Whether you love or loathe parent-teacher conferences, as a mom and retired teacher I can tell you that they’re a very important part of your child’s school year. For both you and your child’s teacher, conferences are an opportunity to establish a powerful partnership, because, let’s face it, you’re much more effective when you work together. Whether you’ve already been through your child’s first conference this year or are about to attend one, here are some good ways to approach parent-teacher conferences in order to get the most out of them.
1. Prepare. First, know that attending conferences requires preparation for teachers and parents. How can you get the most from your parent-teacher conference and build that relationship from the ground up? Perhaps you’ve received an email, personal note, telephone call or some other indication that a “problem” exists. Being prepared will likely help ease your tension.
You can also contact your child’s school to know what’s expected. Every school conducts conferences differently. Some schools encourage student involvement. In other schools, bringing kids to conferences is taboo. You don’t want to be the only parent who shows up at conferences with or without a child. (However, if there’s a problem with your child in class, you will probably want to discuss it alone with the teacher and leave your child at home or talk to the teacher privately later on.)
2. Dress comfortably and appropriately. If the conference is going to take place in a kindergarten class room, you may prefer to wear clothing that will permit you to sit comfortably in a chair designed for five-year-olds. In high schools, conferences sometimes take place in large facility halls. You may end up standing in line or sitting in uncomfortable lunchroom seats for longer than you expected. That means high heels are probably not a good idea! You’re likely to be in a better mood when talking with the teacher if you’re comfortable.
3. Conferences are typically scheduled for 5 to 20 minutes. Twenty-minute conferences are a rare luxury. In any event, there is seldom enough time to discuss everything, so you should consider how you want to spend your time. Is there something you need to share with the teacher about your child? Do you suspect some undiagnosed learning disability? How can you help the teacher better understand and appreciate your child’s strengths or limitations? Take notes and have positive things to tell your child from his or her teacher.
4. Prepare some questions in advance. If there’s a “problem,” it’s especially important to establish some positive communication. Leave the potentially negative questions for last. This is especially important in the case of “problem” conferences. Although you and the teacher will try to solve the “problem,” it should not be the focus or the foundation of your relationship with the teacher.
Here are a few good questions you can ask:
- What do you think are my child’s strengths?
- How do you think he or she learns best?
- What are some things I can do to help at home?
- Do you have any concerns?
5. Avoid educational policy discussions. Steer away from conversations that involve terms such as “AYP” or “Common Core.” It’s easy to become deeply entrenched in such a conversation, and you will have learned nothing about your child.
6. Don’t judge. Sympathize with the teacher. You know yourself that being with your children all day is hard work. If conferences are scheduled at the end of a long teaching day, the teacher will be tired, maybe even exhausted. Teachers are often public targets for poor policy, administration or other social woes. They will appreciate your kindness and patience. Honest.
7. Stay calm. If there is a problem, the nature of it may or may not be a surprise to you. If it is a surprise, don’t panic. For example, if your child suddenly develops a habit of cheating on tests, find out exactly what’s going on before you explode either at your child or the teacher.
8. Leave on a positive note, if possible. Be sure to make it clear that you’re interested in a relationship. Many times there isn’t time to finish a conversation, or you feel rushed by parents waiting in line behind you. Be prepared to invite another meeting. Talk together about how you plan to work on whatever problems exist as a team.
When you go home, share any positive things the teacher said with your child. Then treat yourself to a hot bath. You’ve done great work!
About Dr. Meg English
Meg English is a career teacher. She has taught International Baccalaureate classes, college composition and specializes in non-traditional gifted learners. She has written extensively on education, schools and parenting. Meg has an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and an M.S. in history. She and her husband, author John English, are the parents of two adopted boys and several foster children. They live in Belle Fourche, South Dakota within a few hours of their 6 grandchildren.