02 Using and responding to an inquiry to improve learner-centred relationships with parents

ERO's report Raising student achievement through targeted actions stresses the importance of school leaders in increasing children's progress. Leaders designed, resourced and carried out targeted actions that focused on improving both student outcomes and teaching. Leaders spread the actions across the teaching staff by using in-school expertise to accelerate learning. They aimed to have all children succeed.

Leaders at ORATIA SCHOOL saw the advantages of including parents when introducing any new programme or innovations. Their preparation for a new programme had to be thorough, grounded in research and shared with parents. They used and built on the strengths of staff, and communicated with parents and staff to make sure everyone understood and supported new programmes.

This narrative shares the inquiries and strategies the school used to develop successful learning partnerships.

Leaders and teachers initiated a strong focus on building genuine learning partnerships with parents. The community/whanaungatanga strategic priority for 2016 to 2018 was to foster a positive school culture, and strengthen home-school partnerships to support students' engagement and achievement. Two of the specific priorities for 2016 were to:

>   foster a collegial school culture based on mutual respect and trust

>   strengthen home-school partnerships through improved communication.

Teacher-led inquiry

The focus on the parent partnership goal began through a teacher-led inquiry, and then a leader-led inquiry. The teacher-led inquiry began by focusing on a small group of boys that needed support to improve their writing.

The teacher hosted an information evening for parents and whanau of the group to explain what she intended to do, and what this would mean for her, the parents and whanau and the boys concerned. Before the parent evening, she shared part of her presentation with the boys to help them commit to being involved and understand her intentions.

She was open about the intervention being part of an inquiry and her learning when contacting the parents (as shown in the letter to parents below).

During the meeting, the teacher shared the strategies she was using and showed parents how they could reinforce them at home.

Our school encourages teachers to have a personal inquiry to improve their practice. My inquiry this year is: "How do I get my students to put into practice what they have learnt in lessons and apply it to independent tasks?” My goal is to raise achievement in writing. I have a target group of 11 boys that I am focusing on. Your boy is part of this group. I have already started the process and I am enjoying the group as they have a lot to offer.

I believe that a school partnership with home has a significant impact on children's learning. Because of this I would love it if you could come to a parent information evening on Thursday...in the staff room.

At this meeting I will be covering the information below:

    1. How I have approached the boys about being part of this group.
    2. What my aim is.
    3. What I am doing in class to support their learning.
    4. How you can help.
    5. A quick practical workshop on how to access their blogs and how to use the Read/Write app.

I will also provide drinks and nibbles!

She had ongoing meetings with the parents to discuss their child's learning at school and at home, and to set new goals. Feedback from parents and whanau confirmed they felt empowered and knew how to support their child at home with their writing. The children were accelerating their progress.

Leader-led inquiry

Subsequently, in Term 3, 2016, the senior leadership team decided to initiate a whole-school inquiry to extend partnerships with parents. Leaders specifically wanted to address the difference in achievement for some of their Māori students (most of whom were boys).

They identified children across the school who need to accelerate their progress. Early in the term the parents of these children each met with their child's class teacher. They discussed the current level of achievement of their child in either reading, writing or mathematics. The teacher explained the desired level they wanted the child to be achieving. They aimed to have the children achieve at the expected curriculum level by the end of the year. The parents were told the specific goal their child was working towards and were given resources, such as flash cards and other activities that would help them to work on the goal with their child at home. Every two weeks the teachers and parents had contact (face to face, emails, phone calls) to discuss the achievement of the goals, and whether parents and the teacher felt the child was ready to move on to another goal. Parents felt this connection had improved their relationships with the teachers as well as their child's progress.

To avoid adding to the teachers' workload, leaders used and extended some of the processes they already had in place:

>   staff regularly updated the school's website and Facebook calendars to keep parents well informed

>   teachers sent parents a weekly email outlining the week's events

>   leaders reviewed reports to parents to reduce teacher workload and meet parents' needs

>   leaders reviewed meet the teacher, student-led conferences, open days, and other home-school events to make sure they were achieving their aims

>   leaders established expectations to help develop and maintain the home-school partnership for learning.

Teachers changed their emails and blogs to provide more specific information about how parents could support their child's learning at home. Actions to increase the partnerships supported all children, while giving additional emphasis to children who needed to accelerate their progress.

Working together to accelerate children's progress

Teachers recognised that children needing additional support would make greater progress if they were supported to practise their new learning at home as well as at school. Regular contact with the parents of these children enabled teachers to learn more about each child's strengths and interests and they were able to use this information to further engage and motivate the child. Working together with parents was vital to ensuring the children used consistent strategies at home and at school.

ERO met with a parent whose child needed extra support with reading. The child's mother told us the child seemed to start well in the new entrant class but then didn't progress well learning to read. She was contacted by the teacher who talked about the child's progress.

The parent talked to us about many strategies the teacher had showed her including cutting up sentences from part of the story, and having her son put them back together. The parent had also worked on letter sounds. She could see she was working at home on the same things the teacher was working on at school. The parent and teacher met every two or three weeks to discuss her son's progress.

My son knows this is helping him. He has improved immensely.
He can now recognise words more without reading from memory so much.

The parent was grateful for the opportunity to help her son. Her opinions had been listened to and when she raised any concerns, adjustments were made to the programme.

Parents understanding their child's goals

Children regularly set and shared learning goals with their parents. They outlined how they planned to achieve goals and timeframes for reaching them. Every week parents made a comment where they explained what the child was doing at home in relation to the goal. Sometimes, they noted the child was achieving their goal and suggested some ideas of what they could do next.

Many Year 6 children talked to us about the value of parents being more involved.

The goals help. They help focus when you're writing something.

You might be working on something like including complex sentences, and then the work you did at home becomes evidence to show the teacher that you have reached the goal.

Work at home is more related to the skills we are practising at school now that our parents are more involved. Our work at home is a continuation of our work at school.

Year 6 children

Parents understanding new teaching practices

Teachers had undertaken many inquiries into different teaching approaches. Whenever they planned a major change in approach, parents were consulted to determine its merit. Parents were shown parts of the research teachers had accessed and the likely benefits and challenges resulting from the intended changes. For example, when the teachers were considering introducing a boys' Year 5 class, leaders held information evenings for parents of Year 4 boys and included links to relevant research. Leaders also made up information packs with more detail about the proposal, and extended an invitation for parents to meet with the principal to discuss any questions. Information about the class and its likely composition was also included in the newsletter to inform the wider school community.

Parents' feedback about their children's perspectives or concerns about new teaching strategies were sought and valued. Parents were also able to visit classrooms to see new teaching approaches. One parent had visited her child's class to see the changes the two teachers had implemented to introduce modern learning teaching practices. Later the parent emailed the teachers to share what she had observed. Part of the parent's observations are as follows.

I was really impressed by the way the children understood the routine and what was required of them. Also by the way all the resources they needed were readily available and they knew where to look for them.

I finally understood how children managed themselves while you both took workshops. It was awesome to see the obvious satisfaction the children gained by being able to do their work in a place, and in a way that suited them, even in the short time I was there. I really didn't know what to expect when I visited. Thanks for encouraging me to come in, and thanks for the obvious interest and effort you have put into this new way of learning.

Another parent had emailed the teacher to share a comment from their child.

Last week I asked **** how she was finding the structure of the class (because it is so different to the class she was in last year), and she said, "It's the best class I've ever been in.” I asked her what she liked about the structure and she answered, "They trust us to make decisions.”

This and other parents' affirming feedback contributed to the decision to extend modern learning practices more widely across the school.

Outlining partnership expectations

Together staff had agreed the practices listed below to maintain and reinforce home-school partnerships. Leaders were intending to continue to inquire into, and build, the partnerships further in 2017.

Schools and teachers who value the intent of this relationship:

>   know about, care and build on each learning experience, removing the separation between home and the learning experience

>   use a shared language about learning and achievement with students and parents/whānau

>   value the wellbeing of akonga (students) and are interested in them and their whānau

>   involve families and whānau in setting goals for children

>   regularly connect with families to review their working relationships

>   communicate with families and whānau

>   persist in ways to involve parents and ways for students to succeed, and treat families with dignity and respect.

Parents who value the intent of this relationship:

>   treat their child's teacher with dignity and respect as they work together in pursuit of the best outcomes for each child

>   are available and make time to communicate with their child's teacher about the next learning steps for their child

>   persist in finding ways to work with their child's teacher so the relationship is one of mahi tahi - deliberate two-way, collaborative relationship focused on providing students with extended learning opportunities and increasing education success

>   work collaboratively with the teacher to set learning goals for their child.