Sharing Good Practice
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: © Fsstock | Dreamstime.com
Knowledge gained individually is worthwhile. It becomes even more valuable when shared to the benefit of others.
Schools and their families will benefit if they find ways to share their knowledge of what works for them in engaging in their children’s learning.
Forums on parent engagement, both within and between schools, can explore the latest research and best practice models to identify suitable approaches that could work in a school. In turn, the sharing of these parent engagement practices between schools can enhance the practices of many schools.
Such sharing assists in prioritising parent engagement as routine practice in schools and high on the agenda of school leaders, families, teachers and support staff. On-going cycles of action learning (planning-acting-reviewing-planning …) in parent engagement helps to ensure continued improvement based on real experiential knowledge.
Best practice in parent engagement in learning and well-being will be contextual – what works in one school may not work in another. School communities, because they are composed of different people, are all different. However, sharing what works within your school has the potential to help other schools – and vice versa.
It is important to seek feedback from parents about what actually works for them at each stage in their transition to school. This includes their first contact with the school, the processes of enrolment and getting to know the school, and then throughout the first year of schooling.
What you can do as a principal
Following are some notes on sharing parent engagement practices both within your school community and with other schools.
• It can be strategic to build the practice of parent engagement into conversations with your school leadership group, teachers, parents and the broader community. It’s important to also lead by example in engaging at all levels with parents.
• Provide opportunities for teachers to share their experiences around engaging parents, whether positive or negative, with other teachers. Have teachers discuss their learning experience.
• Build understanding in all staff and families that parent engagement practices are integral to best practice in teaching and learning.
• Emphasise to teachers where parent engagement is explicitly included in the AITSL Standards for Teachers and discuss how this might be included in their goal setting and review. (Parent engagement is highlighted in this copy of the AITSL Standards for Teachers).
• Build parent engagement strategies into your Annual Action Plan.
• Develop a shared vision with your staff and families of what authentic family-school partnerships and parent engagement looks like and how it will be implemented.
• Work with other principals to create a cluster of schools to learn from each other about engaging with parents around their children’s learning and connecting with community organisations.
• Minimise parent engagement professional development costs by combining with other schools for guest speaker input and other professional learning related to parent engagement.
What you can do with your school
Creating a culture of sharing best practice is helped by some formal structures that bring together the various interests. One way is to develop a parent-teacher-leader-student community member consulting group whose role within the school is to:
• Generate opportunities for idea creation and sharing teaching.
• Advocate the value adding for children’s learning when parents are engaged through shared responsibility and partnership.
• Monitor the progress of parent engagement strategies and their impact on student learning and wellbeing.
• Help embed engagement strategies into the teaching and learning culture of the school.
• Host “community conversations” to better understand the families in your community and how to work and learn together in partnership.
- These conversations can help to build parent understanding of the methods of teaching and learning within the school and inform their support for their child’s learning.
- Reach out to families in a setting outside school to listen to their ideas, build relationship and discuss how you would like to engage families in their child’s learning.
• Generate opportunities both within and between schools to discuss with school representatives ways to best engage their respective parent groups with their children’s learning and well-being.
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
Professional Learning to Support Teachers in Parent Engagement.
The success of St Mary's School, St Anthony's School and ST Gerard's School, referred to as the 'SMAG' cluster in Dandenong is based on employing a cluster engagement leader and ensuring that each of its three schools has a family engagement in learning leader responsible for encouraging them to share experiences.
The cluster leader states: “There is increased communication with parents and children and families seem happier and more enthusiastic. The students are proud of their learning and knowing that their teacher communicates with their parents has increased their motivation as well.”
Sue Brown is the SMAG Cluster Engagement Leader, Professional learning to support teachers in parent engagement, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). The full statement is available at:
In Their Words ACT Schools Share Their Parent Engagement Practice, June 2017.
Parent Engagement in ACT Schools Good Practice Case Studies Report.
Review of best practice in parental engagement. - Goodall, Vorhaus, Carpentieri, Brooks, Ackerman & Harris (2010) available at:
Family Engagement: Best Practices for Attracting and Involving Parents in Your School Community. - Ohio PTA PowerPoint presentation 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).
What some Principals say
“I just don’t think we can do our jobs without having the parents onboard, … so, I think it makes me a more reflective, and hopefully, respectful educator”.
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Queensland).
“So, our learning and teaching leaders are then working with the planning teams to have family engagement as going through their units. We’re trying to move away from it being an extra. We don’t want it to be an extra … It needs to be in your DNA”
"… the preps will be together, and then the 1-2’s are together, the 3-4’s from the – you know, so, from the three schools, they’re together. And the discussion is very much both ways … You know, it’s us listening to what they’re saying, and applying what they’re learning, and them listening to what we’ve done, and people really do things to suit themselves, you know, to suit their community, and that’s what it’s about. They know their community and they’ll apply it in their community”
"… I think that the cluster is providing us with great professional learning opportunities, and I think we’re learning from each other, on the go, and I think that’s probably the best way of doing it, yeah”.
(Primary principal, regional school, Victoria).
“I focused on the ones (teachers) that were doing it (building family relationship) to give the good feedback. So, I would ask staff at staff meetings to talk about the benefits.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Australian Capital Territory).
“And we work with the AITSL Professional Standards for Teachers as well, so one of the standards there is the way you engage with your parents. And so that forms a part of our constant dipping into that AITSL reflection performance development framework. We use that as the basis of our teacher appraisals annually”
"... We explicitly picked up ideas from other teachers that we’re going to add into ours. So I think when you’ve got that collegial approach, many things are easier and I think parental engagement is one of them.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Tasmania).
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.
Below is a parent’s response to a question about any specific programs in the school involving parents:
“Yes, they do actually - it’s called something like the parent engagement framework, they do and it’s in a diagram form but it’s also got some practical steps in it - and things like with the Prep intakes, they’re now interviewing every student, they’re now doing programs before the Preps even come to school whereby the parents can bring them along and get them used to the school and there are quite a lot of parent information sessions as well.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Queensland).
“Well … our school has what’s called learning conversations or parent teacher interviews, basically, quite regularly throughout the year, but I know, often the first, it’s quite early term one, and it’s ... historically a lot of us have thought why now, they’ve hardly learnt anything, you know. But … it’s very much more about giving us the opportunity to talk to the teacher about our child and what they, where they’re at, you know, their personalities, those sorts of things, because I think, often, yeah, the teacher needs to know your child, very well, their strengths and weaknesses to then be able to foster their learning, so I think that’s done quite well.”
(Parent, regional primary school, Victoria).
Parents have an opportunity to learn from each other as this parent’s comment indicates:
“I got a call yesterday from a lady who was filling in my survey on parent engagement and she had seen my name and phone number so she rang me and she said, ‘I don’t know how to answer this question.’ After some discussion on the phone the parent caller then ‘just poured out this whole story to me’.
In response, the survey parent stated to the caller parent: “Make an appointment to see your school and to see the teacher so that you’ve just got that one on one and there’s nobody else distracting and I bet you get a better result because they will see you as a whole person and they will listen to you and you will get that opportunity to explain your situation and advocate for your child”, and she’s like, ‘Oh, I never thought of it like that’.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria).
WHAT SOME RESEARCHERS SAY
“Research shows children are much more likely to reach their full potential in life when their family and education and care service work together. These benefits are evident when families and educators exchange information regularly and collaborate on consistent approaches to daily routines, child development and learning.”
(Taken from Quality Area 6 – Building partnerships with families. February, 2018. Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority).
“Increasing and improving parent teacher interviews so that parents can form stronger relationships with teachers and interact at more frequent points to discuss learning ... structure and content of these meetings would benefit from revision so that there is ample time for building relationships and forming shared understanding and dialogue between parents and staff.”
(Stafford, Barker and Ladewig, 2018).
“Schools should consider offering knowledge exchange opportunities for all teaching staff, including principals, to share learning about successful parent engagement practices. In addition, they should provide training to all staff in evidence based, holistic, strengths-based approaches to support communication and relationships with all young people and their families. There is also value in educators being encouraged to work with colleagues from other schools to share ‘what works’ in parent engagement practice across different school communities.”
(Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, June, 2017, pp. 25-26).
“There is increased communication with parents, and children and families seem happier and more enthusiastic. The students are proud of their learning, and knowing that their teacher communicates with their parents has increased their motivation to do well. The cluster model adopted by SMAG has provided the schools with an important mechanism for learning from each other, which strengthens the learning of the staff. It also enables the cluster to build partnerships with organisations in the local and wider community.”
(Sue Brown, 2018.).
(Extract from statement available at: https://www.aracy.org.au/blog/professional-learning-to-support-teachers-in-parent-engagement
Some useful books on parent engagement
Commissioner for Children and Young People (2018), Speaking out about school and learning - the views of WA children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning. Western Australia, Perth.
Emerson, L., Fear. J., Fox, S., and Sanders, E. (2012). Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research. A report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for the FamilySchool and Community Partnerships Bureau: Canberra.
Families ACT. (2017). Parent Engagement in ACT Schools: Good Practice Case Studies Report. Canberra: Families ACT
Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Jensen, B. (February, 2014). Turning around schools: it can be done. Grattan Institute.
Stafford, N. Barker, B. & Ladewig, C. (2018). Parent Engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with principals and parents. Unpublished report.
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.