Thursday, 25 August 2016

Don't ask your kids "How was school today?"

During the past twenty years of my teaching career, communicating with parents has become increasingly easier. In part, this is because experience has made me better at it. However, it is also because there are more quality online tools (and more parents who have access to communication technology).

Class Dojo is perfect for my Junior aged classroom and teachers in primary classes are exploring online portfolios through SeeSaw. Intermediate and Senior teachers find utility in programs like Edmettle or Remind.

However, invariably, the dreaded telephone call is a necessary means to an end. I do try to sprinkle in sunshine calls throughout the year to celebrate student achievements but, that is usually covered by my daily Class Story picture and update on Class Dojo. So, if I am calling home - it is probably to help problem solve a situation that, despite our best efforts, the student and I have not been able to resolve on our own.

Sometimes, the parent is expecting the phone call. That is always a relief and typically expedites the problem solving process. More often, parents are surprised by the phone call. That is not an indictment of their parenting - I get it - life is busy for all of us. Furthermore, it is my responsibility to keep them informed about their student’s progress. When I do reach a parent who is unaware of a problem, I frequently hear the following statement…

“I ask him every day - “How was school?” and he always says “Good.”

I can relate to their concerns. They feel they have been duped. Parents, like all of us, lead busy lives and they rely on their children to keep them informed about the day-to-day events at school. A blanket statement like “How was school?” is a parent’s way of quickly checking in.

I offer the following advice. Banish that statement.

It affords a child a one word response and, in the event that things are not going well, they escape the conversation and continue to fly under the radar. I’ll admit, I used the same tactic with my parents when they questioned me 30+ years ago - especially when I went through my skip classes to hang out at the mall phase in Grade 12.

Instead, may I offer these ten probing questions that you can ask your child. Each requiring a deeper, more meaningful response.

1./ What are you learning in math this week? Is it easy or hard? Can you give me an example of a question and show me how you solve it?

2./ What skills or games are you learning in gym? What do you like about them? What would you change to make them better?

3./ Is your teacher reading a book aloud to you this week? What book is it? Tell me about the story?

4./ Tell me about the last thing you wrote for your teacher? What made it easy or hard? Can you show it to me?

5./ Are you doing any science these days? Can you tell me three facts you learned in science?

6./ Are you doing any social studies these days? What is the coolest new thing you learned?

7./ Who did you have lunch with today? Tell me about your favourite friends at school? Is there anyone you are having trouble getting along with?

8./ What would you like your teacher to change? Is there something that could be done better? Do you want to write to them about it? I’ll help you with it.

9./ Have you been working on any drama, dance or art lately? Are you learning a new song to play or sing?

10./ Can you teach me 5 new words you have learned in French?

If you find that, on a regular basis, you can not get a good, quality response from your student. It is time to contact the teacher. There are a host of reasons why this may be the case and a meeting with your child and the teacher will get to the root of it quickly.

A final, additional benefit is this type of conversation is that it helps your student crystallize his understanding of new information learned at school. If he is asked to summarize facts or demonstrate skills from the day and explain them in detail - he is more likely to retain the information in the near future.

Here are the questions in a printable version that is perfect for hanging on the fridge. Good luck. Have a great year!


  1. Excellent! I am guilty of the "how was school" question. I have often tried to probe deeper, but these sound like tried and true questions. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for taking time to comment. It is an easy habit for parents and student to slip into because "feathers never get ruffled" and confrontation is always avoided. Most kids are not hiding anything - but they do benefit from deeply examining their day on a regular basis.

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