“How is my kid doing?”
That’s a common first question parents ask during parent-teacher conferences, observed LaWanda Toney, co-host of National PTA’s Notes from the Backpack podcast. But, she asked, Is it the right question?
Well, it depends on what you want to know.
In all likelihood, parents could ask more probing questions to get a fuller understanding of how their child is doing.
The Right Question Institute’s co-director, Luz Santana, was a guest on the podcast in October, and she spoke about ways parents can ask better questions about their children’s education and build stronger partnerships with schools and teachers.
Santana spoke with Toney and Helen Westmoreland, the podcast’s other co-host.
“I think, ‘How is my child doing?’ can go deeper,” Santana said, “because you want to learn more than that. You want to know if the child is making progress, is meeting the expectations, is learning at the level that he or she should be learning.”
National PTA produces Notes from the Backpack once a week to discuss topics related to family engagement in schools. It includes advice and perspectives from parents, educators, and experts in the field.
Santana spoke about working with parents to build the skill of formulating and asking questions. It’s something some parents may find intimidating, especially if English isn’t their first language.
“I think the important thing here is for the parents to get that license and to feel it is okay to ask questions regardless of the outcome,” Santana said.
In the end, when parents are interacting with educators and asking questions, “it becomes an agenda for working together,” she said. And it’s best to establish these lines of communication early, before problems or issues arise.
When there is a problem or issue, using questions as a line of communication can often help make the experience less emotional and more productive. “The bottom line is [parents] want the best for their children,” Santana said. “They want the school to be able to help the child. And they want to play a role as well.”
Visit the Right Question Institute’s school-family partnerships page to find free tools.
In 2020, the Right Question Institute aims to engage 1 million low-income people who traditionally don’t vote. Learn more.