Leading Communities Case study

William Liston

Principal, Yarraman Oaks Primary School

Understanding that a child’s education is the responsibility of both the school and the parents is the key to the success of William Liston’s plan for engaging the community. His strategies directly involve parents in how their children are learning - both at home and at school - improving outcomes for everyone.

​​​​​Creating a community of learners

​The quality of the family-school relationship is the “missing piece of the puzzle” for William Liston, principal at Yarraman Oaks Primary School.​

“You can do a whole lot of work improving literacy and numeracy and all the pedagogy-type things, but if you don’t engage parents in their children’s learning then you have much less of a chance of improving the outcomes,” says William.​

 

 

Leading Communities coursePJJmaPVYudohttp://www.bastow.vic.edu.au/Lists/Videos/DispForm.aspx?ID=29Leading Communities courseWilliam Liston, Principal of Yarraman Oaks Primary School, describes his course experiences at Bastow./captions/PJJmaPVYudo.vtt<div class="ExternalClassD2FEE85ECC6540D78770FD546772E4A1"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-I'm Bill Liston, the principal of Yarraman Oaks Primary School in Noble Park.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">We completed the leading communities program at the Bastow last year.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">We went along with a team of four of us, which I think was probably a really good way of approaching it.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">Because the message didn't have to be brought back to the school by me.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">The message went to a group of people.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And then you come back with that sense of unity about what sort of directions that you want to take.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-We were able to sit through some fantastic presentations by keynote speakers that otherwise, wouldn't have the opportunity to hear.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And it really gave you an opportunity to challenge a way of thinking, and we went as a team.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">So as a team, we were really able to evaluate our school and where we were at, and plan for how we were going to engage community.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-The workshops were really good, because you're actually there with a whole range of schools.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And so one of the big payoffs of doing the course is that you actually hear what all of these other schools are doing.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">I think it added a lot of clarity about what engaging parents is all about.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And it narrowed it down to, what are the really key aspects that we need to work on to actually improve the outcomes of the children.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-The learning that we had from Bastow, we were able to come back to our school, and immediately make changes that engaged our community.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">The stuff that we learned was very practical.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">So it was easily applied in our school.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And because we as a team were able to develop it at Bastow, it was authentic.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">When we came back, we understood why we were doing it, and how we were going to do it.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-We set up an engaging community team.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">Most of that team went to the Bastow program.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">But it also includes other teachers and parents, as well.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">It meets on a regular basis, and then is able to work with the rest of the staff in supporting them in engaging with our community.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-Some of the things that we learned from Bastow was that it's really important to set clear expectations for involvement within the schools.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">So very important that students, staff, and parents, and our wider community understand what our expectations of them are when they're engaged in school activities.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And I found that that's actually helped relax our community about being involved.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">If you tell what you're expecting and how you'd like them to engaged, I've found that people are very eager to join in then.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-I would recommend the Bastow program, Leading Communities, to any other school in Victoria.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">Because it's really completing that missing part in improving the outcomes for our children.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">Unless we have that real partnership with their parents, and that they're reinforcing and supporting the work at home, then we're not going to have the types of outcomes that we really would like to have.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">-I would highly recommend attending the Bastow course.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">For me, I've attended a lot of training over the years.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">But this one really challenged me at an intellectual level, really challenged the way I think about the job that I do, challenged the way I think about our community.</span><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><br style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;"><span style="color:#484749;font-family:"open sans", sans-serif;font-size:15px;">And for me, the personal growth, as well as the professional growth, has been huge.</span>​<br></div>

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William attended the Leading Communities course at Bastow in 2012 with three other staff members. All four had some knowledge of the importance of parent participation in children’s learning, but were keen to build on this and explore how they could improve the engagement processes at their school.

They also knew enough to understand that traditional methods for involving parents weren’t necessarily going to cut it at their school. With a predominance of families from lower socioeconomic and diverse cultural backgrounds, they recognised that a more “holistic approach” to facilitating engagement was in order.

“Building the engagement into the school’s strategic plan in a more positive and structured way might help to solve some of our long-standing issues, such as student behaviour and parent opinion of the learning.”

The course gave William the opportunity to clarify what community engagement is really about. He discovered that it is less about “getting parents to come up and be involved in fundraising, running fetes and all those sorts of things” and more about sharing responsibility for the child’s education.

“My idea is to create a ‘community of learners’ - a situation where parents are the major educators of the child and we’re here to support them,” says William.

Directly reflecting this concept are the school’s literacy sessions, which involve parents participating in activities and games in the classroom with their children. These work because the parents learn skills that are easily transferred to the home environment.

The school expos - where children set up stalls to display and explain what they’re learning to their parents - have also been a great success.

“That’s real engagement - parents come along because they find out directly through their children how they are learning and how they do things,” says William. “And the amount of parents that roll up to these expos is fantastic.”

Access to evidence-based research, respected expert speakers and case studies as part of the Bastow course also helped William and his team communicate the strategies to the rest of the staff.

“The course really gave us the knowledge base and confidence to get everyone on board with the idea that engaging parents was going to have a great impact on the outcome of our students.”

The action plan is now up and running, but William is keenly aware that it has to be flexible and realistic.

“You can put a lot of work into something and then only two parents turn up, so you have to be prepared to try different things,” he says.

“What we are doing seems to be actually working - which is amazing really, as people do tend to give up easily in this area - but improved outcomes for the kids is the real payoff.”​​​