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
The first contact families have with schools sets the tone for how they engage later. That first conversation or interaction matters for years to come.
All staff should be aware how important these first experiences are to families looking for signs of how they can embrace their child’s learning and their own connection to a school.
This is borne out by researcher Dr. Karen Mapp who has anecdotal evidence of families empowered by staff recognition of their unique contributions to their children’s education. In turn, they were excited about building partnerships with school staff.
From first contact and through early years school staff need to help families have their children ready for school and informed about its activities. Families need support to be part of their children’s learning.
This module includes some resources that can help you welcome families to your school community. The welcoming process is important. So is making families familiar with peers by inviting them into the school community during the year before their children start school.
What you can do as a principal
Initial conversations and interactions between families and schools are critical for setting the direction of the relationship. These conversations are frequently with you, as principal, or a member of the school leadership or administration team.
Every staff member who takes part in these conversations needs to be ready to welcome and support families. This is done through answering questions and providing information that assists parents to: have their child ready for school, understand the school and understand how to support their child on their school journey.
Some specific approaches* that might help include:
• Reviewing your welcoming process and understanding how families feel when they enter your school.
• Making sure all your staff, especially your leadership team, understand the importance of the welcoming process.
• Developing material that helps families prepare for the shift from home, daycare, kindy or preschool to your school. This can include suggestions for routines that accompany the usual school day, such as: practising getting ready for school and establishing a bedtime and waking up routine.
• Offering resources that can help families make learning a home and school activity.
(*Please refer to further information on ‘welcoming processes’ in section 5).
What you can do with your school
New families’ perceptions of school and their willingness to be engaged will be influenced by the welcoming experience and what they learn from other parents. It’s important that the whole school community be part of the initial school experience for families. Some possible actions include:
• Work with your parent group to formalise the welcome of new families to the school and then follow up with the new families once the school routine is established.
• Establish a mentoring program to help new families learn from the experience of established families.
• Use digital resources to make and keep contact with families in the leadup to school starting.
Entry to school is a time of uncertainty in families’ lives however it is also your chance to engage them as your ally long term.
An important part of your role is to deal with misconceptions that might harm long term relationships.
From a teacher’s perspective, some misconceptions may be:
• Parents will be strong advocates for their children to the extent that they may cross the line of fairness and not allow for the teacher’s perspective.
• Parents will have unreasonably high expectations that the teacher will work miracles in one year.
• Parents will hold teachers responsible if their child is struggling with learning.
From the perspective of parents (the newest members of your community), some misconceptions may be:
• Teachers are too busy to communicate with parents.
• Teachers don’t view their jobs as communicating with parents, instead they focus only on the students.
• Teachers don’t want to feel judged by parents, so they intentionally keep them at arm’s length.
As a Principal, you need to work hard to defuse these teacher and parent misconceptions.
Section 5 of this module provides ideas and resources around welcoming families to school.
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
• 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
Researcher Dr. Karen Mapp has written and spoken extensively about family engagement with schools, including the following video about how we welcome parents through beginning year parentteacher nights.
She writes in much detail about recognising that a collaborative effort is needed to welcome young children and their families into formal schooling experiences. The transition process should be proactive and responsive to the children’s needs.
The following linked article addresses four key components of appropriate support for young children who are starting school:
(1) a consideration of the developmental characteristics of young children; (2) a recognition of factors that affect adjustment to new situations; (3) the establishment of relationships with families; and (4) the implementation of strategies that assist young children in making this important transition.
Strategies for assisting children who are beginning their school careers are shared.
This simple guide (link below) is a ready reckoner of what’s involved with introducing new families to a school
In the below video, Dr. Karen Mapp recognises the importance of staff being aware of welcome activities and what really matters.
(Mapp, Carver and Lander, 2017).
An important engagement tool is to offer parents material that can help prepare their child for school, examples include:
Goodstart Early Learning - how you can help prepare your child for school.
The Australian Council of State School Organisations Inc. (2015).
(Family & Community Engagement in Schools (F.A.C.E.S) Welcome Review - How welcoming is your 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).
A guide to engaging with families of children with a disability.
Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability
Welcoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in kindergarten. Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2014–2019). Queensland Government.
Transcript of the video (July 2014) embedded in the link at left is available in the link below:
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. “The parents do all know each other fairly well and the community is very tightknit. They pride themselves on that and that’s one of the things that they consider highly important when they come to the school, feeling a part of the community.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Victoria).
“So I take the family for an interview, I take them for a tour of the school. I talk to them about the kinds of things that the school is on about, how first and foremost we’re a school for learning, but we’re also a school for well-being and these are the types of things we expect to find happening in our school. Take them for a tour and then they bring back their enrolment forms.”
(Primary principal, regional school, New South Wales).
“And the home visit again is establishing that relationship, is helping to strengthen that relationship and build a sense of trust, but it’s also again building this profile of who are the children, who is the family, what do they know better. But also we are getting to understand their aspiration for their children and how they perceive the role of the school in fulfilling that aspiration and what do they see of the role themselves in fulfilling that, that aspiration.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Victoria).
“When parents are valued as co-educators, which they are, I think you can do a lot”.
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Queensland).
“I say this emphatically to the teachers, know your students, know their parents, know your families ... have that empathetic view of the child.”
(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.
“I want them to meet us as a family, meet us as a unit and then for me to meet them as a person and get to know them, break down that teacher-parent barrier and just talk to them so that they just know a little bit about us.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Queensland)
“I think trying to remember that we as parents don’t speak teacher language because it’s quite difficult.”
(Parent, regional primary school, New South Wales)
“You’re very welcome, there’s a really good open feel that we’re valued here”.
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Queensland).
WHAT SOME RESEARCHERS SAY
“Welcoming, honouring and connecting with families creates a school community in which everyone says they feel like ‘members of a family’. Parents respond to this culture by becoming loyal members of the school community and by taking part in their children’s education in ways they had not envisioned.”
(Henderson and Mapp, 2007).
“For many principals, the nature and efficacy of parent engagement came down to relationships formed between parents and school staff, especially classroom teachers. This really was a bedrock from which engagement in learning could bloom.” “Several parents, in highlighting positive aspects about their relationship with their children’s school, noted how an open welcoming environment ... fostered a sense of being valued as partners in their children’s education”.
(Stafford, Barker and Ladewig, 2018).
Some useful books on parent engagement
Stafford, N. Barker, B. & Ladewig, C. (2018). Parent Engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with principals and parents. Unpublished report.
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.
Mapp, K. (2003). The joining process: developing relationships with families –welcoming, honoring, connecting. Scolastic. USA.
Mapp, K., Carver, I. and Lander, J. (2017). Powerful partnerships – a teacher’s guide to engaging families for student success. Scholastic. USA.
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.