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Project aims to get teachers and parents in uniform

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Kim Arlington
Schools SMH
July 18, 2011

IT IS a crucial area for teachers, but one their training often neglects – how to engage with parents.

While parents and teachers may not always see eye to eye, an initiative has begun that is designed to foster positive relationships and effective communication between them.

The Engaging with Parents project emerged from a joint forum of parents’ groups from the NSW public, independent and Catholic sectors and is funded by the NSW Education Department.

Anne Crabb, the executive officer of the NSW Parents Council and a joint forum representative, said parents and principals sensed new teachers “haven’t been given a lot of training or skills in dealing with parents daily. For successful educational outcomes, they need to work together as a partnership.”

The project is led by Sue Saltmarsh, the associate professor of educational studies at the Australian Catholic University, who said interacting with parents had become part of a teacher’s role, and preparation would help them prevent conflict, respond to concerns and encourage participation.

“Dealing with parents has always been something schools need to do and need to do well, but it’s not something we’ve ever really emphasised in the preparation and professional development of teachers,” she said. “When teachers and parents have positive relationships, everybody benefits.”

Project researchers have interviewed parents statewide and will canvass the views of teachers, principals and teacher educators, drafting professional development and teacher education packages for trial later this year.

Dr Saltmarsh said the stakes were high for parents “because you only get one opportunity to buy ambien on line and see your child go through school and to help them do the best they can.”

But they report feeling reluctant to raise issues of concern for fear of being labelled ”problem parents”, with possible ramifications for their children.

For teachers, the focus on high-stakes testing meant that in “an increasingly crowded curriculum, some … may be reluctant to commit time and attention to parental involvement”.

Teachers may also be unsure how best to use parents’ offers of help, Dr Saltmarsh said.

She also stressed that, while parents might not be visible in the school community or involved in hands-on ways, it did not mean they were not interested in their children’s education.

“For a lot of parents … [that] isn’t necessarily an option due to work commitments or other family commitments,” she said. Other parents had cultural reasons for thinking it disrespectful or inappropriate to involve themselves at school.

But ensuring children got to school on time or did their homework was “still a really important part of parents being engaged with their children’s schooling”, Dr Saltmarsh said.

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