When a parent goes to their child’s school, they usually approach the teachers or the principal for one of four reasons. So 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 four 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, and any manner of topics about which schools are involved. I’m going to give you some examples about each of the four questions in a couple of different context, to see if we can prove that there are one of four reasons why parents come to school to address the staff.
The first reason why parents go to school and might be simply to vent. It might be simply to get something off their chest; to say their piece of mind and once they have expressed their concerns, they’re happy.
Let me give you an example. Mum comes to the principal’s office ranting and raving about the inefficiency at the school car parking processes, and the fact that she’s late every day for work because the children can’t get dressed on time 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 carpark operates and I can’t do anything about it. I just wanted to get it off my chest. Thanks, I feel much better. 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.
Let’s follow through the car park scenario with the other three 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 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, so they are just seeking information. The principal provides that information. The parents thank the principal, now they understand the rationale why the car park operates the way it does. Once again this an example of the parents purely seeking information.
The third reason parents might go to school to talk to the principal or a teacher may be to offer a solution. Parents ask the principal “How long has this car park been an operation and do you mind if I make a suggestion about ways we can improve it?” The principal shares the information regarding the history of the car park situation and Mum and Dad say that they have given it some thought and would the principal mind if they offered a suggestion that the school might like to try. The parents are simply offering a solution and sharing information with the principal, having heard the history and the context of that issue.
The fourth reason might be that the parents are asking the school for a resolution or a solution to the particular problem. So if it happens to be the car park issue again and parents are being late for work every time they drop their child off because they’re in peak hour traffic, in the pick-up queue or the drop off line and they are late for work – they go to the principal and ask what can be done about it. This is seeking a resolution or a solution to their particular problem.
So when they express that, the principal might suggest they come to school 10 minutes earlier, or if they start carpooling with neighbours in your community, then they might not have to join the car park line on their trip, and they will be on time and they won’t be late for work. So they’re coming to seek a resolution and a solution for a particular problem.
So let me go over those four reasons why parents come to school to engage with the staff. I suggest there are four reasons. One – they’re coming to simply 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 and to support the school in its endeavour. Four all they’re coming for a resolution or some advice about how they can solve a problem.
Let’s use those same four reasons why people come to school and let’s talk about an educational issue. Now if their child is not performing well at school, then the parents can choose one of those four reasons as to why they’re going to come and have a conversation with the teacher about their child’s academic progress.
If they come to vent, it might just better get off their chest their disappointment at their child’s progress, the disappointing attitude of their child.They know the school is doing all they can but they just have to say something about it – blah blah blah blah blah and they walk away happy, knowing that they have to continue the tough educational journey with their child.
If they’re coming to seek information, it might be how long has this exam regime or this monitoring system been in place to track child’s progress. In this case they are simply seeking information from the school about the history of the current practice or protocol that exists within the school regarding monitoring academic progress of children, as an example.
It might be time for the parents to make a suggestion if they’re child’s not performing up to expectation or they’re having difficulty understanding how their child is tracking. The parents may ask the school for regular information about the Australian curriculum that week can track and monitor and support the teacher’s endeavours with teaching our child. They’re offering a suggestion that they can support the school.
And finally if parents want a resolution to the child’s progress, then they are specifically asking the teacher what will the teacher do to support the child’s learning development, and what can they, as parents can do to work with the teacher to support their child learning development. So they’re actually asking the teacher for some advice, for a resolution and a solution so that they can support their child learning journey and hopefully their child’s improving academic progress.
Finally once again what are the four reasons why parents come to school? One – is to vent. Two – is to understand the context, to seek information. Three – is to offer a solution, or some advice, or some ideas for the school. Four – is to seek advice, and get a resolution, or a solution for the welfare of the child or for the good of the whole school community.
I would encourage teachers and principals to simply ask the question – what does the parent need when they come in 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 always easy but it’s worth the journey – good luck.
Contributor: Andrew Oberthur
Andrew Oberthur is the father of two teenagers and a primary school principal with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane.
In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year? which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website www.creativecollaborativesolutions.net
He has been on ABC Brisbane radio a few times this year, as well as doing podcasts for PakMag.