Parents as Partners (in the Education Process)
In a recent article in The Educator, Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) and the Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network (QIS Parents Network) thanked their schools and their parent communities for supporting each other during this challenging working and learning from home period.
It is no secret that schools actively seek to promote closer and more effective interactions and relationships between themselves and their students’ families. There is also no doubt that a school/family partnership, with parents as co-educators in a child’s learning journey, is something that can only enhance the quality of learning that takes place. So, has the recent use of digital learning platforms in a ‘home school’ environment brought schools and families closer together?
In the article, David Robertson, ISQ executive director, was quoted as saying, “Decades of international and national research has consistently shown this relationship has a profound impact on student achievement and wellbeing.”
As noted earlier, the concept of parents as partners or co-educators is not new. We discussed this matter in detail in School Governance in 2017 in, “Can a school make parents accountable for being active contributors in their child’s learning journey?”.
In that article we referred to Professor Charles Desforges who, in DFES Research Report 433, noted that “parental involvement in the form of 'at-home good parenting' has a significant positive effect on children's achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation". However, Marion Wright Edelman, an American activist for children's rights and an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life was also quoted as saying, “ Parents have become so convinced that educators know what is best for their children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts".
Although learning curves may have been steeper for some parents than for their children during this period of teaching/learning from home, if the parents sat down and had a good hard look at what they did, they would realise that they have an enormous influence on their children’s education for many reasons, but most importantly because they are their children’s first teachers.
Mind you, this does not mean that parents are necessarily qualified to teach children how to read or how to understand fundamental calculus. It does, however, remind them that they can (and should) work with their children to show them that they are interested, and would like to be engaged, in their learning journey. Of course, this is a far easier task with primary aged children. Teenagers, generally, do not like to encourage their parents to be ‘involved’ in their education or their social lives.
Maintaining Parent Engagement
In “Returning to ‘Normal’ School Operations: Key Things to Consider”, we advised that, when students do return to full time face-to-face learning, schools will need to assess the learning that has taken place in the home environments and what, if any, revision may be required when students return.
In the Pivot Professional Learning teacher survey regarding the impact of COVID-19 on distance teaching, one significant finding was that 80 per cent of teachers believed that their students would need extra instructional support when they got back to school. This does not mean that the digital learning environment failed to work, nor does it mean that parents failed to assist when needed in the home environment. Many schools redesigned their education programs for remote delivery, and most did an outstanding job. However, without the presence of a trained teacher or depending on their style of learning or support needs, it is likely that some students may have missed or failed to understand some of the concepts and work that had been set. Some students may have also been more affected by technology glitches or a lack of access to technology.
Of equal significance, schools also had to work out how to assist students to maintain wellbeing and how to support them during this time of social isolation. The Commonwealth Government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s "The Student Wellbeing Hub" is a one-stop shop for information and resources on strategies to build and sustain the wellbeing of the whole school community.
It was in this area of student wellbeing where parents were the unsung heroes. Parents assisted with social issues, kept their children on task and engaged with the learning and with other pursuits such as hobbies or the maintenance of religious beliefs. In our previous article, we argued that this type of socio-emotional development could not possibly take place solely at the school and certainly not effectively over an online connection. During this period of social isolation, supportive parents would have modelled a cultural acceptance that education is valuable and that school and home are both integrally involved in the education of their child.
So, as we move forward in the ‘new normal’, schools should maintain or continue to develop that positive school/family relationship by developing other methods of communication rather than just parent/teacher meetings or notes in diaries. Communication strategies between schools and parents were discussed in a previous School Governance article.
Schools can also assist by developing strategies that continue to encourage parental involvement both at home and at the school. Examples could include having parents rostered onto classroom reader schemes, asking parents to assist on excursions, camps and tours, involving them in coaching or managing sports teams, asking parents to attend and volunteer to speak on ‘career days’ and so forth.
However, developing school-parent relationships through activities such as these need to be coordinated with the child’s level of social development. As students get older, it is equally critical for schools to support parents to have high aspirations and stay engaged.
There is no doubt that in recent months, society has changed, how we educate children has changed, and even some of our values and social norms have changed. Children are now learning through resources and via pedagogies that most parents (and certainly grandparents) had never heard of or seen in their school days and this technology has completely changed how we can communicate with our students and their families.
Prior to 2020, a general perception in many schools was that a great deal of responsibility for the education of children had moved from being an equal partnership into a more imbalanced model with schools picking up the tab. The COVID-19 pandemic and having children educated in a digital teaching and learning environment from home have changed this, and definitely for the better.
In 2017, we asked the question, “How does your school engage parents in the educational journey of their child?” I think, in 2020, we have possibly found the answer.
I am not suggesting that parents take over from schools, but I am suggesting that parents who were engaged with their children during this time remember what they are capable of and continue to be committed to assisting schools with the education of their child. It is no longer just ‘the school’s job to do this’.