10 things parents should unlearn…

“We need to educate the parents.”

I’ve heard that statement three times in the past week alone. Once was while discussing the purpose of student portfolios. The second was in the context of making our PYP exhibition more student led, focusing more on the learning than the presentation. The third related to student led conferences. Apparently most parents want time to discuss their children’s learning without the learner present.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the parents. They need to be partners in their children’s learning and we need to find ways to make this possible and meaningful. But many parents base their opinions on the only model of education with which they are familiar… their own schooling. Even if they are young parents, I’d like to hope schooling has changed since they went to school.

10 things I think (some) parents should unlearn…

1.  Learning is best measured by a letter or a number.

2. Product is more important than process and progress.

3. Children need to be protected from any kind of failure.

4. The internet  is dangerous for children.

5. Parents and teachers should discuss students without the learner present.

6. Homework is an essential part of learning.

7. The school is responsible for the child’s entire education.

8. Your child’s perspective is the only one.

9. Learning looks the same as when you went to school.

1o. Focus on (and fix) your child’s shortcomings, rather than their successes.

I won’t elaborate at the moment, as I’d rather have your input. As a teacher and/or a parent, which ones do you agree with? Disagree? Challenge? Question?

One of the most visited posts on this blog was 10 things TEACHERS should  unlearn. Take a look at that one too.  It was written two years ago – Does it need an update?

63 thoughts on “10 things parents should unlearn…

  1. Great list!!!
    I’m really thinking hard about #5 (Homework) at the moment. I am finding it increasingly more effective to offer a number of choices about home learning, rather than any traditional forms. I hope that the internet will be our saviour here. With Wonderopolis, blogs, writers clubs, mathletics et al, I’m leaning towards letting the kids choose what they do at home. The challenge is ensuring engagement and balance…..
    Great list – has me thinking.


      1. After doing away with homework, the nicest comment I received from a parent was her thanks. She said that her son has never had time to just play with friends on weeknights before because of homework, and now he’s having so much more fun and developing social skills.


      2. As a teacher who doesn’t really agree with homework and now a parent with a child who should be doing homework… I totally agree with the need to rethink what/why/how and when we do homework.
        I’d rather my daughter came home and played, helped me cook dinner, read her books that she loves… not sat at a desk and did more homework.


        1. All great points. Homework is an unleveled playing field which blurs what kids actually know while often wrecking the student teacher relationship (and over time, the students perception of school). Further, research has evidenced it to be ineffective in elementary & junior high. Only already mastered concepts should be sent home as essentially optional practice. Homework to teach responsibility is always a myth, and arguably not the schools job. Being on sports teams & having after school jobs better teach students accountability and responsibility and are at all time lows due to insane amounts of homework. Play and family time are seriously compromised for the same reasons. Homework is bad practice.


  2. These are all discussion points we have had at my school following SLCs in late May, end of (our) last school year. They will be discussed again for sure amongst teachers. We have a committee set up to look at homework this coming year, so that will be interesting. Our admin have some of these discussions ongoing with our Parents Advisory Committee too. But you are absolutely right, a large part of our job is to help parents unlearn!


    1. Hi Lindy

      I’d love to hear your committee’s findings on homework. I’ve never been a fan. Unless thinking and talking about your learning counts. Yes, I know… I’m a primary school teacher. I’ll be shouted down by high school educators. 🙂


      1. Not this one! I teach high school math. I find homework to bore the ones that are doing well and puts the ones that struggle two steps back. It creates a bigger divide. When I use my minutes well, and train the kids from day one that we work “bell to bell” achievement goes up and homework is not necessary.

        It was great when I was confronted and I began giving homework again that I was able to show with test scores that homework was not necessary for success.


  3. Great list, love them all, no 6 re homework is especially interesting to me as a parent and teacher, have a long held hate of the structured, maybe worksheet type, like the suggestions Richard left, making it fun and authentic to their style of learning and interaction is important i think.


  4. What I notice most is, for lack of a better term, double-speak. Parent don’t mean to do this. It’s like you said, we should consider ways to help them learn what we do and why we do it.

    – “Your child’s perspective is the only one” and “Parents and teachers should discuss students without the learner present”

    – “The school is responsible for the child’s entire education” and “Homework is an essential part of learning”

    – “Focus on (and fix) your child’s shortcomings, rather than their successes” and “Children need to be protected from any kind of failure”


  5. Thanks for the invitation to challenge as that I must. apart from a few points, most of the points are valid….as the opposite end of a spectrum, yes a spectrum, because life is rarely black and white.

    point 1 – there are companies (big ones) that boil down performance to a number, and remuneration can be affected accordingly. Some parents know this, too. It may be unfair and unrealistic to do so but it definitely exist.

    point 2 – product can be really important, sometimes at the expense of process and progress. For example, in construction, projects could be delayed or change their processes to ensure that the product (say bridge) meets the required quality (think safety, for example).

    point 3 – some children do need protection, perhaps not all the time, but when they are particularly vulnerable. I know at least 2 teens who are in this space right now (very sad).

    point 4 – there are dangers with the internet, even for adults….sometimes, not entirely our own fault.

    point 5 – a parent of a troubled teen told me she’d rather not have her son around on parent-teacher nights so he didn’t have to hear “what’s wrong with him” consecutively.

    point 6 – there are households where homework is the only window for parents into their child’s learning.


    I think the main theme is that “it depends” or the context. People are so complex – and that makes us interesting – and unraveling this complexity takes time and effort. so for me, it’s not about unlearning the above as if they’re bad habits but to learn that these are true (or false) depending on the context…usually.

    Oh, to discuss this face-to-face!!!



    1. I knew you’d make the conversation interesting!!
      As always, I have been deliberately provocative in presenting the statements as broad generalizations 😉
      You are right, as with everything, it depends on the context.
      But you do have to agree that parents are often limited by the fact that the only view they have of school is the way it looked in their own day…. So they might well need to unlearn some stuff and be educated… Yes?

      Face to face is set for November, is it not?


      1. not only view because of the prevalence of media and ubiquity of technology. Seriously, there are parents who are starting to question the use of tech (or lack thereof).

        IWBs, virtual conferences, telecommuting – these were all used in business at least a decade before schools did. Parents have views other than the experience they have had at school. Also, with a multi-cultural society, these experiences aren’t all the same.

        and yes, November!!!!


        1. It’s funny though, that despite all that, I assure you (even in a privileged school!) many parents have a very old fashioned view of what school should be like.
          Just to counter a few of your arguments…
          Of course there are times when the teacher and parent might need to talk without the child present. At my school, there are many opportunities for this and teachers are expected to call parents regularly. But in general terms, why shouldn’t the learner himself be included in a discussion about HIS learning?
          Re ‘product’… I’m not talking about bridges, I’m talking about learning. I’d like to hope a parent cares as much about the progress his child has made as about the final test.
          All children need protection. Of course. That wasn’t the point! I’m talking about the value of trying and failing in order to learn…..
          November- How long will we have?!


  6. Interesting post Edna – I have forwarded it to all staff at my school. It will be interesting to see if they follow up. One has emailed me and said that some need tweaking so I’m looking forward to a conversation with her this week. We don’t do that often enough in my opinion. I hadn’t quite seen the connections between some points as Janet did – isn’t it wonderful to be encouraged to see things from a different perspective? I do agree with Malyn though that sometimes these points are contextual.
    I don’t agree with homework for the sake of it but, at least for pur upper primary students, I think that certain homework serves a purpose. It can instigate a discussion with parents or other members of the family, it can allow the student to teach their parents or siblings a new skill, or consider an idea or opinion, or it can serve as a way for some students to investigate a variety of strategies to help with time management.
    We have some wonderful parents who are very supportive of their child’s learning but who can also seriously question the use of technology, collaboration with others, use of blogging etc, and, I think you’re right, much of this is related to the fact that they learned in a different way and they were successful with that model.
    Sorry for rambling!


    1. I love the ‘rambling’! I admit to sometimes (deliberatelty ) over simplifying in order to get the conversation going. Would love to hear what your staff think!


  7. It’s a good list as a series of discussion points. What I’d now like to see is some of these converted to the positive where necessary, together with a brief explanation of why they need to be said.

    For example, to make the generalised statement that the internet is not dangerous for children is a bit like saying that handling loaded guns is not dangerous for children. It depends on how children are educated in handling them – or the internet. Does it mean supervised or not, and if so, to what extent? I have seen a number of children shattered by what they came across on the net. Seriously damaged.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think all of them, with explanation where required, make very good sense.


  8. The list is thought provoking. As a high school math teacher, I gave pause on the homework, more fancifully known as elaborate rehearsal. But, I’m willing to explore any options that will engage my students. I will stay tuned.


  9. For # 10 I would include the word “strengths” and as far as homework is concerned both students and parents need to understand the life-lesson of responsibility to complete a task.


  10. I think I might add that parents need to let go of the idea that the teacher is the ‘professional’ and therefore has all the answers. – Parents are usually the experts on their children.


  11. That is a great list, I am a bit unsure about question number 6 as it is questionable. I think the way it is worded though, as traditional homework is not essential. It is important that you have learning expanded and applied, practiced and connected to other ideas. However, this can be done in a large number of ways.

    I like Denis Wrights idea of creating a positive list of things for parents and teachers to know.


  12. I would amend the homework one. Some is extremely helpful, a large amount is unnecessary. After 4 1/2 years in education, I continue to find that the students who do the homework understand the material better & score higher on tests. The one who procrastinate & turn it in after the test always tell me “I wish I had done that before, I would have done better on the test.” That said, I think that even at the high school level homework should only take 15 minutes a night per class. Not two hours.


  13. As much as I struggle with any posts that have the word “should” directed at any particular group, I appreciate your list and the invite to dialogue and contribute.

    The list may capture a few “mindsets” not just of parents, but of the public in general. Schools may struggle to support discussion of these areas for many reasons and because of many influences.

    I liked Malyn’s comments regarding context as well. For example, there may be some situations where it would be best not to have the student present for parent-teacher meetings.

    Like Malyn, I also like the idea of exploring the validity of these statements (or not) within context rather than the broad suggestion of “unlearning” or discarding per se.

    And finally 🙂 Whether there is agreement about each point in the list or not, another question/next step would be about how a teacher or school would go about providing opportunities for parents to explore and experience what the alternatives would be or look like. How can we help them gain confidence in a different model….and what is the willingness to do that for each?

    Hope my ramble helps in some way!


  14. Hi Edna
    Number 6- Homework is an essential part of learning. Seems to be one getting the most comments as well so it is an aspect many of us are concerned about.

    My wife who is from Indonesia has a VERY different take on homework. To her it IS essential. It’s expected. It still is expected in Indonesian schools. I agree with her to some extent-if the activity is meaningful however I feel that all too often homework is given because its become a parent’s expectation. Id like to see no homework. Or if you ‘must’ give homework due to some Homework Policy- give a challenge where the learner can have the freedom to explore and share back at school and make connections.


    1. Hi Jay
      Yes, I know the homework thing looks different in different cultures. I tend to write from the perspective of the context in which I work.. naturally. It’s a bit tongue in cheek and obviously depends on the context. The point was to state some big ideas and get people thinking.


    1. Yes, I agree. The statements above are (deliberate slight oversimplifications of) things parents sometimes think are true about school, but are not necessarily so…


  15. Hello, Edna. First, I want to say that ‘Educating Parents’ and helping them see the value in how children learn is critical!

    I agree with most of the things parents must unlearn (both as a parent and as an educator of young children). The one that I think is difficult is #8 ‘Your child’s perspective is the only one’. Having worked for over 10 years in early care and education I know that this doesn’t go away. As a parent I have been guilty of the same thing. I think here an educator must communicate with parents in a way that a parent will feel that you care tremendously for their child’s perspective while explaining others. This is a tough one.

    #6: Having been educated in a rigid education system in India, I do feel (as a parent) that some of the rigor is missing from schools. I think the question is not ‘whether there should be homework’ but ‘what types of exerices and assignments would be great for children to do at home as a way of reflecting and extending what they learned at home.It saddens me to see my 3rd grader sit doing worksheets that are not challenging and don’t extend her thinking in anyway. I struggle as a parent because I don’t want to say ‘don’t do your homework’ but I know its a waste of her time!

    ‘ Great post! I will now read the one about ‘what teachers need to unlearn’.


  16. Re: #6 Homework, after reading the other thoughtful points contributed above: My concern about “no homework” is that it too often means “no thinking about these topics/ideas” after class today, until class tomorrow, and “little independent reading.” Students who can think on their own — almost all of them can — are much healthier WITHOUT certain types of homework (I’m very skeptical about worksheets, for example, in all cases) but WITH the provocation of teachers who ask compelling, engaging questions, to be addressed and contemplated individually for later integration into the class, analysis, writing, etc.

    Independent reading and thinking have to be part of a dialectical process. Class time — at least in high school — isn’t enough, but if well-designed it can be the jumping-off point for appropriate effort outside of the class.

    Although there certainly can be too much homework, too LITTLE expectation for meaningful, independent work is an abrogation of our responsibility as educators to challenge kids.


  17. I desperately hope elementary school isn’t the often boring place it was when I was there in the early 80s. The last thing I want is for it to be just the same for my son in a few years when he gets there.


  18. Hi Edna – Very interesting list. While these statements don’t represent the belief system of every parent, I feel can lead to growth for your learning community. One idea might be to take a couple of those statements to pose as conversation starters during this year’s home & school meetings. This way, a variety of different perspectives are shared and all can chime in. It might help generate a collective vision and provide opportunities for the leader to share related research and best practices.


  19. i loved this list…..but my favourite undoubtedly is the first one….coming from India…where the education system is still a lot based on the scores of students….i find it ridiculous how a person’s ability is just confined to the marks he scores…..amazingl written piece! Kudos!


  20. Reblogged this on Julia's Place and commented:
    This post really resonated with me. With so many parents facing school for the first time as parents I thought it good to share. It may help save some heartache further along the road.
    Edna Sackson is a teacher in Melbourne Australia and I love her writing!


  21. I found you via Julia ( @jfb57). About the homework. At primary school the homework serves the purpose of practising what was learned in school, whether it be reading or maths. I think the pressure should be taken off and parents given more flexibility over the time spent on it, however, I do think it helps children get to that stage of fluency and comfort with the material sooner. In high school it helps to do the practice necessary at home in order to free up contact time for learning new things and discussion, etc… Also there aren’t many jobs involving responsibility and with good pay that don’t come with homework for your whole career. So it’s a good habit to learn.


  22. Hi Edna,
    I recently finished reading – 21st Century Skills: Learning for LIfe in Our Times” by Bernie Trilling & Charles Fadel, and they too brought up the issue of parent expecting their child’s education to look like system they were schooled in. When you couple this problem with our North American need to be helicopter parents, hovering over every more our children make, we greatly inhibit our children’s ability to develop the 21st century skills they need to navigate life on their own. How can our children develop sound learning and innovation skills, digital literacy skills, or career and life skills, if as parents, we are unwilling to let them actively participate in their learning, take risks, make mistakes, manage their own time, and discover their own passions and gifts? As teachers we also need to step back and let our students explore, question, stumble and learn in an environment that might look and feel a little different from the one we have become comfortable and accustomed too. I like the motto of the Singapore Education system that I read recently, “Teach less, learn more”.


  23. As a parent, I do find it hard not to judge my children’s schooling by comparing it to what I had. Realistically, the world is such a different place today than what it was 25-35 years ago. My oldest child was fortunate enough to be accepted into a gifted class for grades 3-6. What appealed to me most about the program was the learing style: core subjects such as math and reading were student led and they could test out of areas, science and social studies were group units that the entires class reviewed and worked on for upto 6 weeks. Students learned to dive into the subject and really embrace what they were learning, it was not the typical text book/work book scenario. It was the learning model that excited me most. They rarely ever had daily homework unless it was a large project, even then it was six weeks, not one week.

    I would love as a PTO parent to be able to hold workshops that discuss these very topics. We do need to re-learn about schooling. We can’t expect our teachers to be the only ones keeping up with the technological times!


    1. Thanks for your inside comment and for your effort to be open-minded. Workshops for parents before a new topic I wonder what you imagine to happen or learn there! As a teacher myself, I’m interested in helping parents supporting their children in the best way.


  24. I couldn’t agree more. All 10 are so true. If all 10 payed an essentiel part of educating children, we failed as society, schools and teachers.
    Thanks for making the unlearning part clear to me. I can’t think of anything new to add.


  25. I think education is such a contentious subject – I think it’s natural for us as parents to base what our children do, on what we did. I find myself continually doing it – however, neither my husband or I were educated in the USA – for us, the differences are huge, and at times quite disturbing.
    I do think that as parents we are required to “be in charge” of the education our children receive. I feel strongly that children have no place in a parent/teacher discussion – certainly in the younger grades.
    I do think homework is necessary, although I do think a lot of what comes home, is not of great value. I believe it teaches children self discipline, something they’ll need in the outside world.
    I agree whole heartedly with the thought that success is not measured by a number on a piece of paper, however, our schools teach to the very concept, that that number or letter is all important (State Testing is evidence of this). I am also continually horrified at the number of parents (my closest friends fall into this group), who threaten and punish their children when grades upward of 85% are not attained …… my children know that we expect them to do their best – if that best is only a C, then that’s OK …………… I haven’t found this to be the norm here in the US. Sadly a great number of parents in my experience, need to realize that not every child is cut out to be an Einstein,
    i think the criteria of a good education is that, we have well rounded, self disciplined, confident children, who know the value of hard work, graduate from High School.


  26. Number three is impossible for everyone, everyone gets in trouble theres nothing anyone can do about it. Its as simple as that parents cant protect there kids from failure, everyone fails and no one will ever be perfect.


  27. I chose to send my daughters to an academic school but never suspected that they would get so much homework and how it takes up virtually ALL their time when they are not sleeping or at school. I am a teacher and a parent and have never understood the value of homework. I really feel like we miss out on quality family time, they don’t have time to spend with friends or much leisure time at all. I wish someone would do some research and let teachers know that it is detrimental!!


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