Skip to main content

When a child comes home from school and shares their recollection about something that has happened during the day, the parent has the choice of three responses from which they may choose in dealing with their child’s concern.

The Formula: 3 + 3 + 3 + 5 + 2

The first option might be to contact the school staff and “explode”. This will not build a relationship between the school and the parents. In fact, it will break down the relationship. The second option is for the parents to say to the child; “Thanks very much, I believe your story but toughen up, and be more resilient”. This in effect is brushing the child aside. They’re not giving them the support and empowerment that they need and deserve. The third option is for the parents to listen to the child cautiously and then choose one of three responses, and then one of three questions which they should ask the school staff.

The first question is simply to ask the staff –

  1. “What happened at school?” regarding this particular matter. They would report what their child has said about the incident and they then give the school staff the opportunity to respond. At that point the parents will reflect as to the accuracy of both stories so that they can move forward supporting their child.
  2. The second question to use is – “What is the school’s policy, protocols or procedures regarding…… (whatever)?” With that information provided, they are in a position to judge whether or not the school followed the process and protocols or whether or not the school has let them down.
  3. The third question to use is – “What can we, as parents and teachers do in working together for my child’s education?” This highlights the need for collaboration. It highlights the importance of the parents and teachers working together and providing a common vision of education for the child.

Questions for the Parents 

When a parent comes and expresses some concerns to a teacher, the teacher can easily get defensive. If we are in a position to build a culture of trust and collaboration between parents and teachers, then I believe there are only three questions that teachers need to ask parents in response to any of the concerns.

The first question

Is simply “What do you need?” This means that the parents need to reflect upon the purpose as to why they are coming and having a conversation with the teacher and what they hope to achieve by having a conversation. As soon as the teacher asks the question “What do you need?” they are responding to the importance of the parents’ query. This adds value to the parents’ question, the parent feels that they are important, that their query is validated and that it will be addressed.

The second question

Teachers could ask parents is- “What do you imagine that would look like in our classroom or in our school?” So when a parent comes and asks for a request for something to be achieved or something to be done, and the teacher asks the parent “What you think that would look like?” it puts the emphasis back on the parent to try articulate the practical application for their query to be implemented in the classroom or school setting.

The Third Question

Teachers can ask parents is “Is there anything else you’d like to ask or say or tell me before we close the meeting?” This gives the parents the chance to reflect to ensure that their needs have been met and both parties can walk away content that they have been heard. It’s a simple technique which allows teachers to close off the conversation. It also allows the parents some closure.

As a parent, when you visit a school to make an enquiry, you can re-frame your questions around this model even if the teachers don’t use the questions to direct your conversation.

When a parent goes to their child’s school, they usually approach the teachers or the principal for one of five reasons. Once they are asked- “What do you need?” it helps them reflect on why they have gone to the school.

Why Would Parents Go to the School?

The first reason why parents go to school is to simply share information, good or bad. It might be to give information, to give praise, to simply to get something off their chest or to express their opinion. Once they have expressed their concerns about whatever, they’re happy.

The second reason parents may come to a school is to seek information, context or history. They just want to understand the history so that they get a better grasp of why the system exists and how long the system has existed. They are just seeking information, context or history.

The third reason parents may go to school may be to offer a solution. Parents may have expertise in a field that may add value to the school. The principal often calls upon parent expertise in an advisory capacity. This model is relevant when parents have a particular skill set that can benefit the school community.

The fourth reason may be that the parents are asking the school for a resolution or a solution to a particular issue. If the processes are reviewed and can be improved, then a solution may be possible. Solutions are not always possible or resolutions may not always give the parents their desired outcome. It is important to remember that principals and school leaders make decisions in the best interests of all (or the majority) of families and students.

Similar to the fourth reason, is the fifth reason parents may engage with schools – and that is to seek advice from staff. This model requires the parents to own the implementation of the advice. This highlights collaboration as the parents request advice from the staff, and then the parents act on it.

Sustainable and Realistic Responses

When teachers respond to any parent request, they should filter their response with these two criteria: is the response sustainable and realistic. If the teacher’s response meets these criteria then it may be a viable option. If the response desired by the parents from the teacher does not meet these criteria then it would be advisable to re-think the options. It may be necessary to revisit the first question from teacher to parents – what do you need? This may prompt the parents to re-think their desired outcomes.



  • Andrew Oberthur

    Andrew Oberthur is a primary school principal with over 30 years’ experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane. His first book, Are You Ready for School? is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and inquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available through Amba Press, Amazon and Booktopia.