When should you talk with someone at school?

1. Introduction

2. What you can do as a parent

3. What you can do with your child

4. Impact on children

5. Some ideas and resources

6. What some parents say

7. What some principals say

8. What some researchers say

9. Some useful books on parent engagement

10. References

11. Acknowledgements

The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019
Cover image: © Evgenyatamanenko | Dreamstime.com



The process of growing and learning is life’s great journey, a journey which opens opportunities and sometimes creates issues. For school children, these issues could come to light at home or at school. Often these issues are best resolved when discreetly shared between families and schools.

This is helped by positive relationships in which all parties (parents, students and teachers) feel valued and respected.

Often real engagement between a family, a school and a child helps to ensure that everyday issues can be detected and positively dealt with before they become a major challenge.

Parents justifiably appreciate when teachers proactively and constructively address issues they raise, usually in relation to a child’s situation, behaviour or performance. These discussions sometimes start with a problem but they can be the basis of ongoing constructive dialogue if they are also taken as a chance to open communication.

The discussion should be two-way. Teachers also respect knowing if something has happened outside school that will affect the demeanour of a child. This may be either an advance (perhaps a trophy or award-winning performance in sport, dance or music) or a setback (an injury, a personality clash or illness within a family).
Parents have to work to engage in their child’s ongoing learning and progress and this is helped by better use of technology - whether through social media or through one-to-one contact.

This lowers the risk of parents not understanding issues arising with their child. It also offers parents the means to dialogue with both teachers and school leadership.


What you can do as a parent

© Lopolo | Dreamstime.com

Be alert to issues arising with your child in the school environment. Warning signs might include detachment or a reluctance to attend school. These could signal issues with, for example, learning, behavioural problems, student wellbeing or bullying.

Remember there are two sides to most stories and issues are best dealt with if followed up as soon as possible.

The classroom teacher should be the first point of contact. There is little benefit in going directly to a principal as they will normally begin by referring the matter to the teacher. Going straight to the top can also erode trust between a parent and a teacher and this could negatively impact ongoing or future relationships.
While the teacher may not always have the answer, an agreed solution is the best way for long-term positive outcomes.

If the problem is unresolved, or is a further escalation of a previous issue, an approach should be made to the appropriate member of the school leadership team.
It’s best to make an appointment and come to a meeting with notes or correspondence from your interaction with the classroom teacher. This helps the leadership team member to understand what efforts have already been made to address the issue and assists informing what next steps could be taken.

For most classroom related matters you would usually approach the classroom teacher. For some issues, for example, involving whole-of-school policy or practice, you could go directly to the principal or a leadership team member.

Similarly, if there is any concern about the safety of a child (whether they may feel fearful, unsafe or ashamed), the principal or a member of the leadership team should always be involved. There will be school guidelines/codes of conduct and mandated processes in place for such matters and you should be aware of these. It is vital to address any concerns relating to child safety as unresolved or unknown issues in  his area impact a child’s wellbeing and also their ability to learn. In many instances, mandated procedures must be followed and you should be familiar with these guidelines.

What you can do with your child

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By talking frequently with your child about their school experience, you will have a fuller understanding of what and who they are dealing with on a day-today basis.

When you become alert to warning signs that something is changing, you should try to understand what issues may be causing your child’s concerns. Be openminded on what you are told and accept there may be other sides to the story.

It’s best for your child to understand that you and the school are working with them to resolve these issues.

Your child should understand that their interests are always at the centre of such conversations, even when they are not part of them.

It’s also important that within reason, you reinforce the authority of teachers and the school and not create a situation where you are seen to be unfairly taking a stand against that authority.


"Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:

• Children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well.
• Children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence.
• Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university.
• Children can be less likely to miss days at school."

Extract from the Parent Fact Sheet, ACT Government, Education Directorate - available at:

Researchers highlight that the family and effective parenting are central to children’s mental health. Parenting practices and the quality of the parentchild relationship have implications for children’s development in the early years as well as their academic achievement, social competence and behaviour at school.

Understanding the range of changes a child is likely to encounter as they transition from early childhood education and care into school, can enhance parental confidence and in turn, also enhance children’s confidence.
(Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo & Cavanagh, 2011).

“Students suggested families can support positive relationships between home and school by influencing the attitude of the students and by providing advice or advocating on behalf of students.”

WA Commissioner for Children and Young People, Speaking out about school and Learning, The views of Western Australian children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning, 2018.

© Miroslav Ferkuniak | Dreamstime.com


© Miroslav Ferkuniak | Dreamstime.com

The Australian Parenting website
outlines problem solving strategies for
parents and teachers.
The Australian Parenting website states:
• It’s common for children to have
problems at school. Some problems you
and your child can sort out at home, but
some need parent-teacher cooperation.
• If you need to solve a problem with your
child’s teacher, it’s a good idea to ask for
a special parent-teacher meeting.
• Simple problem-solving steps can help
you and your child’s teacher work
towards a positive solution.This useful site can be accessed through
the link below.

Following is a summary of ways to move on issues that emerge with regards your child’s education or well-being:
• The more promptly an issue is dealt with the better the likelihood of an effective outcome.
• The classroom teacher should usually be the first point of contact – going straight to a member of the leadership team could erode the trust of your child’s teacher.
• Make a mutually convenient time to meet with the teacher.
• Avoid becoming emotional or confrontational.
• Be open-minded as you may not have all the facts.
• Accept that a teacher may not have an immediate response but that you are beginning a conversation which will lead to a solution.
• Keep your child’s interests at the centre of the conversation.
• If the issue is unresolved by the classroom teacher, then you might approach a member of the school leadership team and explain the steps already taken/attempted.
• The principal usually should be involved if the matter relates to whole-of-school policy or practice.
• The principal or a member of the leadership team should always be involved if there is any question about the safety of your child.

Australian Government - Learning Potential
Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring waysarents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).

A guide to engaging with families of children with a disability.
Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability


What some Parents say


The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“It’s a partnership that we have and I am prepared to put myself where my mouth is – if I have an issue I’m more than willing, and always feel that I have been heard when I approach the school that my children go to and I’m prepared to be part of the solution not just a whinger.”
(Parent, regional primary school, New South Wales).

“We didn’t know what was going on, he just kept saying he’s feeling sick, and it took us to actually bring it to the teacher’s attention for the teacher to pick it up and then that’s when the teacher became proactive in helping him and making sure that the bullying was resolved.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria).

“I emailed the teacher just explaining my concern. Within twelve hours she had responded back to me with a particular strategy of how she was going to deal with the concerns that I had raised. She followed up the next day via email about what she had done and how that had gone. She followed up a week later in person when she saw me at school to check in with how everything was and then even like a month later just seeing her before school she checked in again to see that everything was okay”.
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Queensland).




The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“Communication needs to go both ways – it’s not just us talking about when there’s a problem or even when they’re celebrating something but it’s also parents letting us know when things might impact on the child so we can help them.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Queensland).

“We ask parents for the strategies that they use at home because we like to replicate that here. If it works for them, so we’re learning from them as well, and I like that notion to go to them because we are not the keepers of all knowledge.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Victoria).

“So if there’s something happening in a child’s life at home that will impact their education, then we should know about it, conversely if there’s something happening at school that will impact on their life, then we should be informing the parents about that.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Queensland).



© Grafvision | Stock Free Images

"I think, the really critical piece is for us to listen to ‘family stories’, so differentiating between a story of a family, where I think I know you, or the opportunity for me to hear you tell your family story to me, so I have that insider perspective of who you are, what you believe, why you do what you do.

And I think it’s only when we move from ‘stories of families’ to ‘family stories’ that we disrupt assumptions, beliefs, judgements. We don’t walk in their shoes and we don’t know. And so I think it takes those experiences of listening to, learning from, walking alongside, to really disrupt those assumptions. So moving from thinking we know to truly knowing our families, and that’s when, I think, we begin to do our really good work with them."
(Dr Debbie Pushor, July 2019).

“For parents to understand and appreciate their continuing role, parents, schools and indeed the general community need to build a mutual understanding of positive parental engagement and progress strategies to create and sustain this. Through this mutual understanding and commitment, children’s wellbeing will be enhanced and they will have a much greater chance of living a life that they value, where their full capacities and aspirations are fulfilled.”
(Emerson, Fear, Fox and Sanders, 2012).

Some useful books on parent engagement

Please click here to peruse a list of useful books on parent engagement 



Emerson, L., Fear. J., Fox, S., and Sanders, E. (2012). Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research. A report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for the FamilySchool and Community Partnerships Bureau: Canberra.

Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Lerner, N. (2018). Advocating for your child at school. Children’s Support Solutions – Morneau Shepell. Toronto.

Dr Debbie Pushor podcast with Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership July 2019 Full transcript available at:



Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)),
Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.