Working with Parents

The role of schools has changed while parenting has become more complex.

Dr Mark Dowley June 23rd, 2021 · 11 minute read

Underpinning an educator’s work with parents and the community is an understanding of the changing roles of schools in society. There are two key points; the role of the school has changed and parenting has become more complex.  

The role of the school has changed. Outside immediate families; schools, local communities and peer groups make up a microsystem which has a strong influence on how students grow and develop (Bronfenbrenner, 1992).  Previously, in many societies, religious organisations were key pillars in the community to support the teaching of morals and values. These organisations also help families build connections to a greater purpose and belonging the local community. Increased movement of people, individualism and in Australia, lower rates of reported religious affiliation (30% of Australian reported no religion on the 2016 census, up from 21% in 2011) have resulted in schools becoming the primary institution that brings people together within a community.

Parenting is also more complex because the children they are raising are faced with complex challenges (technology, globalisation, environmental, mental health, academic competition) and these exist across the socioeconomic spectrum. In Australia, disadvantaged children are often years behind their advantaged peers in academics.  For example, the mean science score in PISA 2015 among socio-economically disadvantaged students in Australia was 468 points, while among advantaged students it was 559 points. and represents the equivalent of approximately three full years of schooling (Table 3.1). OECD, 2018). At the other end of the spectrum, there are also concerns about ‘upper middle-class youth, who are on route to the prestigious universities and well-paying careers, are likely to be more troubled than their middle-class counterparts (Luther, 2013).  These changes require the school to provide (1) clarity and (2) support to their parents and community and share the responsibility of educating the children in their care.


Parental engagement in a child’s learning and the quality of the home learning environment are associated with improved academic outcomes at all ages (Evidence for Learning, 2019). Schools need to give parents clarity on the types of support most likely to support student development.

This clarity begins at enrolment and begins with the first interaction with parents. This could be part of a school tour, open day or initial enrolment conversation. In this first meeting, being clear about the values of the school, the expectations of students and most importantly, the expectations of parents before students enrol helps with the transition. Three evidence informed areas that support student success and are worth highlighting to new parents to the school are:

  1. Consistent, high academic expectations for their child
  2. Promoting reading habits
  3. Communication and collaboration with the school about school work and activities.

To build capacity in these areas, schools can develop what could be considered a ‘curriculum for parents’ which scaffolds and signposts the parents’ journey as their child moves through school.

Below is an example of clarifying how parents can promote reading habits at different ages from Evidence for Learning (2019). These include:

  • in the early years, activities that develop oral language and self‑regulation;
  • in early primary, activities that target reading (for example, letter sounds, word reading, and spellings) and numeracy (such as learning numbers or learning the count sequence
  • in later primary, activities that support reading comprehension through shared book reading; and
  • in secondary school, independent reading and strategies that support independent learning.

Another common challenge for parents is to manage their child’s use of technology. Creating position papers for parents with research summaries and clarity of expectations helps with consistency within the school and the parent community. For example, below is an extract from a school’s position paper on screen time:

‘The majority of Australian children are spending at least 3 hours using screen-based devices at home on a typical day, with an average of 4.6 hours on a weekday and 4.5 hours on a weekend day. More than one in five (21%) of teenagers are spending 12 hours or more on screens on a typical weekday and half of all teenagers (49%) reportedly spend 6 or more hours using screen-based devices on a typical weekend day.’

 ‘Screen time and kids: what’s happening in our homes?’ Australian Child Health Poll, Royal Children’s Hospital. Report by Dr Anthea Rhodes, Director (7 June 2017)

‘Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths ages 5 to 17 from around the world, 90 percent have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality, the authors report.’

‘Children, adolescents mainly vulnerable to sleep-disrupting effects of screen time’, News Medical Life Sciences (2 November 2017)


Interaction with devices and technology is part of a teenager’s life and we can’t prevent it – nor do we want to. But as a parent, you can set guidelines to limit your son’s screen time to a reasonable amount. Here are some practical strategies that you can employ at home to help set boundaries and support your son’s wellbeing in the long-term:

  • Limit time spent on devices each night ( screen time after dinner or a time you deem reasonable).
  • Avoid smartphone use at night and avoid use in the bedroom (phones in bedrooms have been shown to contribute to poor sleep habits).
  • Encourage face-to-face social activities rather than digital socialisation.
  • Model good device behaviour for your son (e.g.limit your own digital usage at home, don’t bring your phone to the meal table).
  • Educate your son about appropriate digital usage habits and teach him to prioritise other activities and/or self-limit his screen time.

2. Support

Once we have clarity for our parents, the next step is to provide support structures to help them succeed. These systems include workshops, parent teacher interviews and ongoing communications.


The purpose of workshops is to build capacity in parents in areas they might not usually have the opportunity to develop. An example of this could be a workshop on managing behaviour. Workshops are always optional and delivered in a way that respects the parents’ expertise and status. These can include practice demonstrations, videos and opportunities for reflection and questions.  An example of a positive behaviour workshop is below:

  • Parents have opportunities to practise skills with their child (for example, using choice theory where the parent helps their child through an activity while a facilitator observes);
  • Teaching routines g.Help your child clarify his goals, then talk about the behaviours or actions needed to realise the goal.
  • Teaching skills in communicating emotions (for example, listening skills, paraphrasing, demonstrating empathy);
  • supporting parents to interact positively (for example, how to interact on the child’s level during play and to let the child take the lead during a play activity);
  • disciplinary consistency (understanding primary and secondary behaviour, how to reinforce positive behaviour and apply consequences).

Communicating with parents. The parent teacher interview. 

A common situation where teachers communicate with parents is during the parent teacher interview. To section below discuss effective strategies for communicating with parents during these interviews.

The first step is to set boundaries for the interview. Interviews are primarily around building relationships with the parent by putting a face to a name and sharing information that will help the student learn. They are not a time to solve complex problems or discuss broader issues about the school or other students.

The model of clarity and support is also helpful for interviews. Teacher can give clarity around the conversation using the following process:


  • Short overview of interview e.g. In the time we have together, I propose that I give you an update on what’s happening in class, and then we can talk to other items you may wish to raise. How does that sound?
  • Short overview of subject and content e.g. In this subject we are looking at …. Link to big ideas, the greater purpose, things relevant to the parent
  • Current snapshot of where the child is in terms of learning behaviour, achievement and socialisation e.g. So far, what I’m overserving with X is,….
  • Short concluding remark g.Based on this, my view is that X should aim to …………….



Are there some things/areas of concern that you would like me to be aware of when I’m teaching ‘X’? or One small thing that would help ‘X’ achieve more is …………  or At home, your child would benefit from…….

This works in 90% of the time but sometimes there are issues that parents wish to work through with you. Below are two skills (acknowledging and arranging) and a model that can be used by teachers for effective parent communication.

Acknowledging: is when we affirm (not agreeing, but just listening) the view of the parent. This can be simply done by repeating some of what they said. 

E.g. Parent: The reason my child ‘X’ is performing poorly is because your class is too noisy and the students can’t concentrate.

Teacher: (Acknowledging), So, your child is saying to you, that the class is noisy, that’s why they performed poorly on the assessment.

Arranging: Arranging occurs when the speaker has a longer list. The step involves providing feedback to the speaker to organise the ideas.

Parent: My child is struggling because we’ve recently moved schools, his last school didn’t teach mathematics properly and he hasn’t had a chance to make any new friends.

Teacher: (Arranging) Okay, there’s a few things in here. There’s a lot of change at home, his starting point for learning may be lower and then there’s the social side of things. Which of those would you like to discuss first?

On the other hand, sometimes we need to raise a particular issue with a parent. The four-step model is a useful tool for teachers to raise concerns with a parent.

  1. State the issue clearly and simply (separate the child from the behaviour).Johnny has been calling out in class, (not, Johnny is disruptive.)
  2. Provide an example. Provide a reason that the action may also be occurring. Maybe, he’s just excited to contribute some of his ideas
  3. Explain what is at stake and the cost (on the child and the group) The interruptions affect the learning of the class, and If he continues to do this, I’m concerned that he’ll be removed from class and that will further interrupt his learning.
  4. Outline what specific results you would like to have occur with the child and her/his learning? S/Heneeds to monitor his impulses. This would mean waiting quietly with his/her hand up is a skill that needs developing
  5. Invite a response ‘’What are your thoughts…’

Ongoing communication

Communications from the school are more likely to be effective if they are linked to learning, promote positive interactions and celebrating success (Evidence for Learning, 2019). The aim of these communications is a focus on building capacity and efficacy in your parent community. These communications are not just an operational message but a resource to support parents in learning more about child development.

Importantly, we need to ask the parents the type of communication they want (weekly, monthly, text, email) and tailor our communications to meet the parents’ needs. This could include consistent, regular communication of the shared expectations of behaviour with students and the school and offer evidence-based programs to develop positive behaviour. These can take the form of, online workshops, short videos, hard copy pamphlets on the front desks, or email.

Consistent with all school interventions, parental engagement needs to be monitored to make sure it is having an impact. Regular feedback from parents, students and teachers is essential to ensuring the resources spent on working with parents and community is having a positive impact in the lives of students.

The reflective practitioner:

  • What role does your school play in educating and supporting parents to raise successful children?
  • What are the support systems in place for parents and the community to learn new skills from your school?

Use it now:

  • Offer a workshop for parents on ‘the power of routines’ teaching parents how to encourage and develop positive behaviours in their child.
  • Meet with your colleagues and discuss ‘what are the three most important things our parents need to know and do to best support their child?’
  • Create a position paper on ‘the use of technology’ and share it with your parent community.
  • Provide a time for experienced teachers to share their strategies for building strong parent relationships with other teachers in the school.



OECD (2018), Equity in Education: Breaking Down Barriers to Social Mobility, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Six theories of child development: Revised formulations and current issues (p. 187–249). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017) 2016 Census data reveals “no religion” is rising fastABS Website, accessed 5 March, 2021

Luthar, S. S., Barkin, S. H., & Crossman, E. J. (2013). “I can, therefore I must”: Fragility in the upper-middle classes. Development and psychopathology25(4 0 2), 1529.

Evidence for Learning (2019) Working with parents to support children’s learning, Sydney: Evidence for Learning.’



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