Teaching approaches and strategies that work

Building genuine partnerships with parents to keep children learning

This report is part of a series about teaching strategies that work.

It features strategies and approaches we saw in 40 primary schools across New Zealand.

We selected these schools from a database of 129 schools, all with rolls over 200 and all with increased numbers of students achieving at or above the expected standards as they moved through the upper primary years (Years 5 to 8). These schools' achievement levels were also higher than the average for their decile. We asked leaders in each school what they saw as the reasons for their school's positive achievement trajectory and then investigated the positive teaching strategies and resulting outcomes.

This report shares strategies and approaches from schools that had contributed to improving achievement by developing genuine learning partnerships with parents. It also includes some simple strategies a few of the schools used to involve parents more in supporting the things children were learning at school.

What ERO already knows about learning partnerships with parents

Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau (2015)

In the best examples in this report, teachers involved most parents in setting goals and agreeing on next learning steps with their child. Teachers responded quickly to information obtained from tracking and monitoring student progress. They persisted in finding ways to involve all parents of students who were at risk of underachieving, and ways for all students to succeed. During conversations with parents and whānau, teachers aimed to learn more about each student in the wider context of school and home, to develop holistic and authentic learning goals and contexts for learning.

Continuity of learning: transitions from early childhood services to schools (2015)

This report stresses how critical an effective transition into school is for a child's development of self worth, confidence, resilience and ongoing success at school. Schools that were very responsive to ensuring children successfully transitioned could demonstrate they had real knowledge about their newly enrolled children. They took care to translate that knowledge into providing the best possible environment and education for each and every child. Leaders made sure transition was flexible and tailored to the individual child.

Partners in learning (2016)

Strong connections between schools and parents and whānau are essential to accelerating children's achievement, particularly for those at risk of underachieving. This booklet helps parents, families and whānau to form effective relationships and educationally powerful connections.

What we found in the schools included in this evaluation

Most of the 40 schools had built good relationships with parents but had not fully developed genuine learning partnerships. All schools reported to parents and had interviews or three-way conferences and other communications with parents. However, they hadn't all fully given prominence to the culturally responsive concepts of manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and mahi tahi.1

Genuine learning partnerships

Some schools had seen considerable benefits for children from developing genuine and reciprocal learning partnerships with parents and whānau. These schools had been quite deliberate in their approaches. In some cases leaders and teachers had introduced new practices as part of a Teaching as Inquiry project. Some introduced improvements as part of their involvement in Accelerating Literacy Learning (ALL) and Accelerating Learning in Mathematics (ALiM). Teachers and leaders examined research and trialled new practices in parts of the school or for specific groups of children before extending practices more widely across the school. Some schools worked closely with parents when they introduced new teaching approaches and strategies. They shared the intended benefits for children with parents and reviewed how new processes were working for them. Leaders and teachers in these schools also reviewed student achievement information before and after developing partnerships and found considerable increases in student achievement.

One of the key components of these genuine learning partnerships was the regular and honest sharing of all achievement and progress information teachers had collected. Teachers and parents looked at the actual assessments together and discussed the strengths and possible reasons for any visible progress or confusions for a child. In some schools this sharing was particularly evident in the first two years the child was at school.

However, in the best instances, high quality practices for working with parents went across all year levels and built on the partnerships established in those first two years. In schools where successful learning partnerships with parents are found solely in Years 1 to 2, these should be extended across the school to help address the achievement slump seen for many children in Years 5 to 8.

Differentiated approaches to working with parents

Some schools differentiated the extent of the relationship with parents depending on the strengths and needs of the child. Leaders in these schools recognised educationally powerful connections and relationships between teachers, leaders, parents and whānau as components of an effective response to underachievement. Teachers worked very closely with parents of children who needed to accelerate their progress. Teachers valued what the parent could do to help and went beyond just talking to the parent about what they could do. They also listened to what the parent might suggest and acted on the suggestions. The partnerships resulted in consistent language, strategies and goals that children, their teachers and parents/whānau understood and used. Teachers valued the time spent on the partnership as it generally resulted in greater progress for the child and less need for additional instruction for the child in the classroom.

All the parents we spoke with who were involved in learning partnerships valued the opportunity to be fully engaged in their child's learning, especially when their child had identified learning needs. Parents talked knowledgably about the strategies they had learnt, their child's progress, and what they needed to do for their child to succeed. In the most successful schools, every parent was involved and contributing to their child's learning. In some cases, teachers invited parents into the classroom to see the learning in action and had then resolved any concerns the parents had about their child's learning. Parents expressed a real gratitude for the time teachers and leaders had taken to work with them to support their child and accelerate their progress.

Every parent of a child who needs support to accelerate their progress should expect to be fully involved and welcomed to contribute to that support. Parents know their child's interests and concerns and can not only contribute to the child's learning at home, but also help the teacher understand more about what gets in the way of their child's success and what helps them succeed. In some of the schools, teachers were amazed by the amount of progress that occurred when parents knew the strategies they should focus on at home. Teachers also recognised how a child's self esteem increased when both teachers and parents understood and responded to the child's strengths, goals and interests.

Finding ways to involve parents in their child's learning

Many of the schools featured in this report were in low socioeconomic communities where a high proportion of parents were fully involved in their child's learning. Leaders and teachers in these schools avoided making negative assumptions about parents' willingness to contribute to their child's progress. Instead, they:

>   built strong and ongoing learning relationships with parents and whānau

>   fully and honestly shared assessment information about the child

>   listened to parents' ideas about how they could help and what support they needed

>   provided details about the language, strategies and approaches the child used at school

>   provided materials and internet links for parents that needed them

>   regularly communicated with parents to share and hear what was working and what they all (the child, parent and teacher) should do next.

The way leaders and teachers valued and worked with parents was key.

Teachers did not just talk at parents; they worked with parents who could then fully contribute to their child's learning. Every school had such productive and genuine learning partnerships, especially for children who need additional support to achieve success with some aspect of their learning. Partnerships established in Years 1 and 2 were built on further as the child moved through the school.

At the end of this report we include links to ERO's School Evaluation Indicators along with questions for school leaders to consider when focusing on improving parent partnerships.

[1] Manaaki embodies the concepts of mana (authority) and aki (to encourage and acknowledge). Manaakitanga describes the immediate obligation and authority of the host to care for their visitor's emotional, spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing. This includes developing and sustaining the language, culture and identity of every student to ensure that they have the best opportunity to learn and experience educational success. The reciprocal nature of manaakitanga also encourages students and their whānau to actively contribute to this success.

Whakawhanaungatanga describes the process of establishing links, making connections, and relating to the people one meets by identifying in culturally appropriate ways whakapapa linkages, past heritages, points of engagement, and other relationships. Establishing whānau connections involves recognising kinship in its widest sense. Whanaungatanga relationships are reciprocal: the group supports the individual with the expectation that the individual will support the group. Whanaungatanga demands quality teaching learning relationships and interactions and that the teacher takes agency in establishing a whānau-based environment that supports engagement and learning.

Mahi tahi (or mahi ngatahi) describes the unity of a group of people working towards a specific goal or on a specific task, often in a hands-on fashion. In the school context, mahi tahi describes the business of working together collaboratively in the pursuit of learner-centred education goals.