Developing Positive Relationships With Teachers

1. Introduction

2. What you can do as a parent

3. What you can do with your child

4. Impact on children

5. Some ideas and resources

6. What some parents say

7. What some principals say

8. What some researchers say

9. Some useful books on parent engagement

10. References

11. Acknowledgements

Acknowledgement
The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019
Cover image: Courtesy of CSPA

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Introduction


Some people believe that parents are no longer welcome in school once their children reach high school age. This is a myth eroded by research of the past 50 years
showing parent engagement in the high school years can lead to outcomes such as more enjoyment of school, better academic outcomes and a higher percentage of students going on to tertiary education.

This is reiterated by young people themselves who place significant importance on the independence of their high school years but also suggest the need for parental guidance and interest. “You need your independence at this age but you also need your parents’ guidance’, Student, School D”. (Harris & Goodall, 2007). Early engagement with your child’s high school will make a difference to their experience of an education which will shape their lives.

It is tricky for many new high school parents to figure out who at school they need to build a professional relationship with. Unlike primary school where your child usually has one teacher, high school children will have a different teacher for each subject (or a cluster of subjects). They will also most likely have a form teacher who will have pastoral care responsibility for a particular class of students and perhaps a year coordinator who will have certain responsibilities for an entire year level.

Add to that, heads of particular subjects such as maths, english, science and humanities & social sciences, and we can see how it might be difficult for parents to know where to start!

High school though, is like every other part of life with which we deal. Relationships matter and the effort put into building relationships is repaid. This module shares information on how to build relationships with your child’s high school and what you might expect along the way.

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What you can do as a parent

It’s important that parents and teachers respect each other’s roles in the lives of young people and work to achieve this through open two-way conversation.

Engaging in orientation opportunities early in the year before school commences is a good way to make initial contact and to demonstrate your willingness and expectation to be engaged. It also shows the value you place on relationships.

Once school starts, parent/teacher meetings are a good opportunity to meet with your child’s teacher, however participation in information evenings, parent groups or school boards provide the opportunity to build connections with the school community. These can act as important down payments on the positive relationships that will influence how you and your child see school and how the school sees you and your child.

Ensure that your child’s teachers are aware of your eagerness to be part of your child’s educational journey and that you are hoping to do this in partnership with them. Provide the teachers with a little background about your child, such as their special interests or if they might have any particular issues that may affect their learning.

The parent knowledge (Pushor, 2015) you have is worth sharing with your child’s teachers. It is also a good idea to let the teachers know the best way to contact you and to set parameters around this.

Often parents don’t tend to interact with teachers unless there is a problem. Positive interactions early in the school year help to develop mutually respectful relationships, and so when a difficult conversation may have to be had down the track (as it happens with most of us!) it has more chance of being conducted in an effective and respectful way.

Remember that you are part of a community with shared but diverse interests, and decisions have to reflect the needs of that community as well as the needs of your child.

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What you can do with your child

Moving from an environment with clear expectation to one where children have to start taking more responsibility for their own learning can be challenging and stressful for children and families. Following are some actions that you might undertake to assist your child’s learning and wellbeing:

• Working together to help your child develop good time management and organisational skills is an important start. Creating a schedule that includes extra-curricular activities such as sport and music are important. Many schools will be able to help with resources to develop realistic schedules that don’t leave children thinking they must give up things they love for study time. This is an opportunity to engage with your child’s education and it is useful to ensure these good organisational habits are in place early on in secondary school.

• Parent expectation and the importance placed on education has a significant impact on your child’s learning throughout all year levels of schooling – and becomes particularly important in the high school years. As opportunities emerge preferably earlier in the year, sharing realistically high expectations with your child’s teachers will demonstrate your keenness to be engaged in a positive way with your child’s education.

• Whilst open nights and information evenings will give you opportunities to touch base with some of your child’s teachers, it may also be necessary to contact teachers through email or the school portal - generally good ways to keep in touch. Most schools will have an info session on how to use the portal and what information you can expect to find there. Information such as when assignments are due, how your child is tracking and pastoral care notes can all be found on portals and it is a good idea to sit with your child and tour the portal once you have been given access to it.

• While school portals are great ways for parents to engage with what’s happening at school, there is still no substitute for a face-to-face meeting with your child’s form teacher to ensure they know your willingness to be engaged in your child’s learning. Many high schools have three-way meetings with parents, students and teachers and these are a great way of everyone sitting together and discussing learning. As young people move through high school, some of them shy away from these meetings but there is nothing like everyone hearing the same message at the same time to identify positive ways of moving forward or identifying specific
learning needs that require special support.

• There will be occasions when you feel you might need to touch base face-to-face with a particular teacher, such as if you have a concern about your child’s learning progress or their wellbeing. Phone calls are a good way to do this although emails could prove to be a more efficient way to get this organised.

• It is also important that as parents we endeavour to ensure our chlidren get plenty of sleep, exercise and healthy food.

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IMPACT ON CHILDREN

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Many researchers emphasise how family and parenting influence a child’s mental health. Effective parenting practices and positive parent-child relationships are very important as young people transition into secondary school.

“Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. Parents as partners with school in supporting children’s learning can have a significant and long lasting positive impact.

Research shows benefits of parental engagement include:

• improved academic outcomes
• greater engagement in learning
• children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well
• children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence
• enhanced relationships with others in the school community
• the development of effective partnerships — where families and schools can work together to address issues that may be impacting on children’s wellbeing and
achievement”.

The above information is taken from the Progressing Parental Engagement Project, resources for parents – public school life. ACT Government, Education - this resource is available at:
https://www.education.act.gov.au/public-school-life/resources-for-parents/progressing-parental-engagement-project

The Australian Government’s Learning Potential free app and website provide information on topics about how to respond to the many impacts that secondary school has on students. Please refer to section 5 for links to this information.

The following information on transition to secondary school is taken from the Te Tari Arotake Matauranga Education Review Office (2016) and is available at:
https://www.ero.govt.nz/publications/evaluation-at-a-glance-transitions-from-primary-to-secondary-school/6-transition-from-primary-to-secondary-school/

“The transition to secondary school often coincides with important social, emotional and physiological changes in the lives of adolescents” and parents’ and teachers’
understanding of these changes can enhance parental confidence and also enhance the confidence of young people.

“When students change class within or between schools, they must adjust to new surroundings, become familiar with new teachers and peers, learn new ways
of working, and make sense of the rules and routines that operate in their classes (Sanders et al, 2005). While students are navigating the formal school environment, they are also adjusting to the social changes that happen when changing schools and classes.

Why the Primary to Secondary Transition matters.

Students need to make positive adjustments to their new school and classes so that their wellbeing is maintained and their learning is coherent and continuous. McGee et al (2003) found that there was a strong correlation between the extent to which students experienced difficulty following transition and their likelihood of dropping out from education. Other research indicates that poor transitions impact on students’ wellbeing and on their achievement in the future (West et al, 2008). Where students experience multiple transitions because of transience, there are identifiable negative impacts on their achievement.”

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SOME IDEAS AND RESOURCES

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Following are some resources (with links) that you might find useful around developing positive relationships with your child’s teachers.

Building a relationship with your child’s School is available at:
https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/school-learning/working-with-schools-teachers/relationship-with-school

8 Tips for Building a Good Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher is available at:
https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/working-with-childs-teacher/ways-parents-can-build-good-relationships-with-childs-teacher

10 Ways to Build a Positive Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher is available at:
https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/10-ways-to-build-a-positive-parent-teacher-relationship

A version of the Positive Parenting Program is available at:
https://www.triplep-parenting.net.au/qld-uken/about-triple-p/positive-parenting-program/

Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families. ACT Government – Education and
Training is available at:
https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/807432/150897-Engaging-with-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Families.pdf

Building Parent-Teacher Relationships is available at:
https://www.readingrockets.org/article/building-parent-teacher-relationships

Information on The Parent Teacher Partnership is available at:
http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/goingto-school/parent-involvement/parent-teacherpartnership/

The Benefit of Parents and Teachers Working Together is available at:
https://www.verywellfamily.com/parents-andteachers-working-together-620922 

Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with families of children with disability.
https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/807434/150897-Engaging-with-families-with-children-with-disabilities_rev2.pdf

Australian Government - Learning Potential

Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring ways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training). In summary, some key ideas to assist developing positive relationships with your child’s teachers include:

• Meet teachers as soon as possible and demonstrate your interest in being engaged with your child’s learning.
• As opportunities arise, share with the teachers some background (parent knowledge) on your child.
• Take part in any school programs that advance your parenting skills.
• Join in activities the teachers create to invite family participation.
• Learn to use the technology that keeps you informed about your child’s learning.
• Don’t wait for problems to arise before engaging your child’s teachers for the first time.

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What some Parents say

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The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“I think the parent/school relationship in our community is very strong. It’s fostered by a strong school leadership team.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I don’t know if that’s really engaging with the school. But I think that does help, though, by being involved. Like I said, I’ve formed relationships with teachers and so then if I have issues, I’ve got relationships there, then I’m more comfortable going to see teachers, I guess.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, Tasmania).

“They also try to do information sessions on various things; like it might be a mathematics information session or something, so they are trying to reach out and engage to parents on different topics and even parenting things and nutrition for children and that kind of thing.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“A parent/teacher meeting at the beginning of the first term at secondary school would be a great way for parents to establish relationships with their children’s teachers and in turn let them know a bit about their children and their expectations for them. It would also be a great way for the school to demonstrate how they respect parents and see them as authentic partners in their children’s learning … Secondary schools generally try to provide information to parents about things like cyber safety through presentations by experts in the field. Why not bring in some experts to talk about the importance of relationships and how to make them work. Many parents come to schools with a deficit mindset and think they only need to be involved if there is a problem (many teachers think this way too!)”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

“There are certain teachers that I developed relationships with, so I’ve got to, you know, you get to have that engagement with them.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“Because I’ve been fortunate especially with the high school that it’s just happened naturally because my son’s unique. So you get to know the staff so we all work
together anyway and I’m really fortunate and blessed to have such a good relationship with the team that look after things. And he hates it because he says to me, “Mum you find out what’s happened before I even get to tell you.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I can say that at any time that I’ve had a negative experience or a situation where it’s not been so positive, that by taking some initiative to raise that as an issue to have some communication around that, to feedback that concern - that the schools have only been positive in trying to manage and deal with that and trying to address the issues and get back on top of building that communication and that relationship again, and being able to move forward in a positive manner. So at the outset where it may have been negative and where I’ve taken some initiative to follow up, it’s always become a positive in the end.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

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WHAT SOME PRINCIPALS SAY

The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“I think it’s really helpful to understand and appreciate that you get that spectrum because each parent has their own life story and reasons behind why they behave a particular way and I think that’s a really helpful way of actually engaging or beginning a relationship with a family is by thinking that they do genuinely love and care for their child, they do genuinely want them to achieve, there’s not ill feeling there insomuch as they are responding in a particular way because of experiences that they’ve had in their life.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“But you actually need to say “This is our expectation about how we work together here in relationship, and we will be communicating with each other”. So if parents have an issue I would say from the minute they enrol, “If you’ve got an issue we want to know about it because we would rather have you sorting something out with us, because sometimes we make a mistake at the school, sometimes the message that you’ve got at home actually is not quite correct.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).

“So at Year 7, the, our first contact with the families is that we interview every boy and their parents. So that’s, that interview is trying to establish a relationship, it’s about finding out about the boys, it’s not a judgemental, whilst there is an element we have to choose the boys we’re going to offer places to. Most of it’s about finding out about them as a family and them finding out about us as a school.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

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WHAT SOME RESEARCHERS SAY

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“What we do know is that when children are in secondary school, effective family engagement isn’t necessarily about knowing or understanding the answers needed for a homework task. Instead it is much more concerned with showing an interest and providing background support.”

(Taken from Family and community engagement toolkit, Theme 4: Resource 3. Secondary schools – Engagement for learning). Retrieved from:
https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2018-12/theme-4-helping-families-to-actively-support-their-child-s-learning-resources-1-5.pdf

“The benefits of home-school partnerships are apparent with research consistently finding that teacher and family relationships are important for young people’s social and emotional wellbeing and academic achievement. The development of positive relationships between families and school staff takes effort from both parties and typically develops over time rather than over a single event.”
(Desforges C. & Abouchaar A. (2003). Taken from MindMatters Module 3.2 Communicating with parents).

“Both parents and teachers have an important role to play; their roles do not replace but rather complement and reinforce the other’s role thus providing the student with a consistent message about reading and learning. Thinking of parents and teachers as ‘partners’ refers to this mutual effort toward a shared goal. It also implies shared responsibility of parents and teachers for supporting students as learners.”
(Christenson S, & Sheridan S. (2001). School and families: Creating essential connections for learning).

“Nonetheless, consistent aspects noted by parents and principals as underpinning positive parent-teacher relationships included mutual trust and respect, open, two-way communication between parties, and a degree of empathy and understanding of respective roles and perspectives.”
(Stafford, Barker, Ladewig, June 2018).

Some useful books on parent engagement

Please click here to peruse a list of useful books on parent engagement 

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References 

Christenson S, & Sheridan S. (2001). The Guildford School Practitioner Series. School and families: Creating essential connections for learning. New York, NY, US: Guildford Press.

Desforges, C., Abourchaar, A. (2003). The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievements and adjustment: A literature review. London, UK: Department for Education
and Skills.

Harris A. & Goodall J. (2007). Engaging parents in raising achievement - Do parents know they matter?
University of Warwick.

Stafford, N., Barker, B. and Ladewig, C. (June 2018). Parent engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with  principals and parents. Unpublished report prepared for Catholic School Parents Australia as part of the Re-energising parent engagement in Australian primary and secondary schools project.

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Acknowledgements

Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.