There is no doubt that Australian parents challenge teachers and schools in ways they never have before.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the current generation of parents are more protective and more indulgent of their kids than in the past. They seem to be less respectful of teachers’ authority and less likely to be supportive of their teaching and behaviour management methods.

Parental expectations of schools have grown out of proportion to the level of service that most schools can provide. Catering to children’s individual needs now extends way beyond curriculum areas to include individual dietary and behavioural requirements.

Like parents of any era, they want the best for their children. Paradoxically, they devalue their own roles greatly and lack confidence in their own parenting ability. This is disturbing as parenting ability is a huge contributor to children’s achievement levels at school.

Research conducted by Prof Charles Desforges in the UK indicates that effective parenting impacts more heavily on student achievement than social class, community factors and family characteristics. In fact, schools that have made a concerted effort to educate and support their parent communities to parent effectively have shown dramatic improvements in student achievement levels. Such has been the impact that the Brown Labour Government is now pinning many of hopes for improved educational standards on its efforts to support and educate parents.

Effective parenting according to Desforges’ research includes the following:

The ‘at home’ factor
Effective parenting refers to what happens in the four walls of home. It involves the quality of the ordinary interactions that parents have with their children on a daily basis. This is at odds with the current propensity for Australian parents to outsource most of their child rearing to schools and other organisations.

Authoritative parenting

Authoritative parents search for a balance between warmth and firmness in their child rearing. Their disciplinary methods are supportive rather than punitive and they aim for self-regulation. Authoritative parents influence rather than control their children and have a range of strategies to build relationships and give children a voice in their family enterprise.

Discussion/conversation

Talking is the essence of effective parenting. If parents do nothing else they should talk with their children about a whole range of ‘stuff’. The links to school achievement and parents’ ability and propensity to engage in conversation with their kids from young age is indisputable.

Promotion of citizenship and respect for others

The ability of parents to teach kids the concept of altruism and that there is more to life than meeting their own needs is strongly linked to children’s competencies.

Persistence and responsibility

These two values are huge drivers for children’s wellbeing and achievement. For instance, over 35 per cent of children’s success in school is directly attributed to their ability to persist as a learner, and less the 10 per cent is attributed to IQ.
Parents are currently struggling on many fronts. Learning what makes children and teenagers tick is just one challenge they face.
Parents used to gain a great deal of child development knowledge from observing children close to them. With the proportion of children as part of the population dropping to less than one in Australia, most adults go through their entire days without interacting with children – until they become parents.
Seeking support and advice is now becoming normal for parents. Current research shows teachers and schools are trusted sources of advice and information for parents.
Most schools have a parent education component although they may not actively promote it or even acknowledge it.

How schools can connect with parents

Here are five simple ways for a school to educate and support their school community.
• Turn the school newsletter into a parenting newsletter
Research suggests that school newsletters are still widely read by parents so it makes sense to add a recognisable parenting advice sheet.
• Conduct regular parenting education workshops or presentations
Australian schools are leading the way across the world in providing quality parenting education sessions.
• Maintain a parenting library
Parent libraries that offer book, programs and CDs that are promoted through schools newsletters are the most successful.
• Provide parenting tip sheets
Providing one-on-one advice or ideas about a range of parenting challenges is not just the preserve of the student welfare teacher or assistant principal. All teachers can pass on tips and advice as required.
• Development of parenting plans
Some parents really benefit from the development of parenting plan that may focus on children’s behaviour or maybe customised for specific needs of their children.
While parent education is not their core role a school’s ability to inform and assist parents does have a dramatic impact on children’s overall success levels as well as reducing the amount of parent-teacher conflict. So it makes sense for schools to acknowledge and embrace the place they play in supporting and educating parents.
Michael Grose is a parenting educator who has produced a wide range of parent education resources specifically for Australian schools. He is conducting Dealing with Challenging Parents seminars for teachers and principals across Australia in 2008.
Visit www.parentingideas.com.au or call 1800 004 484 for details about resources, seminars and professional development.