Increasingly independent tweens and teens still want their parents to take an active interest in what they are learning at school, despite popular assumptions to the contrary.

And the best placed people to bring parents closer to what their children are learning are teachers, educators have been told.

“It’s assumed that young adolescents don’t want their parents to get involved in what they are up to at school, but our research has shown that students speak quite highly about it – as do parents,’’ Griffith University parent engagement expert Dr Linda Willis told school leaders at a recent Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) workshop.

“When we’ve spoken to parents who’ve benefited from parent engagement strategies introduced by the classroom teacher – such as hearing about the inquiry questions of the week, ideas for at-home conversation starters, or invitations to share photos, poems or stories from home – those parents have told us it deepens the relationship they have with their teenager and helps them understand how they learn.

“Those parents have said, ‘Thank you, now I have something I can talk to them about instead of ‘clean up your room’ or ‘get off your phone’!”

Griffith University’s Dr Linda Willis

Young people also in favour

Tweens and teens are similarly positive, Dr Willis said.

“Young people have also told us that having two of the main figures in their life – their teacher and their parent – working together, and hearing their parents’ input on topics that they are learning about in the classroom, made them value their education more.

“There are important wellbeing implications for families from these seemingly small gestures by teachers to engage parents in their child’s learning.”

An area of growing interest

Parent engagement has been the subject of national and international research for 60 years and is now a burgeoning area of interest to schools and governments due to its proven benefits for students: academically, socially and emotionally.

Dr Willis and her Griffith University colleague Professor Beryl Exley are Australia’s leading experts in parent engagement and have been working with ISQ and Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network (QIS Parents Network) for several years, helping member schools nurture and refine their parent engagement strategies.

Professor Beryl Exley

Dr Willis and Professor Exley’s work includes a series of four workshops in 2022; the latest in May was Parent Engagement in Practice: the Middle Years (Years 4 -7), attended by middle year school leaders from a range of independent schools around the state.

Parents and teachers working together as a team

Dr Willis told workshop attendees that engaging parents in their child’s learning didn’t need to be “onerous or overwhelming” for teachers, but it did require teachers to shift from viewing themselves as the “fonts of knowledge” on a topic, to viewing themselves as the “facilitators of knowledge” – and giving parents multiple opportunities to value-add to that learning process.

“When schools let parents know what is being taught at school – and keep that conversation going with continual feedback loops and opportunities to become included – whether it’s by parents sharing their knowledge on the topic with the class, or just offering some gentle guidance or chatting the topic over in the car on the way home – the learning process is enriched,’’ she said.

“Not all parents will be able to take up the first opportunity to engage or to take up all of the options to engage – but the goal is for every parent to find an entry point and expansion point.

“It’s also important that parent engagement isn’t viewed by parents as compulsory, but rather an invitation to experience a topic alongside their child.”

More information

Read about the previous ISQ workshop in this series.

Read about our ongoing research project Engaging Parents in Inquiry Curriculum (EPIC) – a collaboration between ISQ, QIS Parents Network and Griffith University.