“Tweaking” the way schools communicate with their families can result in more effective parent engagement, which in turn can lead to improved academic and social outcomes for children, educators have been told.

Leading parent engagement experts Dr Linda Willis and Professor Beryl Exley from Griffith University told Queensland independent school teachers at a workshop this week that “parent engagement” – a high priority focus for governments and schools – was all about bringing parents and their child’s learning and wellbeing closer together.

One of the keys to achieving quality and sustainable parent engagement is for schools to foster two-way communication between home and school that includes regularly sharing the day’s learning activities via multiple channels that are convenient to parents.

“Once parents know what is being taught in the classroom, or what topic might be coming up, they then have the opportunity to value-add to their child’s learning and we know from the research that when schools and families work in partnership in that way, that is what leads to better outcomes for children – emotionally, socially and academically,” Dr Willis told Independent Schools Queensland’s Parent Engagement in Practice: The Early Years workshop.

Multiple communication channels should be explored

“We also know from our most recent research in independent schools that parents value communication that is short in duration, sharp in focus, offered regularly, always optional and personalised to them and their child’s learning,” Dr Willis [pictured above] said.

“While some parents might value email as a way of getting information from their child’s teacher about what is being taught that day or week – others will respond better to a video blog that they can watch at night or perhaps a virtual space where they can exchange ideas at a time that suits them.”

Short, sharp sharing

Participants at the workshops were shown a number of video vignettes of early years teachers who had seen first hand the richness that comes from bringing parents in closer to what was being taught in the classroom.

Communication methods that directly ‘ping’ classroom learning news to parents’ phones, without the need for families to wrangle with complicated portals and logins, were also shown to be very effective, Professor Exley [pictured below left] said.

“We know those instant forms of communication with parents – perhaps sharing a video of a learning experience at school that day or examples of work the child had just completed – leads to much richer conversations in the car driving home from school or around the dinner table at night.

“So instead of the usual conversation cycle of ‘how was your day – good – what did you learn – I can’t remember,’ the parent is instead able to say, ‘Oh I saw you were looking at the history of the local creek today, did you know….’ In this way the learning continues for the child.

Strategies need to evolve and change

Workshop attendees also heard there was “no one way to do parent engagement”.

Strategies and communication channels with parents need to be tailored to each school’s individual context and community and be regularly reviewed. Communication strategies should also take account of social and cultural diversity.

“Context is critical, as is school leadership when it comes to effective parent engagement,” Dr Willis said.

“We know school leaders play a key role in engaging parents as they set the tone and establish a culture of parent engagement at all levels of the school.”

This week’s workshop was the first in a series of four Parent Engagement in Practice workshops that Independent Schools Queensland and Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network are providing for independent schools in 2022. Each workshop has a different focus – across year levels of school or curriculum areas.

Further information

Read more about Dr Linda Willis and Professor Beryl Exley’s parent engagement research project with Independent Schools Queensland and Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network here.