10 tips to build parental engagement

Education expert Mary Jean Gallagher explains why relationships between parents and schools can have a dramatic impact on a student's education.​

​Following her successful reform of Ontario's education system, education expert Dr Mary Jean Gallagher is sharing her insights with Victorian schools on how they can strengthen the professional practice of teachers and drive positive educational outcomes for students.

With the recent release of the top 100 tips to promote literacy and numeracy education for parents, Mary Jean Gallagher shares her experiences on promoting an effective relationship between parents and teachers in the school community.

'Relationships matter, and positive relationships support more powerful learning,' said Mary Jean.

'Children and youth always benefit when the adults in their lives have positive relationships and come together to support them in their life journey. It is this understanding that drives us as leaders to build more effective connections with our students' parents.'

'Research tells us that when parents are actively engaged in supporting their children's education, students are more likely to be motivated,​​ to earn higher grades, to have better behaviours and social skills, and to continue their education to a higher level.'

Below, Mary Jean provides her top ten tips for building parental engagement in your school.

How to bring parents into the education conversation

Be aware that parents may want to be involved in different ways and one size doesn't fit all

'As you try to engage more parents in more ways to support their children's learning, be aware that there are many ways in which parents can be involved, and not all families will be able to commit to all of them.'

Establish an environment for parents to support their children as students

'We can assist parents by helping them establish an environment which can support their children as students, sharing articles and information about child and youth development, health and nutrition in newsletters or on the school's website, or by offering parenting information sessions at the school.'

Be creative with ways parents can get involved

'Be mindful of the conditions needed to allow our families to take advantage of visits to the school, or attendance at parenting and other information evenings. For some families, providing volunteer childcare at the school can make all the difference, for others volunteer translation services could be the key.'

Communicate effectively within your school and with your school community

'The second way for parents to be involved is through effective communications from school to home and home to school. Find ways to communicate how a student is doing at school, build positive and regular communications early in the year so that concerns can be raised in context. Some secondary schools have used a "mentor program" to reduce the workload this can create, each staff member may agree to be a mentor/communicator for three or four students in their first year, calling home every three or four weeks to share updates on student progress.'

Be open to parent volunteering

'Parents can also be involved by volunteering at the school. Schools can organize school or classroom volunteer programs or set up a parent room/volunteer centre for meetings and resources for parents. Asking parents to volunteer just once or twice a year can be easier than asking for a regular commitment.'

Give parents a role in education at home

'Parents are engaged when they support their child's learning at home. Schools can assist by providing information about how parents can do this, sharing ways in which homework can be monitored and discussed at home. Be mindful though that not all families have the resources to be able to do this well, for them homework might take the form of short opportunities for students to read to their parents, guardians or siblings, play a math game or ask their parents questions about family history for some writing assignments.'

Engage your parents in a constructive school community conversation

'Some parents like to be involved in decision making around the school. Schools can take advantage of this by developing parent leaders in the community and asking them to assist in engaging other parents in a variety of ways.'

Use your community resources to your advantage

'Parents are engaged in their children's learning when they take advantage of community resources available to assist. Schools increase this involvement when they help coordinate resources and services, often becoming the "hub" for such supports in the area or sharing information about access points.'

Make education interesting for parents

'Be creative in engaging parents in meeting students' educational needs. What parent could resist an information session about the school's writing program if the evening began with a ten minute talk by a well-known local sportscaster sharing his stories about covering the footie games? And this has the added advantage of reminding our kids about the importance of literacy.'

Maintain an open door and a positive stance

'And finally, maintain an open door and a positive stance. Even if faced with a challenging parent, let them know you are working together to support their child, and model that positive, open attitude for your staff. Our children and their success are worth it.'

Supporting parents to collaborate in early education opportunities

A new resource is available for parents and carers so they can support the development of their children's literacy and numeracy, and can be a valuable resource for teachers to support students' education and development when they're not at school.

Literacy and Numeracy Tips to Help your Child Every Day provides families with fun, inexpensive, accessible and practical ways to help children develop the literacy and numeracy skills they need in life, in preparation for school and to keep them progressing until the end of Year 6.

Explore literacy and numeracy tips
A guide for parents of children aged 0-12