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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 (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Vera's picture

@Becky, it is interesting that you say one-sided dialogue because in some schools it appears that they want one-sided dialogue. In my son school. when I asked questions about curriculum; what is he doing a on daily basis, I was asked to google to find out possible questions and answers. Others questions were termed as not seeing the teachers as credible. In other words I could not get much answers from the dialogue. These are good questions but does it matter the questions or it is a matter of the educational level of the parent and the way in which they dialogue with the teachers? Not all parents are able to dialogue with these questions and not all teachers are trained to dialogue with these questions.

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning
Blogger 2014

These are great questions. I've asked some of these questions before, but now I have an expanded list :) Thanks. Some of these questions will tell much about classroom culture and teacher expertise. If some teachers respond negatively to some of the questions, as some of those who posted previously note, that is telling of the teacher's level of expertise and openness to being a learner. The good and great teachers can either answer the questions or are open to dialog to find the answers. Those who get defensive, tend to be because they feel exposed, and assume bad intentions from the parent.

The first 5 questions alone will speak volumes as to the learning experiences of a student. Would anyone want the responses to those questions be "I don't know", a vague response, or worse yet, a cold response? For my children, and therefore all students, I think not.

Thanks for the dialog this blog inspires.

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?

Diane Kendall's picture
Diane Kendall
Journalist specializing in educational technology and home/school tech

I love the idea of this list but I doubt very much if most teachers could answer many of these questions nor do I think most parents would understand what they are asking.

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger 2014

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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Lisa Maylee's picture
Lisa Maylee
I'm very interested in how motivation and communication effect education.

I like Jennifer's comment. It would be useful for a teacher to address these questions one at a time in a newsletter or blog post. As a parent you could also ask one at a time through an email and not be perceived as aggressive. Each question could lead to an informative exchange.

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 :)

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.

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger 2014

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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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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