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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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As a beginning teacher I knew that it was important to connect with parents and to build a positive relationship with them, but at times I wasn't sure how to do this. Within the first week of school I'd call all my student's parents or guardians, introduce myself, and share a little about what they could expect for their kids in my class that year.

In retrospect, I wish I'd asked more questions about their child and then listened more to what they had to say. After twenty years of experience and after sending my own child off to school, here are some questions I'd ask parents with the intention of building a partnership to support their child's learning.

1. What do you see as your child's greatest strengths or skills? Tell me about a time when you saw your child demonstrating these skills.

2. Next June, what do you hope your child says about his/her experience in school this year? What's the story you hope he/she would tell?

3. What was your experience like in this grade? How do you remember that year of school?

4. What are your fears or concerns about your child in this year of school?

5. How and when would you like me to be in touch with you this year? What do you hope I'd communicate with you about?

6. Is there anything else you can tell me about your child that you think would help me support his/her learning?

7. Is there a question you hope I'll ask you about your child?

While ideally teachers would be able to meet with every parent and have this kind of a conversation in person, I recognize that our schools are not aligned to this priority and we just don't have the time. I believe it's possible for teachers of self-contained classrooms to make phone calls to some 20-35 families -- and I know it's worth the effort. For middle and high school teachers, I wonder if these questions could be asked by phone over a period of time, or through email or paper surveys, or in some kind of innovative Back to School Night where parents shared their thoughts and feelings rather than teachers talking to parents.

I write this blog less from the stance of a teacher and more from my perspective as a mother. Although I have a great deal of experience in education, I still believe that my son's teacher will know him in ways that I may not, that his teacher will have expertise that I may not, and that I will need her and rely on her to help me son get the most out of his fifth-grade experience. I hope that she'll see me as a partner and I'm excited to meet her next month.

What ways do you partner with parents in the start of the year? What questions have you asked that you have found effective and beneficial? Please share in the comments section below.

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Elisse Ghitelman's picture

I am a high school teacher, and in all of my classes, I have parents and students fill out information sheets on my web site using a google form. I ask parents some of the same questions you do on the sheet and then, for back to school night, I ask them to write on a card one thing they're excited about for the student for the year, and one thing they're worried about. The google form is a great way to have both contact info and a little insight into the student and his/her family.
As a parent of a child who has special needs for whom I did a lot of advocating, I have come to realize that parents are the best experts on their kids and we do ourselves a disservice when we don't ask for their help and knowledge.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Editor & writer on teaching, learning, & education

Elena, I love that the questions will not only involve the parents but will also inform the teacher's teaching methodologies with each student. As a parent, I would really appreciate the teacher going to these lengths to reach out, involve me and most importantly show that she/he truly cares about the success of my child.
@cml I love the journal idea, I think it would also work to motivate both the parents and the students to do an activity together.

DiscoverECSL's picture
Professional development network for service learning educators, parents, administrators & organizations.

Alongside the meaningful questions for parents posed here, teachers can help build a reciprocal relationship with parents by finding out more about them. This lesson plan was designed for students but can be done with parents too. A "Personal Inventory" is sent home. Students interview parents about their interests, skills and talents. Students get to practice interview skills and teachers may find that parents have some authentic connections to the curriculum that can be tapped into during the year. It's a great way to see parents as part of the learning community that have something valuable to offer the classroom space. Students may even find out something they didn't know about their parents, too!


Jillien Lakatta's picture
Jillien Lakatta
4th grade teacher

I absolutely love these questions, thank you. I am a bit unclear about the last question, number 7. Would you be able to clarify this for me? Thanks!

Andrew Frishman's picture
Andrew Frishman
Director of Program Development at Big Picture Learning

Check out the newest Big Picture Learning videos on the 10 Student Expectations

This pair of videos in Spanish and English is focused on how parents can use the 10 Student Expectations as a frame to talk with teachers and administrators.

http://youtu.be/tS5ovt7Vx30 - Spanish
http://youtu.be/NtGAVMbKggM - English

sheela sridhar's picture

Right at the beginning of an academic year, how much will parents be committed to punctuality and regularity of their kids' attendance?

Parents- pupils- teachers is an important tripartite relationship. Have parents been regular in attending all school events and meetings with teachers? If not, will they make an effort to attend in this year?

If the school wishes to have a new improvised human value-integrated curriculum, how much would they support?

Education is for life - this means parents besides teachers must guide their kids with the ideals of life. Do they lead exemplary lives at home? In what way?

Kimberly Baer's picture

I really enjoy the timeliness of the articles on Edutopia. I use most of those questions in a paper format on the first day of school. With question number one, I add; In what style of learning does your child learn best, visual, hands on, listening, musically...? With question number four, I change it around to:What are your child's concerns about school? Additionally, it is helpful to know their afterschool activities and interests. I think I will add question number three to the list. Knowing parent's perspective on school will add a lot of information prior to the first conference. Parents' (and grandparents) schooling is completely different than the 21st century model we are trying to achieve. I liked your idea to ask the questions in a new, "innovative way". I thought about using Google forms or Survey Monkey. You could show them a way you might lead instruction with their student.

Melissa Gergen's picture

At my school, where I teach third grade, we have three days of back to school conferences before the first day of school. I meet with each family for 45 minutes. I go through info about my classroom, do an assessment with the child, help organize their school supplies, and have the opportunity to ask the parents questions and chat about their expectations. I've included a few of these 7 questions before, but am happy to be able to add some more good questions for this year! Thank you for the great ideas!

Amy Masters's picture

I love the idea of asking parents these questions, and more so, having the kids get the parents involved with an interest inventory as well. At the beginning of each school year I always struggle with ways to build more communication with parents. I teach special education, and there are times I have not even been able to get a hold of a parent or guardian to set up and review the student IEP. I look forward to using theses questions this school year, and hopefully it helps me bridge the gap between school and home.

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