Understanding the difference between parental engagement in learning and parental involvement at school was a key learning from the Bastow Leading Communities course for Brendan McDonough and Lisa Lamesa.
When Brendan McDonough and Lisa Lamesa organised activities at their school, their main focus was always on trying to get as many parents to the school on as many different days as possible.
“But the Bastow Leading Communities course made us realise that this isn’t what parent involvement is really about,” says Lisa.
To reflect this, Brendan and Lisa started thinking about how they could create more meaningful opportunities for all parents to share their children’s education as a way to improve outcomes.
“We found a lot of parents would come to whole-school events - such as fetes and sporting activities - but reaching out to parents who couldn’t be there during the day and engaging them in the learning side of things was a real challenge,” says Lisa.
A maths share project for the junior school - where students take a maths task home to do with their parents - was one brilliant idea the pair came up while doing the course.
“The tasks are all hands-on and designed to suit each student’s learning ability – cooking, playing games, measurement activities - and then the parents and children present the project together at school,” explains Lisa. “And almost every parent came - it was a really successful afternoon.”
Lisa and Brendan also discovered that while most parents are willing to play a role in supporting their children’s learning, they often simply don’t know what to do.
“And it’s not just the parents, but often the teachers don’t know how to get them involved,” says Brendan.
As part of their school-based project for the course, Lisa and Brendan came up with a community involvement plan to assist teachers.
“We ran an in-service day with teachers on how they could get parents involved in their children’s learning, and then we asked them to come up with a project idea,” says Lisa. “They all took it on board, but it wasn’t easy as a lot of teachers often only talk to a parent when there is a problem.”
This negative association that teachers often have with parents is exactly Brendan and Lisa are hoping to change with their new strategies.
“It’s about building social capital so that next time a teacher speaks to a parent about a student’s performance, they already have a positive relationship with each other,” says Brendan.
So with everyone inspired by the new approach, the senior school teachers came up with the next brilliant idea to involve parents.
“Basically the kids had to design and build a billycart with their parents or their grandparents and then bring it into school for a race,” explains Brendan.