There is a body of research linking parent engagement to improved student learning outcomes in the classroom (Jeynes, 2010; Anderson & Minke 2007). Research has shown that when schools and families work together, children do better, stay in school longer and are more engaged in school. Parent engagement results in longer-term economic, social and emotional benefits for children (Department of Education, 2019).
Parent separation can present challenges for teachers in terms of effective parent-school engagement. Parents undergoing separation often experience conflict, which can be damaging to the relationship and connection between child and parent. The stress of separation can extend into other areas including parent’s relationships with extended family, friends and others.
More than 80% of Australian teachers view working with parents as the most challenging part of their day-to-day work
A key contributing factor is the family dynamic and how the parents interact with each other during and after separation. Children who are shielded from dispute by both parents are less likely to be confused, angry, stressed, depressed or anxious. If both parents are positively involved in their child’s life and they co-parent co-operatively, the child is likely to better adjust.
It is important for teachers to understand the grief and loss that families experience due to separation. Making sure a child feels connected is of critical importance to help support their wellbeing and development during this time of transition.
An Australian study revealed that more than 80% of Australian teachers view working with parents as the most challenging part of their day-to-day work (Doecke et al., 2008). It is often challenging for schools when due to an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO), parents cannot come together in the school at the same time. Some general ideas of how parents and schools can build connections and more effectively engage are outlined below:
- Discuss the value of parent engagement at staff meetings and support teachers to grow through professional development in this area.
- Schools could include tips and practice around parent engagement in their staff induction programs.
- School leadership sets the tone of the culture and how parents will be included within the school. Positive messaging around parent engagement from the school leadership team can support the culture.
- Visible signs of welcoming parent involvement and making families feel welcome at the school can assist (e.g. welcome signs in other languages).
- Schools can foster inclusion and the celebration of diversity including different cultures and backgrounds of families through scheduling events to maximise attendance (e.g. cultural celebrations and events that celebrate diversity).
- Good communication lines can be enhanced through school newsletters, parent evenings and regular email communication to parents.
- Interpersonal relationships trust can be built through school-family partnerships where families and schools work together to support children’s learning and development.
- Schools can consider how to support parent volunteers contributing to the school community. This can include the provision of training, resources and support for parent volunteers. Parents can be invited to help with school activities such as volunteering in class, helping at sporting days and with extra-curricular activities.
- Parenting involvement can be encouraged through school committees and advisory committees such as safety/student behaviour, fundraising and school events.
- Offer parents opportunities to visit their children’s schools
- Share ideas to promote at-home learning so parents can monitor and help with homework. This also helps in connecting what children are learning to their home environment.
- Consult with parents on the school policies or curriculum changes.
- Encourage the community use of the school facilities (e.g. library, school hall and school oval).
- Involve local community businesses in education and encourage family participation in the community.
- Provide information on community activities that link to learning skills.
- Help families with their parenting skills by providing information on children’s developmental stages.
- The welfare of families can be better supported by the school facilitating parenting education/family support programs.
- Develop school partnerships with community services organisations that provide counselling, health services and employment services. Create connections with local community services to facilitate referrals of families.
Schools are often the first point of contact for parents experiencing relationship breakdown where children are involved. Although teachers cannot give advice or counsel parents, they are well placed to refer to local community services.
Parents can benefit from relationship education programs, which support building their relationship skills while improving their understanding of the impact of conflict on children. Interrelate’s Building Connections (BC) program can help provide separated parents with support to build positive relationships with their children and co-parent after separation. For further information, see the Interrelate website.
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