*This is part three of our special three-part series of Parent Engagement, featuring Dr Linda Willis.*

Parents who take a keen interest in what their children are learning at school – and actively develop positive, respectful relationships with their child’s teachers – are directly improving their child’s chances of academic success and overall wellbeing.

That’s the verdict from Dr Linda Willis, one of Australia’s leading researchers in the area of ‘parent engagement’.

“Parents are the first and continuing teachers of their children and what the research is telling us is that when schools bring parents closer to their children’s learning – so that parents can value-add to that learning – it makes a difference to academic outcomes,’’ Dr Willis says.

“Parent engagement is not about schools asking parents to ‘supervise their child’s homework more’; it’s schools thinking, ‘how can we support parents to contribute in authentic ways and in real time to what their child is learning at home and school?’

“When that happens you encourage and deepen conversations between a child and their parents and those conversations tend to be more regular, more enjoyable and more fun. You can see how that can only have a positive influence on a child.’’

Overwhelmingly benefits for children

Parent engagement is an area of increasing interest to educators as research over 40 years has shown that when schools and families work together in this way, the effect on a child’s learning and wellbeing is overwhelmingly positive.

Students have been shown to do better academically, stay in school longer, be more engaged in their homework, behave better in class, have better social skills, be more motivated to learn, and go on to higher study.

It has also been shown to add up to two years to a child’s learning achievement and is a better indication of academic success than social-economic status.

Respect and trust between teachers and parents is key

Dr Willis, a lecturer in Curriculum Studies and educational researcher at The University of Queensland, says while schools are best placed to take a proactive role in fostering parent engagement, there is also a lot parents can do to help engagement along.

“Building a mutually respectful relationship with your child’s teacher from day one – and viewing each other as partners in the education process – builds a wonderful base for future communication and trusting relationships”, she says.

“In the past, parents might have seen the lives of their child at school and home as being very distinct and separate, but when parents shift that mindset and take an active interest in their child’s learning it makes a difference.

“Obviously our children don’t always tell us what they are doing but I think parents don’t always think to ask as well. Making time to have a chat about what they did at school that day is important.’’

Take every advantage of invitations from the school!

And if your child’s school is working hard to engage parents – by regularly informing them what is happening in the classroom and inviting parents into the school to take part in learning events – take advantage of those opportunities, Dr Willis advises parents.

“When a teacher is able to tap into the knowledge that parents might have about a particular topic the end result is the child receives much more authentic learning.

“It’s not about parents coming in and taking over – in good parent engagement parents respect the professionalism of the teacher but the teachers also respect the unique knowledge and experiences of the parent.

“The winners, ultimately, are the students.’’

So what else can you be doing in a practical way to be an ‘engaged parent’?

Being involved in your school’s P&F group or volunteering in the tuckshop are wonderful ways to support your child’s school, but as Dr Willis has outlined above, parent engagement is about something much richer and deeper.

Here are at least five other suggestions, backed by the research:

  1. Read together. When your child is young, reading to them boosts their literacy skills but it remains important in the primary school years as well, as it fosters an enjoyment of reading and builds their confidence. But don’t stop there! If your teenage child observes the adults in their life reading for pleasure, it encourages a life-long love of books and learning.
  2. Have lots of conversations with your child! Talk with them about what they are learning, what they are interested in and what’s going on in the world around them. Sharing family stories and reminiscing about family members and family times is also beneficial.
  3. Have high (but realistic) expectations and aspirations for your child. Believing in your child and their abilities will help form a child’s beliefs about what they can achieve at school and beyond.
  4. Create a positive and productive environment for your child to complete their homework. This is not just about giving them a productive, quiet space to do their homework, it’s about ensuring you keep interactions and conversations about homework positive and match any rules about homework to the school’s expectations.
  5. Immerse your child in a cognitively stimulating environment. This means exposing your child to lots of interesting activities and experiences: visit museums, art galleries, surround them with books and other interesting material at home and expose them to cultural and community activities.

Want to find out more?

This is part three of our special three-part series of Parent Engagement, featuring Dr Linda Willis.

Read Story One to find what other schools in Queensland are doing to foster strong school-family partnerships. Story Two focuses on how to build a healthy relationship with your child’s teacher.

There is a rich well of other information and research about parent engagement on our website. | LEARN MORE

There are also many wonderful websites with tips and advice for parents who want to connect school learning with life at home, which we have compiled for you here. | READ MORE

If you’d rather listen to a summary of the data, QIS Parents Network Executive Officer Sue Kloeden explains what parent engagement is in this webinar for Queensland independent schools | LEARN MORE

Download our one page guide to Parent Engagement here and share with your network. | DOWNLOAD