Opinion: Helicopter parents - get in gear before engaging

by Linda McNeil05 Feb 2016

School has been back just over a week and already the newspapers are filled with articles of the ubiquitous helicopter parent, hovering to guide, control, direct, even choreograph his or her child’s every move, especially when it comes to their schoolwork.
Yet consecutive government policies have heralded ‘parent engagement’ in schools as one of the pillars of educational reform linking it to higher student achievement, producing everything from information brochures to the latest app ‘Learning Potential’ released by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne last year. 
This sends a clear message to parents that their input is welcome and valued.
What’s more, parents stress about their child’s future job prospects knowing the importance of a good education in today’s highly competitive marketplace.   
Taking all this into account, parents can be forgiven for wanting the best start for their children in this uncertain climate and along with schools and community should be supported in shaping the best future they can for all children.
So, what is good ‘engagement’ with your child’s education and how much is enough?  
Well, there is clear evidence on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to being involved with your child’s school, and I think you’ll be relieved to know it’s easier than you think.
What doesn’t work, according to education expert, Professor John Hattie, is:
• The use of external rewards
• Homework surveillance 
• Negative control 
• Restrictions/punishment for unsatisfactory grades 
Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?  
Are these the methods you are currently using to connect with your child to impact their achievement?  If so, you are barking up the wrong tree, according to the research.   
In his widely read book on what affects student achievement, titled ‘Visible Learning’, Professor Hattie names “teacher quality” as having the greatest effect on student achievement.  But he says, parents, family members and the home also have a role to play in the student achieving at their optimal level.  
And the findings are out:  what counts most in influencing your child for strong achievement is above all having high hopes and expectations for their school career and conveying that message to them in everything you say and do.  
Think about it: do you share your hopes and your child’s hopes for their education with them?  And do they know that you and the school have expectations around their schoolwork?
The second best thing you can do is to learn the ‘language of school’.  This is where schools can assist. 
Professor Hattie says that “schools have an important role in helping parents to learn the language of schooling…so that parents can assist in developing their child’s learning and love of learning, and in creating the highest possible shared expectations for learning.”  
This collaboration between the family and the school is what has the greatest effect on student achievement. Two ways this can be achieved are greater parent-student communication and giving students more control over their own studies.  
If the home and school work in tandem to promote this capacity in the child then the student will take on the responsibility for their own learning and they will become an ‘engaged learner’.”
So if you want to help your child, eliminate the negative ‘controlling’ practices, ease off the hovering and concentrate on learning the language of the school. Share your hopes and expectations with your child and with the school and have fun with them while you all learn something new.
Linda McNeil is the Executive Director of the Council of Catholic School Parents (CCSP) NSW/ACT.


  • by Mary-Lou 7/02/2016 5:36:26 PM

    The book "How to Raise and Adult" took the world by storm in 2015 and is well worth a read. The Centre for Educational Enterprise is bringing the author, Julie Lythcott-Haims to Australia for a public lecture. One night only, May 24 in Melbourne: http://cee.mggs.vic.edu.au/cee-events#director-s-lecture-series-2016-educational-futures-bookings-now-open

  • by Mark Fortunatow 8/02/2016 11:29:21 AM

    Thanks for these insights