The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (7.3) places an emphasis on the relationship between teachers and parents/carers and the wider community in schools. Key action words describing successful relationships include respectful, collaborative and responsive. The focus is on establishing secure networks and building relationships that work.
These expectations are reinforced in the Australian Professional Standard for Principals, which states that ‘Principals embrace inclusion and help build a culture of high expectations that takes account of the richness and diversity of the wider school community and the education systems and sectors’ (page 19).
As a school leader, a major challenge and potential resource is to develop a school-wide approach to parents/carers of students with disability and additional learning needs. This group frequently reports difficulties in making effective connections with schools so that they might secure appropriate educational inputs for their children. The 2015 Review of the Disability Standards of Education included ‘A large number of submissions … from parents of school-aged children with learning disabilities who expressed frustration at the limited effective supports available to their children’ (page iii).
Parents/carers of students with disability and additional learning needs are reported to encounter a range of difficulties in forging effective working relationships with schools. The Shut Out Report (2009) indicates that these parents/carers feel ‘excluded and ignored’ and that ‘negative attitudes, myths, stereotypes are both the cause and result of social exclusion for people with disabilities through service practices that segregate and congregate people with disabilities’ (page 12). In short, such families frequently face a lack of responsiveness to their needs and wishes.
Additionally, these parents may be harder to reach than others: sometimes they will have a history of unsatisfactory relationships with schools and services. Some may also have a disability or additional learning needs and will potentially require an alternative way of communicating with them.
All of this affects the educational progress and life-chances of these students. It invites your proactive intervention as a school leader.
'There is strong empirical evidence internationally and locally that school-community partnerships support a range of enhanced outcomes for young people and their parents, and their school and communities. Children benefit from family-school collaborations when their parents are provided with opportunities to shape their children’s learning ... Successful partnerships that focused on collaborative services had school principals who looked for agencies or services with which the school could form a ‘strategic alliance’. These principals understood that the parties to a partnership or alliance had particular interests and priorities and that these needed to be acknowledged and respected. In addition, they understood the importance of developing a ‘two- way flow’ and becoming an ‘interdependent system’. (Simons, 2011)
An inclusive community is ‘one that provides leadership in valuing families and the roles they play; and one that recognizes that the responsibility for being included in the community does not rest with the family, the individual or disability and service organizations’. (Mayer, 2009)