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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.

(1)
How to Get Parents Involved

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

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

This is a *very* comprehensive list! As a mom, I certainly want to know the answers, but as an educator I'd wonder about how to go about asking them in the context of a typically brief parent/ teacher meeting. I think I'd be more likely to look for evidence of the answers in my kids' homework, in the things that they talk about when the come home, and the things I observe when I'm in the building (I'm lucky in that both of my kids' schools are fairly open and welcoming to parents). I'm often surprised about how much I can learn by just keeping my eyes open.

To this list, though, I'd add one question: "What do you need?" I'm amazed at how often teachers need things like supplies and assistance with managing book orders along with other clerical tasks that I can easily take on. By making sure that they know I'm willing to be part of the team, I build relationships that open the door for asking these kinds of questions.

Excellent post Terry- lots of stuff to think about here!

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.

(2)
Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

It is so important to open up a dialogue between parent and teacher. Thanks for this great list. As a teacher, I tried to communicate with parents as much as possible in order to keep them updated and informed. Unfortunately, with so many students (I was a K-6 music teacher), it was hard maintain this type of one-sided conversation. I would love it if more parents asked questions, inquired about the curriculum, and wanted to find out ways to extend the learning at home.

Linda Kardamis's picture
Linda Kardamis
middle school math teacher in Ohio - I blog at www.teach4theheart.com

These are some great questions to get conversations going. I really like #18 in particular.

But I do notice that a lot of these questions are more about what the teacher is doing in the classroom instead of what the parent is doing at home. I think (and I can tell you think too) that parents should be very involved in their kids' education. And just making sure the teacher is doing a good job isn't enough. I think more questions along the lines of #8 can really help parents and teachers develop a great dialogue and come up with some great solutions.

Erick Williams's picture

Great list, especially now that I have my son in my own geography class. After reading the article, I asked myself some of these questions and responded rather incoherently. This would be a great list to revisit when I am retooling over the summer. Imagine if teacher evaluations were formed around these questions?

Sharonne Navas's picture

As much as I appreciate the exhaustive list of questions, I'm curious as to how a parent with limited English language proficiency, limited education or lack of understanding of the educational system is supposed to ask these questions and understand the answers?

As someone who has sat with parents who don't speak english or don't have but a 3rd grade education themselves (if they are educated at all) I don't know how I would translate these questions let alone the answer to several of these questions.

I think these questions are great. But I also think that these aren't questions that would resonate with parents who aren't of a certain level of education.

I'm concerned about the assumptions these questions make about the parents making them. As well as the teachers being asked.

Dana Melvin's picture
Dana Melvin
Third grade teacher, American School in Japan

Since I just completed a full day of conferences where I talk to each parent for fifteen minutes, I am wondering about the feasibility of this question list. Responsible teachers try to post up the answers to these questions on blogs or websites so they don't have to have the same generic conversation twenty times in a row. In my experience most parents want to know if their child is socially and emotionally adjusted to school. They want to know if their child is significantly struggling in a specific area of study. I believe conversations with parents should be individualized. They mostly want to see that you know their child and you care. In the modern age, we often loose the child behind "the curriculum."

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I love the list of questions, but we need to find a good forum in which to ask them. The hecticness at back to school night, particularly, may not be the best time to bring these things up, even if many parents want to know the answers.

Also, I think you have to ask the questions is a way that makes you look like a classroom partner, not a critic. Teachers often feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year, and from a parent's point of view, the last thing I want them to think of me at first blush is that I'm "one of those parents" or a "helicopter parent" even if my intent is to be involved, understand their philosophy and goals for the students during the year, and find ways to help. On back to school night in particular, I try to make sure each teacher knows who I am, who my child is, and that I am looking for ways to help make his or her job as easy as possible, and isn't complicated any more than necessary by my kids in particular.

So I guess my question to the group is- How and when do we ask these questions in a way that promotes sharing and communication, and not a cross examination or criitic mode that might put teachers on edge?

Maureen Milton's picture

I found these questions useful to ask oneself as a teacher. A colleague in teacher education will also use some of these questions with her apprentice teachers.

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