If you want your child to do better academically, emotionally and socially, there is one key relationship worth investing in – and that’s the one you have with your child’s teacher.

More than 60 years of research shows that when parents and teachers work together in partnership  – respecting each other’s unique contributions and sharing knowledge, children thrive.

The concept is known in education circles as ‘parent engagement’ and it’s a burgeoning area of interest to policy makers, governments and schools due its known positive effect on student (and overall school) results.

Small tweaks, big results

The good news for families and teachers is that with willingness and guidance, parent engagement doesn’t have to be tricky or laborious.

“We know from our research that effective parent engagement strategies don’t need to be epic,’’ says Griffith University’s Dr Linda Willis, pictured left, one of Australia’s leading parent engagement experts.

“If I had to talk about parent engagement simply it’s about having the child in the middle and the school and the parent working as partners to improve a child’s learning and well-being.’’

So what can parents do to ‘engage’?

The first step to strengthening rapport between home and school is parents making themselves known to their children’s teachers.

“First impressions are really important,’’ Dr Willis says.

“Prioritise building a mutually respectful relationship with your child’s teacher from day one. This builds a wonderful base for future communication and trusting relationships.”

Other things parents are encouraged to do include:

  • Having high (but realistic) expectations and aspirations for your child
  • Reading to them when they are young, and continuing to model the benefits of reading when they are older
  • Creating a positive and productive environment for homework
  • Taking an active interest in what your child is learning
  • Accepting invitations from your child’s teacher to learn more about what is happening in the classroom.

Schools have an equally important role to play

In many ways schools and classroom teachers need to take the lead in parent engagement, but Dr Willis stresses that effective parent engagement strategies – anything that brings a parent closer to what is being taught at school – don’t need to be overwhelming.

“Often it’s a matter of teachers just asking one question of themselves during every curriculum planning session and that is ‘how can I bring what I’m teaching a child and what the parent knows about what I’m teaching their child closer together?’.

“When teachers do that, it’s potentially a game-changer.”

The latest findings on parent engagement

Dr Willis and her Griffith University colleague Professor Beryl Exley are about to enter their third year researching parent engagement in Queensland independent schools under their ongoing research project titled Engaging Parents in Curriculum or “EPIC’’.

EPIC  – an ongoing collaboration with Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network (QIS Parents Network) and Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) – has delivered a raft of significant new findings as well as rich examples of effective parent engagement approaches at the classroom level.

“That research showed that schools need to adopt a welcoming approach to parents that begins at the school gate,’’ Dr Willis says.

“We also now know that parent engagement strategies in a school have a much greater chance of long-term success if they are modelled and encouraged by the school’s leadership team.”

Invitations to parents should be ‘short, sharp, often, optional, personalised and with purpose’

EPIC’s other key findings included:

  • Parent engagement activities should be tailored to a school’s unique context and community: what is effective for one school may not be for another
  • Invitations to parents to value-add to their child’s learning journey should be “short in duration, sharp in focus, offered regularly, always optional and personal to them”.

The researchers also found that engaging parents not only works, it can be reasonably easy and also enriching for teachers’ practice and wellbeing.

“When engaging parents happens well it means teachers and parents are working as partners for their child’s education,” Dr Willis says.

Parents ‘waiting in the wings’

QIS Parents Network Executive Officer Amanda Watt welcomed the increasing elevation of parents from ‘customers’ to ‘partners’ in their child’s education.

“EPIC 2022 confirms that teachers engaging parents may only involve small tweaks to a teacher’s curriculum planning and practice,” Ms Watt says. “We’ve also heard that parents are often waiting in the wings and are mostly very receptive to invitations from their child’s teacher.

“We now know that teachers and school leaders believe the dividends from investing in parent engagement far outweigh the effort involved. The research also shows parents are keen for invitations to be involved in their child’s learning and wellbeing.”

Resources shared across all independent schools

The EPIC research findings have been converted into shareable resources for all independent schools to start using straight away.

This includes four snapshot documents of the findings available for principals and teachers on the ISQ Member Hub (please note, only ISQ member schools will be able to access the Member Hub).

Find the EPIC 2022 full report and profile stories on some of the participating schools on the ISQ website.

This short video also summarises the impact of the EPIC research project.