resource, here are a few quotes, but I strongly encourage you to look at the whole document:
The New South Wales Department of Education and Training supports the meaningful participation of parents or caregivers in the education of their child. Parents’ knowledge and understanding of their child is integral to the work of the school learning support team (p. 2).
Parents’ willingness and ability to positively engage in the education of their child can be impacted on by the communication strategies employed by a school. Good communication strategies have the power to inform and engage parents on matters related to the school. It can increase connectedness and confidence levels (p. 4).
Over time, with good leadership, schools can become places where parents are genuinely involved in decision making concerning their child’s education and where parents and teachers acknowledge each other as partners in the growth and development of the child (p. 9).
Parents and community members are the best people to judge whether or not strategies used by the school to support parent involvement are successful. Schools seeking to assess their involvement with parents should consult with parents and the school community and should look towards continued improvement at all times (p. 10).
Of course, there can be parents who act in challenging or even inappropriate ways. As the School Learning Support Programs points out:
Developing a strong partnership between parents and educators may be challenging and it should never be taken for granted that the partnership will automatically work productively. It is important that parents and teachers recognise the significant benefits of involving parents and the essential role that parents perform in their child’s education (p. 2).
But by creating a message that parents are important, they are valued, and they are welcome can help address some of these challenges. Creating partnerships can be challenging, especially if issues of control and power emerge while staff and parents adjust to increased levels of parental involvement, but with perseverance cooperative school-family partnerships can be established which will directly benefit the children involved.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- A World Cafe in a school – a step-by-step description
- 6 keys to community engagement in schools
- Community engagement in turning around schools
- 10 Ways to build school-community partnerships
- Schools engaging families and the local community
- 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (2008). Family-School Partnerships Framework: A guide for schools and families. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Available from http://www.familyschool.org.au/files/9413/7955/4757/framework.pdf
Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators, and improving schools. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Jennings, K., & Bosch, C. (2011). Parent engagement in children’s education. Western Creek, ACT: Family-School & Community Partnerships Bureau. Available from http://www.familyschool.org.au/index.php/download_file/133/271/
School Learning Support Program. (2010). Positively engaging parents Retrieved from http://teachingmattersamy.weebly.com/uploads/1/3/9/9/13999466/positively_engaging_parents.pdf
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I like your 12 points about schools making parents feel welcome. My daughter’s school does all of those and more. They also have a volunteers’ morning tea and parents can help on the Christmas stall and Mother’s day and Father’s day stalls.
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When our son started primary school, we had an empty classroom where the parents could hang out after Friday assembly, the babies could play with toys we had brought in and we could have tea and coffee. The principal walked around the yard frequently and knew all the kids names which amazed us as parents just starting the school path. This group of parents remained friends throughout the kids primary school years, but I didn’t get the same relationship with the group of parents for my younger daughter’s schooling. We no longer had a dedicated room and it was a different principal. Maybe I also had my inital set of parent friends.
A friend is a canteen manager and it is so hard to get parent volunteers. I remember the Prep teacher telling me by grade 2 they could no longer get parent helpers in the classroom as the parents had returned to paid employment. So how to create ways for parents who are in paid employment to have a relationship and see they do have a role to play is a tough one.
Now you are a secondary school parent you will see the difference. It is harder to know the parents of the friends, what opportunities are there to be involved and more importantly – most kids don’t want you to be seen at their school!
At the secondary school where I work, a constant reminder to teachers is “there shouldn’t be any surprises in the school report”. If there is a problem the teacher should be phoning, emailing the parent long before the report. They are also encouraged to contact the parents when positive things happen in the classroom/school.
Hi Margaret (Meg)
Love the example of the room for parents. I’ve heard of this in a few schools and it certainly is a great community resource (even if it doesn’t make much difference to educational outcomes, although I suspect it does help).
Yes secondary school is a bit different – I’m helping in the canteen and attending the P&C as a way to get a feel for the school. At least Jasmine is loving it.
Graeme and Meg, In Minnesota we have a wonderful program offered by the schools that has been operating for 40 years – Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). Parents and children are offered no cost/low cost parent education and parent -child interaction time with licensed parent educators and licensed early childhood teachers. After the first hour together – parents, teachers and children together observing, interacting, learning together, the parents and children separate. And parents have an hour of time to discuss parenting facilitated by the parenting educator. Learning is supportive, community and relationship-based, and life long. Because the program is continuous (families can come through their child’s 5th year) they develop relationships and a real sense of community (aided by the neighborhood locations). Families who meet in ECFE stay friends forever, and those relationships can last through the school years. Sadly when children go through elementary and secondary school, there is nothing sustained for parents, so it’s up to the relationships built early. It’s a really wonderful program – nothing else like it in the US, and your discussion reminded me of the effects ECFE has on building relationships and community among parents early on. It hasn’t been well studied, but another effect of ECFE is parents’ general sense of welcome by the schools. Again, I think it’s pretty school dependent, but I’m imagine that because the program is sponsored by the public schools that there is some lasting fondness and openness to relationships with school staff and teachers.
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Thanks for that Susan. It sounds like a great initiative.