3 December 2019
In 2016, western Sydney’s Granville East Public School sought to increase the engagement of parents and carers in its school community – both in terms of knowing their child deeply as a learner and understanding the changing context of learning in the 21st century. As part of the first cohort of the Fair Education program, the school’s leadership team replaced written Kindergarten to Year 6 student reports with half-hour, three-way Learning Conversations that involve the student, teacher, family and often interpreters.
They also held a range of parent learning opportunities (open classrooms, communications via online platforms, and some workshops) and provided them with resources to continue the conversations about learning at home.
We chatted with Principal Louise Reynolds about their three-year journey with Fair Education and the impact of this project – GEPS Connects – on their students.
There are several funding programs out there. What attracted you to apply for a Fair Education grant?
What got us in first was the criteria – there were no boundaries. Our project didn’t have to be in one particular frame, as long as it was to do with family and community engagement. It gave us an open list of possibilities.
Secondly, one of the highlights of the Fair Ed program is the term-by-term coaching. It builds a sense of community with an outsider (your coach), as well as a level of accountability that keeps the entire leadership team on track and reminds us to focus on our purpose rather than getting stuck on the technical level activities.
Why do you think family and community engagement programs, like GEPS Connects, are important for student learning?
Metaphorically and culturally, our GEPS Connects program pulls our community together, with student learning at the heart of these meetings. Students, teachers, parents and families literally huddle together in these Learning Conversations, asking important questions. How can we better understand and support our child? How can teachers get better at communicating where children are at and what’s expected of them, in a language that is suitable for our families?
It also gives children the opportunity to articulate their learning to the people that matter to them most. By engaging our families this way, there is a lot of learning for the them on why critical thinking is important.
For example, they now know not to be swayed by the handwriting in a piece of work but to look deeply at the impact of the text on the student.
What are the most critical short and long-term results you have seen or are currently seeing through your partnership with the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Schools Plus?
The most critical short-term result we saw at the start – and have continued to see – was a huge increase in parents physically attending the school and engaging with our Learning Conversations. We used to run the old-fashioned parent-teacher sessions once a year and saw about half of the parents. Those sessions were 10 minutes long and very surface level. With GEPS Connects, our average family attendance per semester is now 97%!
Students are so proud to show off their work to their families during these Learning Conversations, and families have also said they better understand what their child is learning and how to support them at home.
The biggest long-term result we’ve seen is K-6 students are much better at articulating their learning to their families because GEPS Connects is now embedded in their classroom teaching and learning.
There has also been a huge cultural shift – families expect to have close talks with their child and teacher. It is very rare that a parent asks for a written report because they know that they’re going to get so much out of the Learning Conversation. As teachers, we know our families better.
What advice do you have for schools trying to set up their own family and community engagement programs?
Start small but be ambitious. You don’t have to change the world for everyone at once, so start your journey with a small group of teachers who can dream big with you.
Your students are your biggest advocates. Even though the key is to engage families and communities, it’s important for your program to centre around the students and their learning. They will be the ones to convince their families to jump on board.
You can read the full 2019 Annual Review here.