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A new forum for our parents and friends

What types of parent education programs are important? How can parents contribute to living the faith at the school? What are important priorities for fundraising in our school? These are some of the questions addressed by parents at our recent Parents and Friends (P&F) Association meeting.

The meeting was a little different to normal. In an attempt to move away from a traditional format – a regular business meeting – we held an ‘invitational forum’ where all families were welcome to attend or submit feedback over email.

The main agenda was a parent feedback session that encouraged authentic conversation. This involved parents working in small groups to contribute their views on several key focus areas, including learning and teaching programs; living the faith; parent engagement; projects and priorities; and fundraising.

At St Michael’s, we recognise the importance of parental engagement and encourages collaboration, interaction and partnership with our parents. The P&F represents the general interests of the whole school community, aiming to foster an open forum for discussion on matters pertaining to the education of their children.

Principal, Belinda Hughes, said that by offering facilitated discussion, the hope was that the school executive would be able to ascertain what is of greatest importance to their parent community.

“This unique parent feedback session allowed St Michael's parents to contribute on matters of significance with the intention to be solutions-focused and cover a range of ideas on several topics” — Principal, Belinda Hughes

Valuably, over 30 parents were in attendance. Each group was led by a facilitator, with their role to initiate conversation. Facilitators were asked to ensure everyone was provided with an opportunity to share input and to identify parents to feedback to the larger group with the main ideas arising from their discussions.

So, what matters most to the parents of St Michael’s students? For projects and priorities, a greater focus on 21st century learning including coding and STEM. Although, parents believe it’s still important to intersperse these topics with Catholic identity, social justice, physical activity and sustainable initiatives.

Parents asked for personalised and detailed reports to see how their children are progressing, additional openings for creative and performing arts, and increased sporting opportunities.

Additionally, participants acknowledged existing positive initiatives, including parent education around learning; social justice outreach and fundraising (the recent Mission Day noted as having a good balance between being educational and fun); and comprehensive information provided about the sacraments.

CEDoW Professional Officer for Parent Partnership, Rebecca Hill, facilitated the parent engagement session that focused on broadening communication channels, improving communication about student progress and creating more opportunities for active involvement in their children’s learning.

"A meaningful comment was for consideration to be given to how the P&F fits into the culture of the school,” Mrs Hill said. “Parents can be apprehensive to become more involved with the P&F - as they're time poor - and the role of being on the P&F can be perceived as being too great of a commitment.

“However, parents acknowledged their key role as a vital means of showing that they support the school and were looking for contemporary ways to have this involvement.”

There were other positive topics debated: consideration of homework and whether it's necessary, feedback on the induction process for new students and discussion around the progress of the ‘Leader in Me’ program, a model that empowers students with leadership and life skills.

The meeting also discussed further resources for parents such as the SeeSaw app - a tool that encourages student engagement - for all classes, Catholic Care resources about children and families and relevant parenting blogs.

After the meeting, all of the proposals were collated and a summary communicated back to parents.

Recommendations included feedback from the learning and teaching and living the faith sessions to be discussed with school executive – including suggestions into the school’s learning and Religious Education programs, arranging a meeting with pastor, Fr Ken Cafe, about the way the school can progress feedback on parish involvement, sacraments and masses, and for school executive to meet with the P&F to outline strategic priorities for 2019 and fundraising targets.

Additional suggestions included, conducting a communication audit across the school to improve communication channels, collating a skills audit of parents to identify how they can be more involved in school life, and to work with the P&F on how to structure roles and committees to improve volunteering opportunities.

Mrs Hughes said the new format was successful.

“It was beneficial to gain a wide range of views. I'd like to express my sincere thanks to the parents who provided feedback. We've received a lot of positive comments about the sessions. The P&F is an essential vehicle for parent voice - we’re all engaged in working together to assist St Michael’s achieve the highest quality in Catholic learning and teaching" — Principal, Belinda Hughes

"The feedback provided allows us to move forward more purposefully on school priorities and how we may support these in 2019 and beyond,” she said.

Story originally published on Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong (CEDoW) News.