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Patrician Brothers' Parent Literacy Program

This case study outlines why this secondary school pursued a parental literacy program (the need) and what they achieved from it (the outcomes).

"In brief, the ‘Patrician Partners in Literacy’ was a parental literacy program, which ran for 8 weeks for about 90 minutes per week on a Wednesday night. So, as you can imagine, being involved in the program required a high level of commitment from the parents. Elenor was one of the nine parents who finished the entire program, although we started with 17 and throughout the 8 weeks our numbers varied with many parents unable to make every session. This was a learning experience in itself.

So why did we do it? Initially our planning was not to address the priorities outlined in reform 6, we didn’t actually set out to encourage parental engagement though that was an obvious outcome. Our priority was around building the literacy capacity of our students – in essence addressing reform 4 – a targeted approach to improving literacy or the overarching goal of the entire agenda.

We knew from discussions at these meetings last year that our students were underperforming in literacy and this was confirmed by NAPLAN and other data. We needed to address this with staff development around literacy strategies and ESL pedagogies. We developed a plan for the staff and for our students but the big question then was “Why aren’t we tapping in to that other vast resource that our boys spend so much time engaged with – the parents?”

We acknowledged that our parents were the first teachers of their sons and that the home is both the beginning and foundation of all learning but that also parents now felt disengaged from the learning process since their sons moved to secondary education. Trevor Cairney’s research suggested that parents generally felt inadequate when it came to the rigours of the secondary curriculum and that also they felt intimidated by the enormity of high school structures and organisation. Many parents even reported carrying negative experiences of their own secondary schooling. We also knew from the research of Harris and Goodall and others that the key to improving student achievement was to improve parental engagement, with clear links to improving learning.

So faced with these challenges, we decided that the best approach would be to invite parents to a program which offered them practical strategies to help their sons with literacy. In so doing we would be assisting our students by assisting our parents while obviously continuing to work with our teachers. So that’s what we did, and as I mentioned, we had a core group of mums and dads who came along each week and participated in different activities based largely on those we would use with students and most of these taken from the ‘literacy the next step’ approaches.

So I’d now like to invite one of our parents, to give a parent’s perspective on the program…please welcome Elenor Tikeri.

Incidentally, because Elenor’s daughter Crystal spends more time with her sons at homework time, Crystal also joined us for the program…a remarkable family driven by the need to give each other the best opportunities in life. In a way, the school was building on and reflecting their family values.

Just in closing, Elenor has touched on some of the important outcomes of the Partners in Literacy program. We did hope that the parents involved would increase their capacity to deal with their son’s secondary education, particularly in the areas of reading and writing. We did hope that we could help parents with communication strategies and we did envisage that parents would begin to feel more comfortable with the high school environment but there were some other, unexpected outcomes:

Firstly, we didn’t really anticipate the power of parental involvement on the boys. Our program involved a classroom visit by the parents and we expected some degree of angst from the students, particularly in Year 8. However, what we found instead, was that the boys were very proud of their parents being in their classrooms and happy for them to be involved in the program. Other students even asked “Why isn’t my mum and dad here? How do I get them involved?” When I interviewed the boys after the program had ended I realised just how much of an impact their parent’s learning was having on them. Some would even ask me on Thursdays what their parents got up to the night before. One young man even said “I’m glad my mum did the course, she needs to get out of the house more often and have fun.”

Teachers at the school reacted very positively also. Opening up their classrooms and realising that parents were involved in a program to help their sons with learning helped teachers to feel more connected and more responsive to student needs. Some of the teachers now have greater contact with the individual parents who came into their classes due to their personal contact. And the talk is not about ‘the bad stuff,’ it’s about boy’s learning and how parents can help. Since the program ended we have seen this group of parents attend carnivals, celebrations and events at the school.

Another outcome was the opening of communication between parents and the College on a whole school level. At each of the meetings, parents raised issues concerning their sons’ learning which I and the other staff present were able to feedback to the school to make real changes for the better. One example was the way that assessment tasks were communicated to parents of Year 7. These parents were beginning to have a voice and were building relationships with key members of staff around learning, they were beginning to use the language of learning and essentially they were re-engaging with the school…it was only now that we were beginning to see this as an approach to addressing part of reform 6!

So, as a team, we began to look for ways to continue this momentum and involve our parents in more ways.

We began by asking them what they wanted next. One area they felt that they needed more support with was numeracy. So earlier this term, with the help of Jan Harte and in conjunction with Jorga Marrum from LaSalle Bankstown, we developed a whole day parental numeracy program called ‘working mathematically’. On the day, parents worked with their sons on numeracy projects supported by the Maths coordinators from both schools. The day was highly successful and opened up learning opportunities for a whole new set of parents as well as an opportunity for us to network with an RTI funded school.

Our parent group made many other suggestions which have been considered by our leadership team and which have led to improvements in communication at the College. Now, rarely a decision is made at executive level without asking the question “How can we include the wider community in this?”

For example, for the last 4 months the leadership team has been leading the staff towards developing a school-wide pedagogy through an understanding of our learning beliefs. When we had formulated our learning beliefs about quality education, the Principal asked the question..? SO we invited a large group of parents and students to a forum to discuss the future directions of the College and to feedback on the learning beliefs formulated by staff. The forum centred on what parents, students and teachers believe makes quality teaching and learning in the twenty first century. We conducted a continuous brainstorm activity and parents provided exceptional insights into what makes quality teaching and learning at Fairfield currently and what needs to be investigated for the future.

The quality of this forum was so exceptional that we are now considering inviting parental participation in our Teacher Learning Communities, which are groups that grew from our learning belief statement to further investigate areas of change within the College. We are hoping that expert parents within our community will be able to contribute to some of these groups. The ideal for example would be to have a local branch bank manager working with our Numeracy group, adding real world authentic experience to the development of pedagogy.

Who knows where the involvement of parents may lead at Fairfield, the important thing is that now we are more open, as a school, staff and students to collaborating, consulting and including our community, because we have seen the enormous benefits which are possible for all of us but especially for our children’s learning".


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