Welcoming parents & caregivers

Aboriginal parents and child

Schools send messages to parents/caregivers in many different ways. These messages can create a clear picture in the minds of parents about how the school sees them.

Messages can be delivered in subtle ways, including how welcome parents feel at the school, the tone of notes and newsletters, how approachable staff are at the school, and the opportunities for parents/caregivers to be actively involved in the school.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, historical issues have left a legacy of  suspicion in relation to schooling.

You may find that older caregivers, and perhaps some parents, were excluded from mainstream schooling, or that their experiences were far from positive. In New South Wales, for example, early policies supporting segregation permitted Aboriginal children to attend the local school only if they were adequately dressed and well fed, or ‘clean, clad and courteous’ (Fletcher 1989).

However, don’t assume that all parents and caregivers have had negative schooling experiences.

It is helpful if partnerships are developed with parents and caregivers, especially in the development of Personalised Learning Plans, but also on a day to day basis. Making parents/caregivers welcome in the school could start on an informal basis through events external to the school such as sporting fixtures or a chance meeting at the shopping centre.

One of the most valued resources in a school with a significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolment is the Indigenous Education Worker (IEW – job title may vary).

An IEW can assist a teacher with important knowledge about the school community, for example: whether the family has a phone; who is caring for the child; where the child is living at present; the ability of family members to respond quickly; and if perhaps they are dealing with grief.

One parent wrote a list of 12 things that would make parents/caregivers welcome at a primary school.

  1. Consistent messages in the newsletter that the school values the involvement of parents/caregivers.
  2. Being told that parents/caregivers are welcome at school assemblies.
  3. Community events like barbecues, trivia nights, and social gatherings.
  4. Information evenings for parents/caregivers about a range of relevant [to them] topics.
  5. Teachers welcoming parents/caregivers in the classroom.
  6. A range of ways parents/caregivers can volunteer in the classroom or the rest of the school.
  7. An active Parents and Citizen Association (P&C) that is an important part of school decision making.
  8. The principal being at the school gate at the end of the day to say bye to kids and to chat to parents/caregivers.
  9. The principal having an open door policy (and meaning it).
  10.  Information in the newsletter about what is happening in classrooms.
  11. Feedback being sought from parents/caregivers on a range of issues.
  12. Friendly office staff.

Retrieved March 8 2016 from https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/welcoming-parents-in-schools/

Is there anything you would add to this list to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents/caregivers to feel welcome?

Aboriginal teacher Annette Gainsford has worked in many roles in schools, as well as university education. The examples below are her experiences of what has worked to welcome and involve parents, caregivers and community members in schools.

Example 1: Yarn Up

A local primary school’s Aboriginal Education team decided to have a “Yarn Up”:

  • to be held once a week on the same day with staff to attend on a rotational roster (The AEW and Principal made it a priority to attend every week).
  •  scheduled from lunchtime onwards approximately 1:30 – 3:00
  • invitations to include parents, caregivers, community members as well as small children (below school age) and students who attend the school.
  • to be accompanied by food (sausage sizzle, sandwiches, iceblocks etc.)
  • invitations to be completed by Aboriginal students in class and taken home to family and community.
  • include one afternoon a month where students could invite friends and friend’s family to come with them.

“Yarn Up” had great success and attendance, through interactions at “Yarn Up” the Aboriginal community and the schools Aboriginal students were able to contribute to decision making processes that involved self-determining practices. Community engagement increased with new friendships made between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families at the school, thereby reducing racism and stereotyping.

Example 2: Community Connection Barbecue

Community Connection Barbecues were arranged to address the issue of lack of contact with Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) boarding families with teaching staff. Teaching staff would volunteer to accompany Indigenous students to Moree once a year to attend an Indigenous youth festival (Croc Fest). While in Moree the school would initiate a Community Connections Barbecue for families in the area to come and meet with staff in regard to student progress, welfare etc. Barbecues were highly attended and very successful in improving communication and connections with remote Indigenous families. Families could also use the opportunity to spend time with their children and attend performances before the children would return to boarding school for the remainder of the term.

Example 3: Back Gate

In one particular school it was noticed that the Aboriginal parents would use the back gate to the school to drop their children off. Staff recognised that if they needed contact for any reason that this was a good time and location to build relationships, have an informal yarn or even get a note signed.

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Fletcher, J 1989, Clean, clad and courteous: a history of Aboriginal education in New South Wales, Southwood Press, Sydney.