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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher

Back-to-school content is usually focused on teachers and students, and as these two groups will have the largest workload ahead of them, that makes sense.

But for students, the ultimate support system is not an expert teacher, but an informed and supportive family. One of the most significant challenges facing formal education in the United States is the chasm separating schools and communities. The more informed a family is, the more seamlessly they'll connect to so many other edu-constructs, from extracurricular activities and tutoring to reading programs and school-related events.

While schools (hopefully) work to update themselves and the way students learn within them, many parents have to work with what's available to them. With the exception of in-depth content like Edutopia's guides, much of the "parent stuff" you'll find through Googling is decent enough, but it can be surface level or otherwise completely unrelated to process of learning. Some common examples:

  • "Ask them what they did today."
  • "Help them with homework."
  • "Help them with separation anxiety."
  • "Talk to them about their struggles."
  • "Get them a tutor."

But these kind of topical interactions aren't always enough, nor do they do anything at all to create transparency between schools and communities.

So, in pursuit of that transparency, below are some questions to better clarify what's happening in the classroom, and then help you decide on the kind of non-superficial actions you can perform at home to truly support the learning of your child. Many of the questions may seem a bit direct, but I don't know any teachers who would take offense to them. In fact, most of my colleagues would welcome the kind of added capacity that questions like these could lead to. Many of these questions are rarely the subject of parent-teacher interactions, but -- well, that's kind of the point.

Just don't ask them all at once. In fact, maybe pick two and hope for the best.

19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
  2. How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
  3. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  4. Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  5. How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  6. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  7. How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
  8. What can I do to support literacy in my home?
  9. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  10. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
  11. How do you measure academic progress?
  12. What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
  13. What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
  14. What are the best school or district resources for students and/or families that no one uses?
  15. Is there technology you'd recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
  16. What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
  17. How is education changing?
  18. How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
  19. What am I not asking but should be?

And when you get interesting or surprising answers to these questions, please share them in the comments section below.

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How to Get Parents Involved

Comments (29)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Angela's picture

Its funny because as a homeschool mom/teacher, I wouldn't think to challenge myself with these questions. I found myself learning some strengths and weaknesses in regards to my own classroom approach. I even got a little defensive in respect to how I define my educational system. It was a real reflective learning experience for myself and I encourage parents who have a roll in their child/ren's education, to do this as well. You will be surprised at how it turns out :)

(1)
Diana England's picture
Diana England
Director of Studies at a language school

I agree with Diane Kendall, and I'm not sure what #14 means, but they're good questions for me as a Director of Studies to bear in mind when talking to parents, and I may use dome of them as part of my teachers' orientation days to get them thinking about the type of information we should be giving parents. Thank you for this.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

Angela, I love that you used these as reflective questions! I admit that I found myself thinking about them both as a mom and as a teacher educator. Good questions push us to think in lots of ways, don't they?

Susanna's picture
Susanna
Charter school teacher's spouse & mother of 3.

Eileen,

It is apparent that you are passionate about your role in our children's education. I love the additional list that you've provided, because as you stated, not all parents would even know what they are asking. Ideally, the list you provided should be a start for everyone. If you can't get answers to these questions, there's something wrong.

The questions provided in the original blog might be better geared towards parents with a struggling child or older children...or just an over-achieving parent. ;) In order to find value in the answer, they need to do research to understand what they are really asking about first.

I've filed the original list and the list you provided, as I think both will be great tools for me in the future.
Onward & upward!

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Eileen Prior's picture
Eileen Prior
Exec Director at Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Thanks Susanna - I think you're right. If you don't know what question to ask, it is more than difficult to find the answer you want! Education jargon - just like every other sector's jargon - is pretty impenetrable and we certainly advise schools to work with their engaged parents to develop materials using clear, jargon-free language!

Keene_mom's picture

At first glance: The list of questions seems great BUT long.
On second glance: I would get rid of any 'ten dollar words' and break the list up. The last thing I want is for my child's teacher is to feel the need to be in a adversarial roll or that I am requesting them write a essay on their teaching philosophy and practice.

My Goal: I want to get questions answered but somehow also express my desire to support them through volunteer and monetary means. To this day it is a tight-rope we walk every year but when it comes to our children we are in it for the long haul. The list of questions are the best I (as a parent) have come across yet but I stand by my first & second glance notes.

cjcalifornia's picture

So if a parent asks 1-2 of these questions throughout the year, we're looking at a minimum of 8 parent-teacher conferences because these are not quick conversations, if the parent really wants accurate, thoughtful answers.

Keene_mom has the right idea.

lyndsaydayle's picture

As a fifth grade teacher in a new state and new district, I realize that I'm an unfamiliar face to my school's parent community, and that's scary. I initially read over these questions as a warm-up for upcoming parent-teacher conferences, and after seeing many comments here from parents who would love for their child's teacher to answer these all at once or one at a time in class newsletters, I knew my students' parents would agree. So this weekend I knocked out answers to every question here, left the draft over a night or two in case I wanted to back and change anything, and just sent the whole thing out last night. I've already gotten very positive feedback, and the parents seem very appreciative. It took four or five hours to knock the whole thing out, but I feel it was worth it. Thanks to the parents here who suggested answering these in an e-mail, from a teacher who is always looking for ways to improve herself and her parent relationships. It also made me step back and re-evaluate what I do in the classroom and why - if only I could get professional development credit for this, haha! Hopefully I can find a way to submit it as evidence on my annual evaluation. ;)

parenting's picture
parenting
Passionate about parenting

Very interesting. These questions are definitely helpful for me, the parent, to understand how my child is doing or learning, but I worry about them sounding accusatory or demanding, i.e. asking teachers to defend their teaching. I read in another blog before that teachers actually wanted questions such as:

"How are you (the teacher) doing?"
"Do you need any help?"
"Can I volunteer?"
"What can I do at home to complement your teaching?"

Basically, more about showing that the parent cared about teachers, not just their own children, type of questions, because they have enough parents questioning their teaching already.

What does the author think of this advice?

Susanna's picture
Susanna
Charter school teacher's spouse & mother of 3.

Eileen,

It is apparent that you are passionate about your role in our children's education. I love the additional list that you've provided, because as you stated, not all parents would even know what they are asking. Ideally, the list you provided should be a start for everyone. If you can't get answers to these questions, there's something wrong.

The questions provided in the original blog might be better geared towards parents with a struggling child or older children...or just an over-achieving parent. ;) In order to find value in the answer, they need to do research to understand what they are really asking about first.

I've filed the original list and the list you provided, as I think both will be great tools for me in the future.
Onward & upward!

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Angela's picture

Its funny because as a homeschool mom/teacher, I wouldn't think to challenge myself with these questions. I found myself learning some strengths and weaknesses in regards to my own classroom approach. I even got a little defensive in respect to how I define my educational system. It was a real reflective learning experience for myself and I encourage parents who have a roll in their child/ren's education, to do this as well. You will be surprised at how it turns out :)

(1)
Mathew's picture

I wonder at the tone and delivery of these questions. They can easily be heard in an attacking tone of voice which will do nothing to help create the sense of community and positive attitude towards togetherness that is beneficial. It is not a good idea to put your child's teacher on the defensive off the bat.

(1)
Eileen Prior's picture
Eileen Prior
Exec Director at Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Think some of these questions are good but they are worded from the perspective of an education professional, not from that of the average parent (as if there were such a thing!). Some of the previous comments highlight a range of positives as well as the challenges, so I won't rehearse them again.

Here are some of our alternative questions pulled together in the last hour or so, from our experience working with parents:

1. How does the school support my child's move from nursery/from primary, out of secondary school?
2. What will you do if my child is struggling - how will you let me know?
3. What is the school's bullying policy - does my child know what to do if they are being bullied?
4. How will I know if my child is being given homework?
5. What are the best ways to support my child with their homework?
6. If my child is falling behind in homework will you let me know?
7. Does my child seem happy at school?
8. Does my child have friends at school?
9. Do they get on well with their classmates?
10. Is there anything at school that seems to make them nervous/unsure?
11. Do you think they are keeping up with the work they are given?
12. What do you think are my child's strengths - in which subject do they do best?
13. Where do you think my child can improve?
14. How can I get to know what/how my child is learning in school?
15. How can I help them?
16. Who should I see if I am concerned about my child?
17. Will you contact me as soon as there is an issue/problem?
18. What clubs or groups are open to my child/are they involved in?
19. How are parents encouraged to be involved in the school community?

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Joshua's picture
Joshua
Parent; Lead Advocate at Rochester SAGE

I would also ask the flip side to #2: "How will you respond if or when my child excels beyond grade level in class?"

A child who is ahead of grade level in one or more subjects needs changes to the curriculum and instruction. It is not fair to that child if much of the year is review as they are there to learn, not just to get a good grade. It also robs them of their opportunity to struggle, which teaches positive habits and skills in working hard, overcoming obstacles, and responding to failure.

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Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger

A proactive teacher could take a list like this and answer them ahead of time, either all at once at the beginning of the year or one at a time through newsletters or classroom blog posts. Much of what my kids' teachers send home is the same stuff every week, with topics changed out (e.g., "This week we are studying ____________ and the homework is __________ and our specials are ___________."). If I knew that every week, questions like these would be answered, I would look forward to those newsletters!

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