Promote awareness and understanding

1. Introduction

2. What you can do as a principal

3. What you can do with your school community

4. Impact on students

5. Some ideas and resources

6. What some principals say

7. What some parents say

8. What some researchers say

9. Some useful books on parent engagement

10. References

11. Acknowledgements

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 ( 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: © Sebastian Czapnik |


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Promote awareness and understanding


Half a century of research has shown that students of all backgrounds achieve more if parents see the value of being engaged in their child’s education.

This shows up through higher attendance rates, homework completion, grades, behaviour and better social interaction. It also helps transition from primary to secondary school.

Engagement is a deeper commitment than involvement. It requires shared and continuous responsibility for student achievement and learning.

Schools that show their willingness to accept engagement will benefit from being able to tap the willingness of parents to continue the educational work they have started.

This is helped by providing compelling explanations of the beneficial impact of engagement and practical tools that guide parents on the school system. Resources that help parents to guide their children’s cognitive, academic and social growth are invaluable.

There is no one-size-fits-all model however schools have the best chance of success if they endeavour to take account of the complexity of families and accept them as they are. Schools should equip parents to be part of their children’s education by encouraging learning at home and communicating high (yet reasonable) expectations of achievement. Students achieve more if their parents are engaged.


What you can do as a principal

It is important to understand the distinction between involvement and engagement.

“A definition of involve is ‘to enfold or envelope’; conversely, engage can be defined as ‘to come together and interlock.’ Thus, involvement implies doing to, whereas engagement implies doing with. Moreover, the term parent engagement indicates a shared and continuous responsibility for student achievement and learning that occurs across multiple settings.” Extracted from the article, ‘What does it mean to be engaged or involved?’ - for the full text please refer to the link below.

As a principal, you can improve student academic achievement by providing school staff with research-based strategies and resources for overcoming barriers to parent engagement in schools.

You can take a lead in your community by the way you shape your message on the impact of parent engagement on student learning and wellbeing. Offer parents practical tools that inform them of the school system, and incorporate strategies and resources conducive to student academic, social and emotional growth.

One of the views of the way you might think about how you develop awareness and promote understanding among staff is to use the work of Steve Constantino – a former superintendent of schools in the USA. Refer to the diagram and the video below.

Steve Constantino: The Logic Model for The Five Simple PrinciplesTM for Engaging Every Family.


Video: The Five Simple Principles for Engaging Every Family available at:

What you can do with your school

According to research (Henderson and Berla, 1994, p.1), “the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement in school is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student’s family is able to:

1. create a home environment that encourages learning;
2. express high (but not unrealistic), expectations for their children’s achievement and future careers; and
3. become involved in their children’s education at school and in the community.”

These three seemingly simple steps require dedication and commitment from all students, parents and school personnel. The resulting benefit of this investment in time and effort is well worth the future aspirations and success of every child.

Engaging families will contribute to improving student learning outcomes only when family engagement is integrated into all goals and initiatives for student learning, including both academic and social-emotional learning goals.

Family engagement can be linked to specific student learning goals. However when it comes to family engagement there is no one-size-fits-all model nor a do-it-once-and-you’re-done model.

Instead, we need to identify key aspects of an effective program then describe how to make sure family engagement activities are matched to the local content of your school, and then outline a process for continuous improvement around a program of family engagement (Bodenhausen and Birge, 2017).

Consider running workshops so that staff and parents understand the value of engaging parents in their children’s learning and wellbeing rather than just having parents involved.

Dr Debbie Pushor (University of Saskatchewan) says that being involved can be done by any adult because they do not need parent knowledge to do the task. Parent knowledge is the knowledge gained by nurturing children in the complex act of child rearing and in the complex context of a home and family (Pushor, 2015).


Some possible actions to undertake:

• Provide hints and tips for teachers about how they can engage families in learning and wellbeing so that they can share their successes and how they built professional relationships with families.
• Garner the support of parents and provide information and training for them in how they can support better engagement with families.
• Provide parent to parent advice in the form of Mentor Mums or Dads who are veterans at the school and have information they can share with new parents and answer their questions.

These may seem like insignificant actions however they help to put the whole picture together for new families and provide a smooth transition to school.

Canadian educator Dr Mary Jean Gallagher has tips on how to bring parents into the education conversation. These tips are listed on the following pages.

These following ‘10 tips to build parental engagement’ (2018) are by education expert Mary Jean Gallagher who explains why relationships between parents and schools can have a dramatic impact on a student’s education.

1. Be aware that parents may want to be involved in different ways and one size doesn’t fit all.
• ‘As you try to engage more parents in more ways to support their children’s learning, be aware that there are many ways in which parents can be involved, and not all families will be able to commit to all of them.’

2. Establish an environment for parents to support their children as students.
• ‘We can assist parents by helping them establish an environment which can support their children as students, sharing articles and information about child and youth development, health and nutrition in newsletters or on the school’s website, or by offering parenting information sessions at the school.’


3. Be creative with ways parents can get involved.
• ‘Be mindful of the conditions needed to allow our families to take advantage of visits to the school, or attendance at parenting and other information evenings. For some families, providing volunteer childcare at the school can make all the difference, for others volunteer translation services could be the key.’

4. Communicate effectively within your school and with your school community.
• ‘The second way for parents to be involved is through effective communications from school to home and home to school. Find ways to communicate how a student is doing at school, build positive and regular communications early in the year so that concerns can be raised in context. Some secondary schools have used a “mentor program” to reduce the workload this can create, each staff member may agree to be a mentor/communicator for three or four students in their first year, calling home every three or four weeks to share updates on student progress.’

5. Be open to parent volunteering.
• ‘Parents can also be involved by volunteering at the school. Schools can organise school or classroom volunteer programs or set up a parent room/ volunteer centre for meetings and resources for parents. Asking parents to volunteer just once or twice a year can be easier than asking for a regular commitment.’

6. Give parents a role in education at home.
• ‘Parents are engaged when they support their child’s learning at home. Schools can assist by providing information about how parents can do this, sharing ways in which homework can be monitored and discussed at home. Be mindful though that not all families have the resources to be able to do this well, for them homework might take the form of short opportunities for students to read to their parents, guardians or siblings, play a maths game or ask their parents questions about family history for some writing assignments.’


7. Engage your parents in a constructive school community conversation.
• ‘Some parents like to be involved in decision making around the school. Schools can take advantage of this by developing parent leaders in the community and asking them to assist in engaging other parents in a variety of ways.’

8. Use your community resources to your advantage.
• ‘Parents are engaged in their children’s learning when they take advantage of community resources available to assist. Schools increase this involvement when they help coordinate resources and services, becoming the “hub” for such supports in the area or sharing information about access points.’

9. Make education interesting for parents.
• ‘Be creative in engaging parents in meeting students’ educational needs. What parent could resist an information session about the school’s writing program if the evening began with a ten minute talk by a well-known local sportscaster sharing his stories about covering the footy games? And this has the added advantage of reminding our kids about the importance of literacy’.

10. Maintain an open door and a positive stance.
• ‘And finally, maintain an open door and a positive stance. Even if faced with a challenging parent, let them know you are working together to support their child, and model that positive, open attitude for your staff. Our children and their success are worth it.’




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:

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:

“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.”


For educators, the following resources will assist you as you plan to support families in making school transitions and also offer an opportunity for conversation and collaboration.

The ACT government has provided a series of fact sheets for schools and parents on progressing parent engagement, these include:

A booklet – Progressing parental engagement, which is available at:

School Fact Sheets include:

Education Capital: Teacher fact sheet
Parental Engagement: Supporting children’s learning at home
Parental Engagement: Building a strong culture of parent-school engagement
Parental Engagement: Supporting parents to get engaged with the school community
Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability
Parental Engagement: Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families
Parental Engagement: Engaging with families for whom English is an additional language or dialect

Why family engagement matters for student and school success. The Centre for Family Engagement. Global Family Research Project.

Joining together to create a bold vision for next-generation family engagement: engaging families to transform education, Executive Summary by the Global Family Research Project.


The following information is extracted from Transition from Primary to Secondary School (Education Review Office, Te Tari Arotake Matauranga).

The National Middle School Association (1995) identifies five key aspects occurring when adolescents move from childhood to adulthood that are useful to consider when thinking about the provision for students at transitions. The table below outlines the changes ERO has observed and includes possible implications for schools’ practices.

Aspects Characteristics Implications
Intellectual Young adolescent learners are curious, motivated to achieve when challenged, and capable of critical and complex thinking. Students have opportunities to be curious and to have their thinking extended and challenged.
Social Young adolescent learners have an intense need to belong and be accepted by their peers while finding their own place in the world. They are involved in forming and questioning their identities on many different levels. Students need to be social and to know about themselves, is met through a culturally responsive programme and a classroom culture that celebrates diversity.
Physical Young adolescent learners mature at varying rates and go through rapid and irregular physical growth, with bodily changes that can cause awkward and uncoordinated movements. The program caters well for students’ needs to be physically active.
Young adolescent learners are vulnerable and self conscious, and often experience unpredictable mood swings. Teachers are sensitive to the emotional and psychological changes that are happening to students.
Moral With their new sense of the larger world around them, young adolescent learners are idealistic and want to have an impact on making the world a better place There are opportunities for students to participate in decision-making that affects their life within the school.

“In its research on transitions in New Zealand secondary schools, the Ministry of Education (2010) found that unsettled transition behaviours could be attributed to:

• disruptions of social networks, both with teachers and with peers
• less individual attention from teachers at secondary school because of the way secondary schools are organised, making personalised relationships between teachers and learners more difficult to achieve
• Year 9 students ‘testing the boundaries’ as part of adjusting to the new school and growing up
• inappropriate classroom placements of some students in relation to their learning and/or social needs, diminishing the student’s self-concept and ability to cope well
• less responsive teacher pedagogy leading to student disinterest and lack of engagement
• peer pressure from other students resulting in skipping classes, decreased desire to do well in academic work, smoking, drinking, using drugs, and general misbehaviour.

What do successful transitions look like for students?

From New Zealand literature on transitions, ERO identified 12 aspects that indicate students have made successful transitions (Peters, 2010), (Kennedy and Cox, 2008).

Students feel that:

• they belong in their new school, and are well included in school activities and programs
• they are positively connected to their peers, other students in the school, and to their teachers
• their teachers know them, including their strengths, interests and learning needs, and show they are interested in them
• they are understood and valued as a culturally located person
• they have a sense of purpose in being at school
• they have an understanding and commitment to their learning pathway through their schooling and beyond
• they are making progress
• their current learning follows on from their previous learning (the curriculum is connected and continuous) and is appropriately challenging
• learning is interesting, relevant and fun
• their families have been included in decisions
• they are physically and emotionally safe
• they have opportunities to try new, exciting things and/or extend their particular skills/interests (eg, through extra-curricular activities).”


Department of Education and Training WA provide Transition – Gearing up for Secondary School.

There is extensive practical information from the NSW Department of Education.

Let’s grow a mentally healthy generation Be You aims to transform Australia’s approach to supporting children’s and young people’s mental health in early learning services and schools, from early years to 18. Website is available at:

Box of Ideas - Primary transition activities and ideas for Year 6s.

Making transition a positive experience – 10 key strategies.

Australian Institute of family studies - Making a smooth transition to secondary school.

NSW government – Transitioning students with a disability to secondary school.

Be You Educators Handbooks are available at:

Transitioning from Primary to Secondary School: Supporting students with additional or complex needs that arise from disability when moving from primary to secondary school.

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).


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 parents are critical … I mean, there’s so much research that indicates that the greater the level of parent engagement, the better results for the student.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“I think it’s really important that parents are engaged in their students learning, but I don’t think we’ve yet cracked the best way to do that or tapping into the strengths and abilities of our parent community because I think most schools would have a huge number of parents who are very switched on, very capable and have a great deal to offer, but we’ve got to change our – schools and parents have got to change our relatively old mindset of the way in which parents were involved as in helpers and the schools got all the power and the parents are there to serve almost. We’ve got to change that mentality and turn it around to see the school really taking benefit of the knowledge that parents have got to offer - and that’s a challenge.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“If you’re discussing learning that’s taking place at school at home and reinforcing that, then the students get a sense that this is something that’s important, it’s something that’s worthwhile, it’s something that should be strived for.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“Teacher education, you know preparing university students for teaching, there’s nothing in there that talks about how to engage the parents and how to communicate and how to form relationships with parents and yet we know that it is one of the most important AITSL standards for our teachers is to be able to form relationships with our students and also with their parents.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).

“I think where we see parents actively involved with their child’s education and learning, we can see that it’s making a difference for their son or daughter, so it’s about us communicating that readily to the parents so that they do know that their engagement is effective and it is being rewarded in a sense with better learning outcomes for those particular students”.
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“And I’ve seen great partnerships where there’s mutual knowledge shared and mutual respect and support and it’s genuine working together … the best example I’ve seen is in a pastoral role where there’s been a campus minister working very closely with new parents, disengaged parents, parents of children at risk that type of thing; I’ve seen that work very well.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).



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

“Teachers know it’s their role; the leadership and the teachers work together, they promote that it’s a partnership all the time amongst the child, the parent and the school. So the partnership’s really important but they also know that they are assisting children to become independent people - young people and learners.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“When my eldest children commenced secondary school and prior to starting, I was visited in our home by a pastoral care representative of the school, so that she could find out about my child, what they were concerned about, if they had any needs, etc. I thought this was excellent as we had the opportunity to ask questions and give information to go to the teachers so as they would have knowledge of the students they would have in their classes. This did not happen with my younger children and I felt disconnected from their education.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).

“I think schools could better understand that it is not just children who are transitioning into secondary school, but parents also. Parents can feel as anxious as their child on the first day … A physical welcome pack for new families would be a really positive idea. This would include all sorts of practical information such as maps of the school etc. along with contact details for individual teachers and information regarding the protocol of contacting them. Links to online resources and information would also be useful.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

“Being open to accepting that parents – just because parents don’t have an education degree, or they may not have any tertiary qualifications at all – but they still know their child. And I think parents need to be given the confidence to pass on that knowledge, to actually be encouraged to say well yes, you do know your child more than we do, and have the teachers ask the parents what can you tell us about your child?”
(Parent, regional secondary school, Tasmania).

“Well, initially I thought the school would be more involved in supervising the children. I thought my job would just be to supervise and guide them when they get home but I found out – I don’t know if it’s a boy thing that I actually have to be a lot more hands on, … factors like getting their assessment calendars, finding what they’ve got on when, and organising them too – so, I have to be on their case about that.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I felt from the start that the high school really wanted my son who has a disability to attend – he wasn’t just a number.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).


What some Researchers say

In 2017, the US-based International Literacy Association surveyed 15,000 teachers, policy-makers and literacy academics to rate 17 literacy topics as either “hot” or “important” and parent engagement was considered the most important topic that gets the least emphasis. Australia contributed the third largest response to the survey after USA and Canada.

“ … families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life ... When schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more ... ”
(Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies, 2007).

Noted researcher Epstein (1992) writes: “students at all levels do better academic work and have more positive school attitudes, higher aspirations and other positive behaviours if they have parents who are aware, knowledgeable, encouraging and involved.”
(Epstein, 1992).

“Children who make a positive start to school are more likely to feel excited and motivated to learn, have good relationships with others and develop a sense of belonging within the school community. Research suggests positive parenting practices are associated with adjustment to school and ongoing academic success.”
(Gregory & Rimm-Kaufman, 2008).

“Engaging families in the education of their children at home and at school is increasingly viewed as an important means to support better learning outcomes for children. When schools and families work together, children have higher achievement in school and stay in school longer (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2005; Pomerantz, Moorman, & Litwack, 2007; Reynolds & Clements, 2005).”
(Berthelsen and Walker, 2008).

Some useful books on parent Engagement

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



Berthelsen, D., & Walker, S. (2008). Parents’ involvement in their children’s education. Family Matters, 79, 34-41.

Epstein, J.L. (1992). School and family partnership. In Encyclopedia of Educational Research, ed. M. Alkin, pp.1139-1151. New York: MacMillan, 6th Ed.

California Department of Education. (2017). Family engagement toolkit: continuous improvement through an equity lens. Sacramento, CA: Bodenhaussen, N. and Birge, M.

Gallagher, M.J. (2018). In our classrooms: 10 tips to build parental engagement. Victorian State Government, Education and Training.

Global Family Research Project (2018). Joining together to create a bold vision for next generation family engagement - engaging families to transform education. A report for the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Gregory, A., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. (2008). Positive mother-child interactions in kindergarten: predictors of school success in high school. School Psychology Review, 37(4), 499-515.

Henderson, A. & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: the family is critical to student achievement. Columbia, MD: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K.L., Johnson, V.R. & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale – the essential guide to family-school partnerships. The New Press.

Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Pushor, D. and the Parent Engagement Collaborative 11. (2015). Living as mapmakers - charting a course with children guided by parent knowledge. Sense Publishers.



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.