The school-family nexus: Findings from the teachers as health workers project

Year: 2016

Author: Enright, Eimear, Johnson, Rebecca, Macdonald, Doune, McCuaig, Louise, Rossi, Tony

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

INTRODUCTION Schools are being positioned as critical in the promotion of young people's health and well-being. Youth health and what children learn about their health is influenced, however, not only by what happens at school, but also by the degree to which parents and schools are mutually supportive of each other's goals. This paper will draw on data from an Australian study that seeks among other things, to understand the school-family health nexus, including the extent and nature of teachers' communication with parents and their confidence in doing this health work. METHOD Through this project we engaged with 12 schools and approximately 800 teachers across Queensland. The schools were a balance of primary and secondary in metropolitan and regional locations. Mixed-method data collection included document analysis, questionnaires and case studies. Two underpinning theoretical frameworks are Bourdieu's concepts of field and practice to locate and understand teacher's work, and Foucault's notion of biopolitics to understand how it is individuals and populations come to comply with or resist responsible citizenship. FINDINGS Across school systems, the investment by teachers in communicating with parents averaged over one hour weekly in both government and non-government schools. Responses suggested that teachers had a very high or high (85.7%) sense of the importance of communicating with parents while the satisfaction teachers derived from this communication (66.4%) was more measured as was their sense of expertise in doing so (64.7%). Qualitative data revealed that while some teachers spoke about shared stewardship and the importance of working well together with parents to improve health outcomes for young people, a significant number of teachers spoke about the costs associated with 'parenting parents'. CONCLUSION Findings raise significant questions around the school-family health nexus and whether and how teachers and parents can be better supported to undertake health work in partnership.