Building Parent School Partnerships

Building Parent School Partnerships

When a parent goes to a school they usually approach the teachers or the principal for one of five reasons. When the teacher or principal asks the very first question after a parent has expressed their issue the first question should be “What do you need?” Now once that question is asked it helps the parents reflect on why they have gone to the school. I’m going to suggest there are five reasons why parents choose to go to school and have a conversation with the teachers or with the principal.

Keep in mind parents go to school to discuss a whole range of different topics from education, to parenting advice, to car park dramas, to fund raising issues, to any manner of topics that schools are involved with. I’m going to give you some examples about each of the three questions in a couple of different context just to see if we can prove that there are one of five reasons why parents come to school to address the staff.

The first reason why parents go to school and might be simply to share some information or to vent. It might be simply to get something off their chest, to say their piece and once they have expressed their concerns about whatever, they’re happy. Let me give an example. Mum comes to the principal’s office ranting and raving about the inefficiency at the school car park and the fact that she’s late everyday for work because the children can’t get dressed on time and she enters the car park when it’s really busy and it’s causing her undue stress. The principal asks “What do you need?” Mum’s response is “Nothing I know it’s the way the school runs I can’t do anything about it just want to get it off my chest. Thanks – I feel much better, I’m fine, I’ll go to work now see you later.” That is an example of a parent just wanting to vent get something off their chest just needing to express their concerns about whatever the topic is in this case the car park. Similarly parents may just contact school to say their child is sick and will be absent from school. They are simply sharing information. This the first reason for engaging with schools.

Let’s follow through the car park scenario with the other four reasons why parents might come to a school. The second reason mum and dad might come to a school is to seek information. So mum and dad turn up to discuss with the principal how long has this car park pick up process has been in operations. 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. The principal provides that information and the parents say thanks as they understand the rationale why car park operates the way it does. Once again this an example of the parents purely seeking information.

The third reason mums and dads might go to school to talk to the principal or a teacher may be to offer a solution. Parents may understand how long this car park procedures have been in place and believe they have an idea about how to improve the procedures. At this point they may ask if they may make a make a suggestion about ways we can improve it. The principal feeds the information regarding the history of the car park situation and Mum and Dad say we’ve given it some thought and would you mind us offering this suggestion. Here are our plans that you might like to try. Mum and Dad are simply offering a solution and sharing information with the principal having heard the history and the context of that issue. This model is particularly relevant when parents have a[articular skills set that can benefit the school community. It is also a reason why parents may be invited to join School Boards, as they bring expertise to the table.

The fourth reason might be that the parents are asking the school for a resolution or a solution to the particular problem. If the problem happens to be the car park procedures contributing for mum and dad being late for work every time they drop their child off because they are in peak hour traffic and they go to the principal and ask what can be done about it. The principal may review the processes, especially if the problem is common amongst a few parents. 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. The principal also has the ‘big picture’ in mind, whereas the parents only hve to worry about their children.   This is seeking a resolution or a solution to their particular problem. In this scenario they are coming to seek a resolution and a solution for a particular problem.

Similar to the fourth reason is the final reason parents may engage with schools – and that is to seek advice from staff. Following the car park scenario, the parents may specifically ask the principal how best to manage their arrival processes. When they express this issue to the principal, the principal might suggest if they come to school 10 minutes earlier there may not be an issue or if they start carpooling with neighbours in their community, then they might have to join the car park line on your trip and they would be on time and they won’t be late for work.

Let me go over those five reasons why parents come to school to engage with the staff. One – they’re coming to simply share information, vent get something off their chest. Two – they’re coming to seek information it might be the history or the context as to why something already exists. Three –  they’re coming to offer a suggestion or solution and to support the school in its endeavours. Four – they’re coming for a resolution or solution to a problem. And finally five –  parents come and seek some advice about how they can solve a problem.

Let’s use those same five reasons why people come to school and let’s talk an educational issue now. If their child is not performing well at school and the teachers can choose one of those five reasons as to why they’re going to come and have a conversation with the teacher about their child’s academic progress.

If the parents come to share or vent it might just better get off their chest the disappointment at their child’s progress the disappointment in their child’s attitude. They know the school is doing all they can but they just have to say something about it, and so they express their feelings, and they walk away happy knowing that they have to continue the tough educational journey with their child.

If the parents coming to seek information it might be how long has this exam regime or this monitoring tool system been in place to track child’s progress. They are simply seeking information from the school to understand the school’s history or context about a current practice or protocol that exists within the school regarding monitoring progress, as an example.

It might be time for a suggestion for the school (Please note parents – it is always wise to ask the staff if they are okay with the parents offering an idea). If their child is not performing up to expectation or they’re having difficulty understanding how their child is tracking, they may ask the school for regular information about the Australian curriculum that they can track and monitor and support the teacher’s endeavours with teaching their child. The parents are offering a suggestion that they can support the school.

Seeking a solution to a child’s progress is a priority for many parents. Hence parents may ask the teachers what they are going to do to ‘fix’ the child’s learning. Parents trust the teachers to know the curriculum and know how to teach and therefore trust the teachers to have strategies to rectify some learning issues for a child. Individualised strategies are the goals for teachers and students. A challenge for all teachers but their responsibility.

Finally, Mum and Dad may want advice as to how they can support their child’s progress. They may be asking the teacher for ideas as to what they, the parents, can do to work with the teacher to support their child learning development. They are actually asking the teacher for some advice for resolution and a solution so that they can support their child learning journey hopefully their Child’s improving academic progress.

Once again what are the five reasons why parents come to school. One – is to share or vent. Two – is to understand the context or to seek information. Three – is to offer a solution or some advice or some ideas for the school. Four is get a resolution or a solution for the welfare of the child or for the good of the whole school community. And finally parents may engage to seek advice from the school staff.

I would encourage teachers and principals to simply ask the question what does the parent need when they come in to have a conversation with a member of staff. Once the parent can articulate what they need then the teacher or the principal is in the position to understand the rationale for visiting and hence can tailor their response to meet the parents’ needs understand the context as to why they’re there. It’s not easy but it’s worth the journey. Good luck!


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