School-family relationships in diverse Australia: Exploring the connections between a school and Afghan refugee parents

Year: 2019

Author: Azordegan, Jen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The lives of students from refugee backgrounds have been well documented in the international literature, including the multitude of challenges they face from interrupted schooling, the uprooting of their lives and family, personal traumas and acquiring a new language. While a growing body of studies have furthered the understanding of these challenges in the Australian education field, it is still a context in which refugee students are clearly struggling. However, despite research suggesting that parents could be instrumental to more effectively reaching this cohort of students, to date little has been known about how Australian schools are engaging refugee parents in their children’s education and school communities.

This presentation shares findings from a recent study which looked at how a state primary school in Queensland is engaging parents from an Afghan refugee background, one of Australia’s more marginalised refugee communities. Employing a comprehensive methodological and theoretical approach developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the study looked intensively at the relationship between educators and Afghan refugee parents in one school. Through interviews with school leaders, teachers, cultural support staff and Afghan parents, the study explored how parent engagement was being defined and approached by the participants. It also looked at how school-family relationships were established and experienced through strategies such as the use of bilingual teacher aides and an on-site community centre for newly arrived families.

Notwithstanding these innovative approaches to reaching parents from diverse backgrounds, the study produced several findings that are cause for reflection. This paper will review some of these concerns, including 1) the approach of school staff towards parent engagement, 2) the need to understand the backgrounds of parent cohorts in a school, 3) the opportunities inherent in the wealth of knowledge carried by cultural support staff, and 4) the importance of fully and carefully integrating new parent engagement approaches into the teaching culture and practices of a school. The paper also proposes a new template, adapted from the work of Allan Luke (2009), that facilitates a whole-school approach to parent engagement in culturally and linguistically diverse schools.

Ultimately, this in-depth exploration of the relationship between a school community and a highly marginalised refugee group sheds new light on the complexities of forging effective school-family relationships in diverse communities. It also offers insight into new ways to create more equitable school-family connections.