Parents and teachers – take a bow…

Not only did you earn the nation’s respect for the way you navigated the recent home learning period, now one of Australia’s leading parent engagement researchers has publicly praised the “unprecedented” collaboration between homes and schools during COVID-19.

Dr Linda Willis [pictured above] – who has taught in primary and middle years classrooms in Queensland schools, has a PhD in parent engagement, and now collaboratively leads ground-breaking research on the topic – says there are great opportunities to capitalise on the pandemic-inspired goodwill around schools.

What is ‘parent engagement’ again?

‘Parent engagement’ is a concept backed up by 50 years of academic research that shows when parents and educators work together and respect each other’s unique contributions to a child’s education, the child’s academic achievement and wellbeing soars.

Dr Willis says there is a “sheer weight of evidence” that points to the benefits of parent engagement to student learning and the success of schools.

[You’ll find links to parent engagement research and resources at the end of this story.]

Typical resistance overcome during pandemic

Dr Willis says while none of us would have wished for the pandemic, in terms of parent engagement, the pandemic had been “a blessing in disguise” and that technology had been the “hero” compared to other crises in history.

Speaking on Independent Schools Queensland’s popular The School Bell podcast, Dr Willis says the biggest barriers to parent engagement are often cultural and linguistic, but during the pandemic schools and parents had no choice but to find ways to overcome those factors.

“In the past it has been around this thinking about the ‘purpose of school’ and ‘the role that teachers and parents can play’ and I think what the pandemic has exposed is the nature of the teaching profession, what teachers do and the nature of  what parents do to support their children’s learning at home,” Dr Willis says.

“I think if anything that exposure – that opening up of that, the questioning of the roles that we can play to support student learning – I do believe that is a conversation that could help frame up the way that we might go forward from this event and certainly then to be able to openly and authentically address some of those traditional barriers and resistance that have been there.

“Because this has been an emergency, there has been absolutely no question of whether we should do it or why we don’t want to do it, we are all in it together and we’ve simply had to address the imperatives.

“There have certainly been some wonderful gifts around parent engagement despite the enormous challenge.”

Good parent engagement was happening in many schools pre-COVID

Dr Willis talks of parent engagement as being “collective, reciprocal and supportive” and that student learning and wellbeing is what matters the most.

“Throughout the pandemic what we have heard repeatedly [during COVID-19] is that catch cry of “we are all in this together” and before the pandemic the schools that were doing parent engagement well they already had a ‘we’re all in this together’ approach,” she says.

“Schools that have now had to look at ‘how we do this as a whole school’, ‘how we see a problem’ and ‘how we work together to perhaps find solutions to these problems’ – that’s led to levels of collaboration between schools and parents that have been and dare I use that word unprecedented and it’s led to levels of collaboration between teachers that we’ve never seen before.”

Listen to Dr Willis’s comments in full on Independent Schools Queensland’s The School Bell podcast.

Find out more about the research into parent engagement

Read more about parent engagement in our most recent story.

Download our one-page factsheet on parent engagement.

Read about the partnership between Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network and Independent Schools Queensland to develop an overarching Parent and Community Engagement Strategy for member schools.

Read in detail about parent engagement and how schools can implement effective strategies in the recently released report The Parent Engagement Implementation Guide by Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

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

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 on our website.