Welcoming Families

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


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Introduction

The first contact families have with schools sets the tone for how they engage for years to come. All staff should be aware how important these first conversations and interactions are to families looking for signs of how they can embrace their young person’s learning and their own connection to a school.

This is borne out by researcher Dr Karen Mapp (e.g. Mapp, Carver & Lander, 2017) who has anecdotal evidence of families empowered when staff recognise their unique contributions to their child’s education. This, in turn, excited families about building partnerships with school staff.

Such engagement matters all the way through secondary school but its seeds of success are planted at the beginning. It’s important that school staff understand how they can support and build students’ ability to manage their learning with the engagement of their families.

This means that families need support to be part of their young person’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 acquainted with peers by inviting them into the community during the year before their young person starts secondary school.

Parents engaging with their young people’s learning is important in the secondary school years. Learning that impacts their academic success, career aspirations and wellbeing. However, research tells us that a parent’s connection to the school and their child’s learning can drop off as their children become teenagers. It is important that parents remain engaged with their young person’s learning throughout secondary school and their initial welcome to the school can greatly affect how this plays out.

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What you can do as a principal

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Initial conversations and interactions between families and a secondary school are critical for setting the seeds of 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 and prepared to welcome and support families. This is done through answering questions and providing information that assists parents: to have their young person ready for school; to understand the operations and expectations of the school and to understand how to support their child’s secondary school journey. In turn, the school needs to find out the expectations of the parents and the unique parent knowledge (Pushor, 2015) about their child.

Some specific approaches that might help include:

• Reviewing your welcoming process and understanding how families feel when they enter a world with which you are familiar. Refer to F.A.C.E.S Welcome Review — Family & Community Engagement in Schools — How welcoming is your school? Available at: http://www.acsso.org.au/application/files/1315/0838/5611/FACE.pdf
• 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 to secondary school, including:
- Providing routine for the school day.
- Providing school policy and procedures.
- Making sure parents know who to contact.
- Ensuring they are aware of dress/ uniform requirements.
- Giving out information so parents can discuss with their child/children the differences between primary and secondary school.

Research, cited by the South Australian Government, shows how much young people’s secondary school development is influenced by both their families expectations and aspirations and the value they place on school.

“When parents and caregivers create an environment at home that encourages and supports learning, it influences how young people learn, more than direct parental involvement with the subjects they are studying.”

Steps you can encourage families to take include:

• Be sensitive to how teenagers want to be more independent, while giving them structure and support.
• Value education and show that you do.
• Discuss aspirations and expectations for your young person’s education and future achievement.
• Aim to provide a stimulating and supportive home learning environment.
• Have conversations and participate, with them, in activities relevant to learning and the wider world.
• Keep connections and communication open with teachers and support staff in secondary school.
• Balance support for school expectations such as homework with the need adolescents have for independence and other parts of life such as sport or work.

(Above extracts are taken from Helping young people learn - what you can do in secondary school by the Department of Education, South Australia. This is available in the link below: https://www.education.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/parent-engagement-education/helping-children-learn/helping-young-people-learn-what-you-can-do-secondary-school

In summary, offer resources that can help families make learning both a home and school activity.

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What you can do with your school
community

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You are not the sole influencer of how families will perceive your school. New families’ perceptions 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 a new 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.

It is worth directing your efforts toward creating a whole school culture for parental engagement. Some ways to do this include:

• Develop a parental engagement plan that is resourced and reviewed regularly.
• Ensure parental engagement is embedded in whole-of-school teaching, learning, and school improvement policies.
• Provide school leadership which is committed to parental engagement and supportive of staff efforts in this field.
• Convey the message to parents that they matter by including them as active partners (rather than ‘recipients’) in their young person’s learning.
• Provide a welcoming school climate through such mechanisms as: an open door or drop in policy, invitations for parents into school and classrooms, clear contact points and pathways, community events unrelated to learning, regular communication.
• Consider professional development opportunities for teachers so that they recognise the value of parental engagement and how they can harness this to improve student outcomes.

Above extract is taken from: Progressing parental engagement - school fact sheet - parental engagement in high school, ACT Government. This fact sheet is available at: https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/920198/Parental-Engagement-High-School-Fact-Sheet-FINAL.pdf

Be aware of and be prepared to deal with some teachers’ misconceptions about family engagement. Some may be:

• Parents will be strong advocates for their young person 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 young person is struggling with learning.
• Parents do not want to engage with secondary schools.

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.
• Teachers don’t want parents around in secondary school.

As a principal, it is important to cultivate a school community that minimises these teacher and parent misconceptions.

Section 5 of this module provides ideas and resources around welcoming families to school.

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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

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 parent/ teacher nights.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDPY1t8E6Cg

Parent engagement in action: A practical guide and toolkit for schools.
https://www.cem.edu.au/getattachment/Our-Schools/Curriculum-Learning-Programs/Student-Wellbeing/eXcel/Family-and-Community-Engagement/Parent_Engagement_in_Action_Guide_2015.pdf.aspx?lang=en-U

Parent and Family Engagement – Boarding Australia.

Boarding Australia Q&A sheet provides tips for parents and schools on how boarding and school staff can support parents and families to engage and partner in their young child’s learning and schooling.
http://www.ieba.com.au/wp-content/uploads/bsk-pdf-manager/Parent_and_Family_Engagement_FAQ_11.pdf

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

Meeting parents’ information needs. This module for schools was developed by Beyond Blue, as part of the national MindMatters mental health initiative for secondary schools, to help teachers provide parents with information about youth development, emerging youth mental health issues and effective parenting strategies.
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/news/news/2015/05/03/i-beyondblue-i-launches-new-mindmatters-initiative-to-improve-mental-health-in-australian-secondary-schools

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

Parent Engagement is Important to Student Success.

The issues of transition are not unique to Australia. In Canada, the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) has produced a series of resources with input from parents across Ontario. Many of these are relevant internationally.

http://www.ontariodirectors.ca/parent_engagement.html

Do home visits boost attainment at secondary? Possibly ... (By Gabriel HellerSahlgren, posted 30 Jan 2019). Research suggests text messages and home visits can have a promising impact on achievement.
https://www.tes.com/news/do-home-visits-boost-attainment-secondary-possibly

Parent Toolkit: Teen Edition. What parents can do to help their teens succeed.

This booklet is a supplement to the Parent Tool Kit: What parents can do to help their young person succeed in school and is intended to help parents support and encourage teens with information organised into helpful sections. These include: Be a Listener, Be Informed, Be a Mentor, Be a Coach, Be a Learner, Be a Guide. http://www.ontariodirectors.ca/Parent_Engagement/PA%20Downloads/34963_CODE_Teen_Tool_Kit-ENG_sm.pdf

An example of great practice. Parent Guide to Transition – Loganlea State High School.
https://loganleashs.eq.edu.au/Supportandresources/Formsanddocuments/Documents/transition-guide.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.

“So at Year 7, our first contact with the families is that we interview every boy and their parents. So that, that interview is trying to establish a relationship, it’s about finding out about the boys … most of it’s about finding out about them as a family and them finding out about us as a school.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“We have worked very hard over the time to ensure our parents that they are very welcome at the school and they are an integral part of our partnership for educating the girls.”

“... We have a very initial welcome to parents – a meet and greet that we have at the beginning of the year. I introduced it as a concept from research by Karen Mapp and then after looking at some of the work she has going over in the states and then having the great privilege of going to the ARACY conference I am enthused … the leadership were all enthused on ways in which we can engage our parents.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).

“We have a new families’ welcome at the beginning of the year to welcome the families into the school and start building those relationships and so for parents from 7 to 12 the tutor or the co-tutor is the main point of contact between home and the school and that tutor is given time in their duties to actually ring home, to email home, to communicate with the family.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

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WHAT SOME PARENTS SAY

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

“Yeah well I think a lot of what I get out of the parent/teacher interviews is a little bit about how their subject’s going, we see, we know their marks, we get their reports but 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, breakdown that teacher/parent barrier and just talk to them so that they just know a little bit about us.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“Firstly I think schools need to ensure that all parents are made to feel part of their new school community. Terms like ‘helicoptor parents, Blackhawk Down parents etc. need to be banned from schools. They are not useful and in fact are insulting to many parents who see it as their key role to advocate for their children.”

… Opportunities both formal and informal to meet at the beginning of the year are paramount. Specific invitations to new families are important so they don’t fall down the gap. Making a really authentic effort at the beginning of the year to engage families helps to set good habits and expectations on all sides … Providing a buddy system for parents would also be helpful in the same way it works for students. It would be nice for parents to know that they can speak to parents who have been through the process previously to seek advice and assistance with any issues.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

“I suppose it’s just space for the school but if they had a coffee shop or an area where parents could meet that would be a way of also meeting other parents because parents are just sitting in their cars not communicating or doing anything, whereas you might get to meet other people.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“New parents can be welcomed by having informal gatherings at the school with the teachers ‘mingling’ so that there is a less formal relationship with the teachers and often informal discussion about the student.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).

“Yes, the school was fantastic - they really welcomed us as new parents and I noticed that they also took in a lot of other kids who were in a similar situation.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

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What some Researchers say

“Family involvement in education – defined as parenting, home-school relationships, and responsibility for learning outcomes – is just as important for older youth as it is for younger children.”
(Harvard Family Research Project, 2007).

Extract from Helping young people learn - What you can do in secondary school. Department of Education, Government of South Australia. Available at:
https://www.education.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/parent-engagement-education/helping-children-learn/helping-young-people-learn-what-you-can-do-secondary-school

“Several parents – in highlighting positive aspects about their relationship with their children’s school – noted how an open, welcoming environment helped to make a difference in their comfort towards school and fostered a sense of being valued as partners in their children’s education. On a practical level, this sense of welcome meant that parents felt that they could – indeed should – be engaged, and prompted a stronger inclination to interact with teachers, participate in activities and events, and discuss any issues in a proactive, constructive manner.”
(Stafford, Barker and Ladewig, 2018).

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Some useful books on parent Engagement

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

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References

Mapp, K., Carver, I. and Lander, J. (2017). Powerful partnerships – A teacher’s guide to engaging families for student success. Scholastic. USA.

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

Stafford, N. Barker, B. & Ladewig, C. (2018) Parent Engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with principals and parents. Unpublished report.

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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.