Supporting Parents and Teachers To Use Interactive Communication Tools

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

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: © Aris Suwanmalee | Dreamstime.com

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Introduction

Technology has enabled secondary schools to further connect with parents and communicate learning results, curriculum programs including details of assessment, and other school housekeeping information.

Used effectively, this adds positively to parent engagement in learning, making it a two-way interaction via apps, email and social media. Importantly, technology has the potential to be used for more than only the dissemination of information.

Used well, these technologies help to blur the learning boundaries between home and school, and help to dispel the opinion that learning only happens at school and that a family’s role diminishes as a young person advances through secondary school. Technology provides new ways to create partnerships. Closed social media groups, managed effectively, can provide a safe and secure environment for parents and teachers to discuss a young person’s learning.

The use of technology also introduces risk and should complement rather than replace personal interaction – the most effective and inclusive way to engage parents in their child’s learning. And replacing people by technology (e.g. for sign-in at reception) might create efficiency in the short term but might, over time, reduce effectiveness around nurturing relationship – a foundational requirement for engaging parents as partners in learning.

It’s also important to understand that technology literacy and access to equipment varies between families (and teachers) and if some of the community could be disengaged by technology that they neither understand nor have access to, the school will need to provide more traditional communication methods as well.

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What you can do as a principal

Technology is central to the lives of students as it is to the lives of their teachers and parents. You can set a lead by strategically using technology and being open to trialing new technologies while remaining mindful of the security and privacy risks these could bring.

Some options include:
• Using the school website as the centre of all school activity. It should include information that is useful and relevant for current as well as future parents from their first point of interest in the school.
• Using social media to reach the broader community while taking care to moderate who has access and being mindful that images are used only with appropriate permission of students and their parents.
• Making apps available for registered parents and young people only.
• Providing parents with information and opportunity for discussion before implementing new technologies. The decisions made around technology at school often impact the parent-child dynamics regarding technology at home.

Underpinning this should be clear rules that protect children and parents from bullying or breaches of personal security and privacy.

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What you can do with your school
community

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Interactive tools work best if the needs of families are considered through consultation. Your school community will include people with a variety of technological availability, skill and interest. Technology can be used as an advantage to many, however it also creates the risk that some children and families might be left behind if the communication tools are out of their reach or understanding.

Consider involving the whole community by:
• Setting up a technology advice group (staff, parents and students) to take advantage of higher level skills available in your community.
• Thoroughly testing new technologies through involvement of teachers and parents of various skill levels.
• Celebrating technology innovation in whatever form it takes – whether from teachers, parents or students.
• Using technology that is secure but accessible to families and teachers.
• Ensuring every communication has a purpose.
• If a communication invites conversation, ensuring the school community is aware of this and that they have access; and ensuring that the school participates.
• Having someone responsible for monitoring the content of communication.
• Understanding the different ways parents and students use technology. Run workshops to help families (and teachers) who are struggling with technology.
• Thinking about how to use tech-savvy students to support teachers and families who need assistance.
• Setting up agreements and guidelines on how technology is to be used by staff, parents and students.

It’s important to understand some of the issues technology raises. While technology has enabled parents to have further understanding of the progress of their child’s learning, it can also place parents in the position of overseeing and monitoring rather than engaging in learning alongside their children. Parents are still the receivers of information – what they do with that information, and how they use it, will determine the extent to which they engage and potentially have positive impact on the learning and wellbeing of their child.

Perhaps this requires further exploration in secondary schools. For example, what professional development could be provided for parents so that they might better utilise this information and more effectively engage in the learning and wellbeing of their child?

Email is used as an interactive tool but, in some cases, has become problematic as a form of communication. The negotiation of acceptable use protocols for email, including how and when it may be used, requires input from the whole school community – staff, students and parents. And opportunities present for email to be used beyond informing parents of their child’s life at school to further engaging parents in their child’s learning and wellbeing, and also inviting feedback.

Tools such as mobile apps are certainly seeing increases in parent participation as the use of mobile devices has enabled further communication of events and information associated with students. How these can be better utilised to enhance engagement in learning is yet to be explored.

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IMPACT ON STUDENTS

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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 a number of links to information regarding on-line communication – an area of immense, on-going change.

The article, Schools are using social networking to involve parents, by Fleming (2012), is available at:
http://www.teachhub.com/schools-are-using-social-networking-involve-parents

Progressing parental engagement fact sheet - supporting parents to get engaged with the school community.

The above fact sheet, published by the ACT Government, aims to assist schools to support parents to get engaged with the school community by providing examples of ways to enhance parentschool communication and school community participation. It is available at:
https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/807443/150897-Supporting-parents-to-get-engaged-with-the-school-community_2.pdf

Communicating effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Practice Program, Queensland Health 2012.
https://www.cultura.org.au/sites/default/files/2017-02/Communicating%20effectively%20with%20Aboriginal%20and%20Torres%20Strait%20Islander%20people_1.pdf

The article, Parent communication: using social media – this information comes from Attention grabbing tools for involving parents in their children’s learning, by Baskwill (2013), and is available at:
https://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/stenhouse/classroom-communication-social-media-tips.shtml

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).

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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. “We tend to do more video online which seems to be getting good feedback and obviously people can watch it in their own time.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Victoria).

“I’ve seen a range of communication strategies between home and school that are immediate or relatively immediate, working with the parents and the school. So one of them is like a book that just goes between home and school where the school can note down what’s happened at school for the child and the parent writes what has happened at home and it comes back to the school; and I’ve seen that also in email communication as another alternative.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“In terms of communication, we still have our website, we have an app that we use, SMS messages, emails, so there’s a whole range of different communication tools, face-to-face contact, phone calls and so on. So I feel as though we’re doing all that we can in terms of trying to communicate effectively.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“This is a strategy that all emails had to be checked by heads of department that was regarding anything that might have been a negative. Because I think that’s a really, these days you’ve got to be very cautious that people word things, because you mightn’t actually mean to say something but if something reads abruptly people take it the wrong way, so that’s a really important strategy that we have.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).

“One of the things we’re exploring at the moment is a thing that’s called School House, which is a series of videos that you can access by noted psychologists, educational psychologists in Australia and you can sort of put them on your website and people can access them when they need to access them. So perhaps we don’t look at the invitation to come and listen to a person anymore because people just don’t have the time to do that. So that’s a bit of a strategy that’s changing I suppose in the place.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, South Australia).

“We used to hold parent information nights. We’ve moved away from that now because numbers were declining so we tend to do more by video online which seems to be getting good feedback and obviously people can watch it in their own time.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Victoria).

“Interestingly enough, when we disbanded the P&F because of, just I guess there was a lack of interest and few people attended meetings, and we went into a parent forum approach where we actually would write a discussion paper, and then have some questions to respond to at the end, we got fairly significant feedback around online responses. We also ran forums where people could physically come in and add to, answer the questions as well, in small groups. But we found that the online stuff has worked particularly well.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“So for example we do all our communication in multiple forms because we’re well aware that only 60% of our parent population have an email address so therefore we’re only capturing a certain audience. So we do advertise what we’re doing, not just events but what we’re doing as a college so whether that be via our newsletter, we have multiple ways of getting to parents and we’ve got a direct email account which they have at the school. We then have their personal email account where you can go to, we have our App which alerts parents and sends them notices and they can link their App up to their own personal calendar so it sends them alerts as to when we’ve got events on.”
(Director of Engagement, regional secondary school, Western Australia).

“We have a college intranet and on that intranet is a module called PAM which is a Parent Access Module and so that is the primary source of communicating with the parents about their son’s learning. So it has all their timetable, it has all their attendance data, it has pretty much any data that we have on the boys the parents have access to that online. It also … gives them access to the boy’s teachers and email addresses so that they can very easily just click on an email and communicate directly with the parents. It also gives them access to all the grades and comments and that that they’re having throughout the semester. So that’s our predominant form of communication where the parents can do that 24/7 from wherever they are and that generates communication on that path.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“I am asking the curriculum leaders and the teachers how are you engaging with your parents, and when we talk about it at a staff meeting two of the curriculum leaders talk about Google Classroom which is a really interesting platform that we use here at school, but it has a function in there where you can interact electronically with your family member at home – your parents or your grandmother or whoever it is at home that is particularly watching and engaged with you as a student.”
(Principal, secondary regional school, Queensland).

We haven’t found a school that has greater engagement with its Facebook page in Victoria. So we’re proud of that and keen to leverage off that as much as possible because we know from the marketing research that our guys have done that it’s looked upon very favourably by our parents.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Victoria).

“I think parents do, they really do want to be engaged. I think they really would like to know more. We’ve tried really hard with our online learning platforms and things to be able to give parents access to their students learning. So I suppose it depends to an extent on how comfortable each parent is in engaging at that level … I really do think most parents want to be involved.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

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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.

“I think with the new technologies that parents can relate to their child’s learning a lot better if you use the portal properly because I feel, as a working parent, that it is a challenging issue when it’s your child’s learning, when you can’t be there at the school all the time or you can’t go to the school if there’s an issue but you can always be checking on that portal what’s available, what assignments are due, what learning needs to be done and ensure that your child is up to date with where they need to be.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“So something that would work really well is parent training regards using the parent lounge or the parent portal, so some training like at the school … you can give them all of these things but if they don’t know how to use it then they’re not being used to the best capacity.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I would like to be regularly informed not only when assessments are due, but how they are going with the preparation and do they need assistance. I would find this to be an advantage to not only support the student but also to set up a relationship with the teacher.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).

“So what they’ve started doing which has been really helpful is providing an overview of what’s due and some of the teachers send out an email every couple of weeks saying this is what we’re covering; this is what they should be up to.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I go out of my way to email all the teachers regularly throughout the year, and ask for that feedback myself aside from the parent teacher interviews, because I ask for information around my child’s learning and their wellbeing. And I’m amazed at how many times those teachers respond back with some really you know meaningful and effective communication … systems have been set up now and portals have been set up now so that just by one click I have the email sent to all of those teachers all at the same time, and by being able to do that has saved enormous amount of effort in having to individually email all the teachers … That’s the way that I have been able to keep track and I found that in any instance where there’s been some information that I have needed they’ve certainly provided it … I then know that come to report card time or come to the end of the year, that there is nothing there that I’m not going to know about well in advance.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“Interactive tools will only ever be successful if people use them. However it should never be assumed that everyone will find them easy to use.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

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What some Researchers say

“In the USA, Meabon Bartow (2014) undertook cross-case analysis of five secondary-school teachers who used social media to reimagine their teaching as more dynamic, egalitarian, relational, discursive, and participatory. She found that social media promoted positive teacher-student relationships and increased interactions, “including those fostering a homeschool connection, in unanticipated and generative ways” (Meabon Bartow, 2014). Meabon Bartow noted that, “Social media increase[d] parents’ participation” and, paradoxically: “Rather than creating a sense of too much involvement, these teachers experience[d] parents’ appreciation and support for what the teachers [were] doing” (p. 57).”
(Willis and Exley, 2018).

Extracted from Using an online social media space to engage parents in student learning in the early-years: enablers and impediments, by Linda-Dianne Willis and Beryl Exley, which is available at: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/121643/1/Willis%20%26%20Exley%20Digital%20Education%20Review%202018.pdf

“Giving parents access to more information about the school day online helps them to ask more specific questions, rather than simply ‘how was school today’, which often helps to facilitate more productive conversations. Schools can consider how to use a range of digital channels to provide information to parents that goes beyond simply ‘reporting’ but prompts a conversation between children and parents about their learning.”
(Grant, 2010).

Extracted from: Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies – a Futurelab handbook which is available at: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/FUTL13/FUTL13.pdf

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“Despite these opportunities, technology is not necessarily a silver bullet to parent engagement and brings its own challenges, as noted by a few principals. Such approaches are still evolving, with some school staff requiring support and to embrace different methods. There were also concerns with how digital platforms and tools (i.e. social media) can be ‘hijacked’ and lead to negative dialogue and discord. And of course, such platforms may not be accessible or appropriate for some parents who are digitally disconnected and / or ‘hard to engage’; indeed, the jury is still out in terms of whether technology is effectively engaging parents who would not have been engaged otherwise.”

“Enhancing and fully utilising technological platforms - Providing another means to keep parents connected and interacting with what is taking place in school and their child’s learning (often in real time), there was a sense that such tools were not – as yet – being used to their full potential. Several parents noted that caution needs to be taken in school ‘bombarding’ parents with a range of different platforms and portals, and that a more streamlined, cohesive approach would be more userfriendly.”

“As well as the tone and manner of communication, some parents in the discussions believed that some teachers would benefit from practical guidance (and possibly professional development) in relation to communication techniques and tools. For instance, developing ways in which they can keep parents informed about a child’s learning progress (e.g. email templates, portals, platforms), support with time management to engage with parents, developing active listening skills and techniques, strategies to engage parents in learning at home etc. Ideally developing such skills and approaches would empower teachers to embed parent engagement as something they do as a matter of course, rather than an additional impost on their time and resources.”
(The above three quotes are from Stafford, Barker, Ladewig, 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

Grant, L. (2010). Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies - a Futurelab handbook.

Willis, L.D. and Exley, B. (2018).Using an online social media space to engage parents in student learning in the early years: Enablers and impediments. Digital Education Review - Number 33, June 2018- http://greav.ub.edu/der/

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.