What A Parent Wants From A School

As a parent, I look for two categories of attributes when choosing a school for my child:
– Ones which benefit my child directly
– Ones which benefit my child indirectly, by helping others (teachers, parents) do their jobs more effectively

Schools that satisfy more of the attributes in both categories are likely to have happier parents and more successful students.

The Administration and Teachers Should Help My Child

Directly By:

  • Being aware of history. Before the start of each school year, my child’s current teacher(s) should have reviewed all of
    – last years’ teacher comments for my child
    – my child’s transcript (all courses, all years at the school)
  • Helping my child to both pursue existing passions and discover new ones.
  • Being passionately interested in your subject(s) and, hopefully, engaging my child.
  • Teaching my child the skills needed to master the subject, as well as the subject itself.
  • Helping my child find connections between their course’s topics and those of other courses.
  • Guiding my child to discovering connections and insights “on their own”.
  • Challenging my child appropriately: not too easy, not too hard.
  • Celebrating my child’s successes, and helping them understand why they succeeded.
  • Being objective and supportive about my child’s weaknesses, then providing guidance and structure to help them improve.
  • Helping my child learn to meet deadlines and expectations, while being flexible when circumstances warrant.

Indirectly By:

  • Communicating my child’s progress in all classes to me at least once per month (brief comments, or grade point average, or both, or alternating between the two).
  • Assessing my child’s effort separately from their academic achievement. Does a “B” mean they were not doing their best work, or that they did not fully understand the material, or perhaps a bit of both?
  • Providing transcript information to teachers and parents in an easily digestible format. My preference is for courses shown vertically and sorted by department then year, with each year’s grades in a separate column horizontally.
  • Being honest: optimism about my child’s potential is good, but objectivity about the present is critical.
  • Communicating to parents what is expected of my child on each significant assignment at school, so that I can re-enforce those expectations at home.
  • Telling parents what role(s) you wish them to play: should I let the school detect work that is less than my child is capable of and set consequences, or should I actively review my child’s work and understanding frequently, or something in between?
  • Making it easy for parents (and students) to see when work was assigned, and when it is due (on the Internet?). If my child is being vague with me at home, I need this information to determine if and when I should intervene in some way.
  • Having all parent and student communications reflect current information (less than several days old). It is hard to influence a child’s behavior if they do not see an immediate potential benefit. Timely communication about work in progress or an event that just occurred is much more useful than communication about work that has been completed, or events from last week.
  • Including all of my child’s teachers on distribution lists for all teacher comments. Learning where a student is doing well may help other teachers to better engage my child, and learning where a student is struggling may give other teachers ideas on how to better support my child or indirectly help them find success.


Some of the items on the above lists can be implemented independently by a teacher. Others (such as sending comments to all of a student’s teachers, or e-mailing grades/comments home to parents monthly) will be much less time consuming for a teacher if the school has a website or automated e-mail tool in place to handle them. Yet others (such as effort grades) might require the full support of the Administration to implement.

All of the items above will contribute to my satisfaction with the school as a parent. Schools are NOT just about students and teachers. Effective schools need to involve parents and the community as well. I wish schools would spend more time educating their parents than they do, so that parents with an interest have the information needed to be part-time educational partners with the school.

Increasing the frequency and openness of parent communication to achieve such goals can also help a community begin to address other issues, such as student activity over-scheduling,  too-frequent class time interruptions due to performance-based activities (sports, drama, music, art, etc.), negative consequences of student cliques, etc. Such issues can grow worse when parents make decisions based primarily on information from their child, because there has not been much information exchanged with the school and/or other parents. Schools can be a wonderful catalyst for getting discussions about such topics going, particularly when they have already set the stage with open, effective, and frequent communication with parents about their child’s academic performance.

By Whit Ford

Math tutor since 1992. Former math teacher, product manager, software developer, research analyst, etc.

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