Parents and families as partners with schools - a useful checklist
To look at what your school does well and what it may want to work toward, our checklist is useful. With the input of many parents, teachers, principals, students, DEECD and the Family-School & Community Partnerships Bureau, VICCSO and Parents Victoria jointly prepared this checklist.
To make the best use of the checklist, you may want to convene a group of people in your school to look at what has been achieved and what needs to be done to bring about further improvements, while being mindful, of course, of the issue of enough resources and support for schools to work on the many things that they would like to do. No one school has the resources to do all of these things. There is also no need to try do everything at once; what matters, of course, is always doing a small number of important things particularly well.
Through the educational leadership of the principal and teachers and the work of your parent group or a family-school-community partnerships team (involving a broad group of parents, teachers, school leaders and students), schools plan for, and implement, significant improvements over time.
1. A welcoming and inclusive school
- A welcoming school. What is done to make all parents feel welcome at the school? Through the school newsletter and website? Through the office staff? How? Is the reception area comfortable? Are there places for parents to meet?
- Information in an entrance area. Is there a good-sized, up-to-date noticeboard in a prominent position with relevant information (including school councillors and parent group members and their photos, staff photos, latest news, etc.)? Is this information replicated on the school's website?
- Working together. How do staff, students, parents and community partners work together to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment?
- Inclusive learning. How does your school build on the stengths that students from different social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds bring to the school and their learning?
- Student interaction. Will your child have a personal life story of mixing broadly with students from diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds? How does your school promote this?
- Inclusive parent participation. How does your school encourage parents from all social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds to join in school activities, e.g., the parent club, school council, as helpers in the classroom, and so on?
- Languages education. Does your school have a vision of languages education for all students? What is the progress towards this? What is the percentage of students who are bilingual?
2. Parent clubs and volunteering
- Parent clubs. Parent clubs or associations operate in most schools in Victoria. Parent clubs can help develop and implement school policies and the school's strategic plan, engage with parents and families and strengthen ties with the community. Does your school have a parent club? Is it a member of Parents Victoria (the umbrella parents' organisation)?
- Volunteering. Parents have traditionally volunteered in many ways in schools such as being on school councils and offering assistance with classroom reading, classroom support, excursions, working bees, fundraising and other events. Does your school promote information in its newsletter or on its website about what volunteer help is needed?
- Grandparents, senior citizens and other community members. Are grandparents, senior citizens and other community members guest lecturing, mentoring, working with groups of students or helping in other ways in or outside of the classroom? If some of the grandparents/senior citizens were once students at our school, do we have an alumni group?
- A practical policy. Does the school have a written policy and strategy for building real family participation in the life of the school? How is the impact of this strategy monitored?
3. Communication, contacts and technology
- Communication between home and school. How often do our teachers and parents (and students) talk together about how improvements in learning can be made? What is planned to further improve communication? Does the school have a plan for teacher and family communication?
- Technology use. Are we using e-mail and other technologies to facilitate fast, effective communication between teachers and parents? Are we using technology to let parents know immediately when students are absent, to offer tips on learning and to provide other information? Are wikis used in subjects?
- Contact with teachers. What is the policy for telephone and e-mail contact with individual teachers - so that contact can be managed efficiently and effectively? To ensure that teachers are not overloaded, how is this handled?
- Technology plan. Does the school have a technology plan that reflects the ideas of the whole school community? Does the school know which families are excluded from the use of these technologies? What is being done to change this?
- Technology team. Is there a school technology team that brings together teachers, parents and students to plan for future improvements in the development and use of learning technologies in the school and home environments?
4. School values and behaviour
- Values and behaviour. Is there a well-publicised policy about the school's values, behaviour and relationships? Does the policy apply to all school community members? How is the success of the policy monitored - and by whom?
- Preventing bullying. Is your school recording incidents and collecting data that will help it improve its response to bullying? Is the current response effective? What practical things does the school do to prevent bullying?
- Conflicts and complaints. Are conflicts and complaints managed well? Is a proper process for handling any concerns or complaints made clear in a leaflet?
- Being proactive. Is the school quick with convening meetings involving staff, students, parents/carers and others to deal with problems flexibly before they escalate?
5. Parents and families as partners in learning
- Personalised learning. Does your school promote the shared role of teachers, parents and students in personalised learning? Are there shared school-family-community goals such as learning technologies to personalise learning? Does the school ask families for information about children's goals, strengths, interests and needs, and use this information to personalise learning?
- Curriculum development and information. How are parents involving in supporting a school's work towards developing a more community-based curriculum. Such a curriculum is co-owned by the school and the community, and uses the surrounding area and community resources as a framework for curriculum development. It may combine deep academic knowledge with practical and applied learning and real world problem solving. Further, does the school provide clear guidelines about the curriculum as a whole and the expectations for students at each year level? Are parents informed at the beginning of each year about what will be covered in subjects?
- Homework and reporting. Can parents access online, real time data for their children? Does your school have a homework policy and how is homework practice monitored and improved? Does the policy include technologies such as wikis (which can be accessed at home) and collaborative learning such as student study circles, peer tutors and homework clubs?
- Learning at home and in the community. What is being done to help keep parents informed so that families create an environment at home that complements the learning at school? Is there a whole school community focus on linking up the knowledge and skills that students acquire at home, at school and in the community? Do families talk regularly with children about what they’re learning in school? Some schools utilise parent-teacher interview times to run sessions for families wanting to learn about new programs, technologies and skills to support students.
- Outside of school hours. Does your school have high-quality before-school, after-school, and holiday programs? Are parents involved?
- Links with other schools. Does your school have strong links with other schools (e.g., as part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools) or kindergartens? How are parents involved in helping to develop these links?
- Department of Education and Early Childhood Development resources. See Families as Partners in Learning.
6. School planning and school council
- Family involvement in school planning. Are families really engaged in conversations to set the future direction for the school? Are they able to participate early in a strategic planning process to ensure shared ownership of the plan?
- Do we have a shared vision and shared school-family-community goals in our strategic plan? For example, the goal that all students become active and informed citizens. Does the school publicly display its shared vision and goals in understandable terms to its community in a variety of ways?
- A school planning forum. When is the next time that your school may hold a forum in which teachers, parents and students are involved in exploring key questions such as what is a great school, and what might we do to further improve our school? Does a group of teachers, parents and students co-develop the agenda for a planning forum? Are such events well-promoted (with a personal letter to each family)? Are teachers - and parents and students - asked beforehand to do presentations and lead group discussions?
- School councils and boards. Does our school have strategies for involving parents in the school council and its sub-committees? Does our council have a good mix of parents from diverse backgrounds? What are the barriers to getting more parents involved, and how can we overcome these barriers?
- Sub-committees. School councils rely on the work of sub-committees. Parents and students - with knowledge, skills and interests in particular areas (including teaching and learning, policy development, community relations and buildings and grounds) - can obviously make a meaningful contribution to all sub-committees. Is this happening at your school?
- Time to participate. How does the school promote the purpose of, and time commitment to, sub-committees? Some of the most effective sub-committees may only meet 3-4 times each year. Parents and teachers may obviously be deterred from involvement - if they believe that they will not have time for it.
7. Student achievement and leadership
- Supporting high achievement for all students. Parents along with teachers are powerful advocates of opportunities for all students. They may question ideas that imply that only the few, not the many, are capable of high levels of achievement, and thus work with teachers in helping to further personalise learning so that all students have a deep-felt sense of personal achievement.
- Breadth and depth of student learning. How does your school assist all students to have a strong mix of both deep academic knowledge and opportunities for applied and practical learning in classroom and community settings? How can parents be involved in supporting this?
- Students' success. Aspirations rise when students taste success. Are there different opportunities for all students to experience some kind of publicly visible success?
- Supporting student leadership. What are the opportunities for all students to play a leadership role? For example, as student team leaders, sporting coaches, peer support leaders, peer mediators, technology leaders and so on. How are parents involved in supporting student leadership (e.g., as mentors)?
The school-family-community partnership can make a major difference. Decades of research and practice in schools make it clear that:
- Where parents, teachers, students and community members continue to learn from each other and really work together, the gains in student achievement can be significant
- The family-school-community partnership is among the most powerful improvement levers that a school has access to.
Schools have come a long way from the 'no parents beyond this point' approach of many schools in the 1960s. However, parents in some schools can be welcomed more as helpers, fund-raisers and homework 'enforcement officers' than as partners in learning and shaping a school's directions.
As well, although the benefits clearly outweigh the challenges, no school can possibly tackle all of these issues at once. Family engagement will also not happen without the time and commitment of both families and schools. It requires adequate resources and support. But it is not only a matter of resources. It is also a shift in thinking for some.
The above questions reflect the fact that schools and education systems are building on what is already working well and developing new ways to place families at the centre of all that they do.