Promote Awareness and Understanding
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 Catholic School Parents Australia
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 willingess to value and nurture parent 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.
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.
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 spreading this through your community with a compelling narrative on the impact of parent engagement on student academic achievement.
Offer parents practical tools that inform them of the school system, and incorporate strategies and resources conducive to children’s cognitive, 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 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).
It is helpful to conduct 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 undertaken 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
Some possible actions to undertake:
• Provide hints and tips for teachers about how they can engage families in learning and well-being 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 have been at the school for some time 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.
The 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 organize 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 math 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, often 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 stories about covering the footie 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.’
(Victorian State Government, 2018, Education and Training).
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:
• 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.
• Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university.
• Children can be less likely to miss days at school.
Extract from the Parent Fact Sheet, ACT Government, Education Directorate - available at:
Researchers highlight that the family and effective parenting are central to children’s mental health. Parenting practices and the quality of the parentchild relationship have implications for children’s development in the early years as well as their academic achievement, social competence and behaviour at school.
Understanding the range of changes a child is likely to encounter as they transition from early childhood education and care into school, can enhance parental confidence and in turn, also enhance children’s confidence.
(Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo & Cavanagh, 2011).
SOME IDEAS AND RESOURCES
For educators, there is a new resource that will assist you as you plan to support families in making those transitions and also offer an opportunity for dialogue 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 parent 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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families
• Parental Engagement: Engaging with families for whom English is an additional language or dialect
A guide to engaging with families of children with a disability.Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability
The following resource (May, 2018) from the Victorian State Government is available for parents and carers so they can support the development of their children’s literacy and numeracy. This also can be a valuable resource for teachers to support students’ education and development when they are not at school. Literacy and Numeracy Tips to Help your Child Every Day provides families with fun, inexpensive, accessible and practical ways to help children develop the literacy and numeracy skills they need in life, in preparation for school and to keep them progressing until the end of Year 6. The resource is available at:
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).
Closing the gap - Engaging Indigenous parents in their children’s education. Resource sheet no. 32 produced by the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse Daryl Higgins and Sam Morley, July 2014. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Government.https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/277aadfef766-42ed-b93b-86da29d1917e/ctgc-rs32.pdf.aspx?inline=true
Children starting school in rural and remote Queensland – parent resource. Queensland Government (2018).
The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.
“I totally agree with the thinking that parents are the first and foremost teachers, and that continues, because we have 285 minutes every day with children, face-toface. That’s not enough time to shape kids fully, so obviously, we do this in conjunction with parents, so we journey with them, we assist them.”
(Primary principal, regional school, New South Wales)
“I probably think we need to first of all get the teachers understanding that (parent engagement) should be positive and it should be positive in regards to the impacts on student learning so that they value it rather than something else, but yeah we have certainly got a long way to go with PD.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Queensland)
“We’ve tried to have workshop nights where we might teach an understanding of numeracy and the way we go about teaching numeracy today. It’s essential we’re educating our parents in relation to the way we learn today”.
(Primary principal, regional school, Victoria).
WHAT SOME PARENTS SAY
The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.
“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 primary school, Tasmania).
“They’ll send a note home and sometimes they say, we’re doing it at school, but we want to tell you so that you can talk about it at home. So that when he gets to school he has already thought about it, or they’ve got to bring bits from home.”
(Parent, regional primary school, Victoria)
“I feel it’s really important to be active in your child’s education. I think that you’re part of the pillars of teaching your kids, it’s not just up to the school but it’s part of – it’s kind of a dual role between the school role and yourself, like a partnership”.
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria)
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, pp.2-3)
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”.
“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 accociated 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
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.
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.