: Unpacking learning behaviours: The importance of parental partnerships and relationships Jenn Sills, Deputy Director of Gloucestershire Research School, explores the importance of positive parental relationships


Unpacking learning behaviours: The importance of parental partnerships and relationships

Jenn Sills, Deputy Director of Gloucestershire Research School, explores the importance of positive parental relationships

by Gloucestershire Research School at the Gloucestershire Learning Alliance
on the


Jenn Sills

Deputy Director of the Gloucestershire Research School

Jenn Sills is the Deputy Director of the Gloucestershire Research School. She has experience of Teaching and Leadership in Primary schools across Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Bristol. Jenn has a passion for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and supporting schools to use evidence-based approaches to support teaching and learning.

Read more aboutJenn Sills

Early Wise Words

In my first few weeks as a young, fresh faced NQT, I was given this piece of advice To be the best for your pupils, just be here every day with a smile on your face, as a consistent adult, regardless of what happened yesterday”. At the time I did not fully appreciate the power and importance of this advice. I do now!

Children come into our classrooms everyday carrying individual rucksacks. For some, these rucksacks can be full of tools that enable them to access their learning with positivity, resilience and curiosity where as others can be laden with doubts, indifference and vulnerability. These tools impact the learning behaviours we see in class. So, how can we work with parents to fill their rucksacks with the tools they need?

Power of partnerships

As Pupil Premium Lead across our Trust, I regularly come back to the fundamental principles that underpin our strategies; trusting relationships, understanding the need of individuals and upholding a culture of high expectation for all. It has to be recognised that building trusting relationships incorporates not just our pupils but their wider family and community too.

Multiple studies have shown that where relationships across school are strong, the most disadvantaged pupils will thrive.

Marc Rowland (2021) Addressing Educational Disadvantage

Recommendation 3 of the EEF’s guidance report on Working with parents to support children’s learning unpicks the importance of tailoring communication with parents to encourage positive dialogue about learning, including learning behaviours. By framing communications positively, rooting them around the child and the shared goal of success, they are likely to have more impact. Parents need to feel, as much as pupils, that they belong, their opinion matters and they have an important part to play in their child’s education. As a young teacher, asking the question, what do you think?” instantly signalled to the parents of my pupils, I have a voice and my opinion matters here. We have a duty to prioritise our relationships with parents in order to do the best by their children. This is not always easy. It can take time, resilience and courage. But it is vital work.

These relationships, like any relationships, will all look different. Remembering the little things about parents can be hugely powerful; the football team they support, the job interview they were attending, the errand they had to run that day. Saw your boys did well at the weekend!”, How did the interview go?” Did you buy those shoes you had your eye on?” all say I was listening, I am invested, I care. These small interactions will build little by little so when it then comes to the bigger conversations, the more challenging conversations around poor learning behaviours for example, those parents will be more willing to support you because you’ve invested the time in building that partnership.

School communications with parents are likely to be more effective if they are personalised, linked to learning, and framed positively.

As part of any CPD, I walk colleagues through a relationship model that compares dependency versus growth that is based on the empowerment dynamic, constructed by David Emerald (2005). All our work building partnerships with parents must be rooted in growth. In the 1960’s, Karpman created the Drama Triangle. This model set out the roles played within a conflict situation. In 2005, David Emerald flipped this model on its head to produce an empowerment dynamic that challenged these dependency roles and instead created growth roles.

The Empowerment Dynamic
David Emerald (2005) TED

Packing the rucksack together

By working in partnership with parents, we are openly recognising the impact they have over children’s learning behaviour. Successful schools take the time to understand the potential anxieties parents hold based on their own experiences and help them to feel safe and heard (Jean Gross 2022). The relationships we have with parents will shape how they feel about school, learning and the value of education. This will in turn, influence how our pupils feel and effect the tools they bring in their rucksack.

So, that early advice has stuck. Everybody in school needs to strive to be the consistent adult, building positive relationships with parents based on growth as a gateway to better outcomes for pupils. By getting the relationships right with parents, by getting the buy in from them in regard to the learning behaviours you desire in the classroom, we can work together to fill children’s rucksacks with the right tools.

* During this blog, I referred to parents as shorthand for the wider group of adults who may care for a child.


David Emerald (2005) About The Empowerment Dynamic – Center for The Empowerment Dynamic
Marc Rowland (2021) Addressing Educational Disadvantage
Jean Gross (2022) Reaching the Unseen Child

Other blogs of interest

EEF blog: Removing barriers to parental engagement
EEF blog: Promoting Positive Partnerships with Parents

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