The well-known proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is one that is certainly not lost on teachers, who understand that the growth and safety of children depends on an entire community's collective effort to cooperate in a positive way.
Indeed, education is a shared responsibility, with teachers, parents and carers required to work collaboratively, engaging in open communication, and supporting each other to foster a holistic learning environment for young people.
Now a two-year study has revealed how schools can strengthen this partnership even further for the benefit of students’ learning and wellbeing.
The 2021-2023 Engaging Parents in Curriculum (EPIC) research project brought together the Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network (QIS Parents Network), Griffith University and Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) to explore how a culture and practice of parent and community engagement in student learning and wellbeing can be established and sustained.
The study found that when schools and teachers offer parents short, sharp and optional ways to contribute to students’ learning, it can lead to greater buy-in from parents – and rich learning and wellbeing outcomes for students, which would not otherwise have occurred.
“To put it simply, parent engagement is about bringing parents closer to what their child is learning,” Dr Linda Willis, who led the EPIC project together with Professor Beryl Exley, said.
Dr Willis said more than 60 years of research has shown that effective parent engagement leads to enhanced outcomes for students: children to do better academically, socially and their attitude to learning at school, and classroom behaviour also improves.
“What we know from the schools and teachers who’ve taken part in EPIC is that when they engage parents effectively – with each party viewing the other as partners in a child’s education - there are demonstrable wellbeing benefits for all involved,” she said.
“And it goes without saying that students feel supported and affirmed when they have two important figures in their life – their teacher and their parent – invested and interested in what they’re learning.”
‘Capturing the parent voice more strongly’
Dr Linda Evans was one of eight principals who has been participating in the 2023 EPIC project, and has seen some encouraging benefits at her school, Fairholme College, over the three years.
She said the alignment between her school, its students and their home was “a strategic priority” for her school and the events staff organise are now structured to “capture the parent voice more strongly”.
“Anything we can do as a school to invite parents in as participants, rather than as consumers, can strengthen the learning opportunities for them and therefore for their child,'' Dr Evans said. “It’s a small tweak but gee it’s important.”
QIS Parents Network Executive Officer Amanda Watt said the research has confirmed engagement needs to be done with empathy – both from educators to parents and vice-versa.
“We have financially supported the EPIC research project since 2021 because we have seen firsthand how parent engagement transforms teacher, parent and student wellbeing,” she said.
“Trust, open communication and respect between home and school also means when rocky times happen, there’s a solid relationship from which to springboard.”
Watt noted that while the contexts and approaches of the eight participating schools were markedly different, they had significant things in common, including an understanding of the distinct difference between ‘involving’ parents and ‘engaging’ parents; respect for parents as a child’s first educator and buy-in and support from school leader/s.
“Another commonality was that a core group of enthusiastic change-makers in the school –comprising school leaders, teachers and parents – met regularly to improve existing practices, trial innovative strategies and evaluate progress,” she said.
Parents critical for school performance
ISQ CEO Christopher Mountford thanked the principals and teachers who took part in the project, as well as Dr Linda Willis, Professor Beryl Exley and QIS Parents Network for partnering with ISQ.
“This valuable and significant longitudinal research project will benefit families and schools for years to come,” Mountford said.
“Parents are key stakeholders in schools, and this [EPIC] research confirms they are also critical partners when it comes to maximising students’ learning and wellbeing and accelerating school performance.”