Making The Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conference

Parent_Teacher_ConferenceAhhhh, parent-teacher conferences!

The conversation we hope will dispel the mystery surrounding the daily question, “What did you do in school today?”  The standard answer is, “Nothing.”

This is a useful opportunity to find out more about your child’s academic, developmental and social growth.  It also provides the chance to hear about your child’s learning style, strengths and challenges. Here are some tips to help you have a productive and meaningful conversation with your child’s teachers.

Parent – teacher conferences can be very stressful for all those involved.  Preparation and a positive attitude can help to make the session productive. The first conference of the school year offers opportunities for establishing trust, gathering information and planning collaboratively. Remember that your child’s teacher is the person who is with your child for the bulk of the school day.  The teacher sees your child in many different situations.  It is important for your child’s growth that you communicate directly with him/her.

I recommend speaking with your child before you go to the conference.  It is important to understand how your child feels during the school day. What does your child think that the teacher will say?  How is your child feeling about the classwork, homework, and peers? Keep an open mind.  Although you need to be an effective advocate for your child, what your child perceives may not be what the teacher perceives.

Be prepared! 

Write down questions and concerns beforehand.  You do not want to waste the valuable and limited time you have with the teacher trying to remember what you wanted to ask.  Take notes so that you can share what your child’s teacher has said. List the positives as well as the challenges the teacher is sharing.  Ask for concrete examples of the challenges and how you can help your child at home to improve.

Be on time!  

I cannot stress this enough.

Although the teacher may be running late because of other parents, it is important that the teacher see you there on time.  It establishes respect and consideration.  Bring something to read or do if you have to wait so you can remain calm and relaxed.  Your state of mind walking into the room will set the tone for the rest of the meeting.

Your child’s teacher already knows what he or she wants to say.  Let the teacher start talking.  You will get a great deal more from hearing how the teacher opens the conversation and listening to their experience with your child.

Be engaged!

Turn off your cell phones!  That includes other electronic devices that can take your mind away from the conversation.  I say this for three compelling reasons: (1) It is distracting to the teacher; (2) It is distracting to you—even if you’re the World Champion Multi-Tasker; (3) Most importantly, for this short period of time, your focus should be only on your child.

The buzz, ding, clang, ring of the phone during the conference is a signal to the teacher that you simply aren’t fully present.  And frankly, for those short 20 minutes, it is all about your child.  Exclusively.  Please please please, turn off your phone and keep it out of sight.  You might be surprised how much more you can get out of a conference when you are fully engaged in the conversation.

Be open!  

While it is easy to become defensive about things that you may perceive as negative, stay calm and listen. Remember that teachers and parents are experts and each brings a unique set of skills to the meeting.  The more information made available from varied perspectives, the more complete the overall picture of your child’s learning and support needs will be. Children may act differently at home than they do at school.

Ask questions calmly and pay attention to the answer.  Some of my favorite questions in this situation are, “I want to make sure I understand what you are saying. Can you please explain that again.” Or “I might be confused.  Can you tell me what you meant when you said ….”  Avoid the “blame game” and focus on what each person can do to help your child grow and succeed.  Remember, we are all on the same team!

If the teacher is concerned about specific weaknesses, it is fine to say that you need time to think about what has been shared with you.  Ask if you might have a follow-up meeting to further discuss this once you have had a chance to process the information.

You don’t need to set up the next meeting immediately but you do need to know how and when you will contact each other.

Conferences are invaluable tools to facilitate a productive, collaborative partnership between you and your child’s teacher.  Teachers and parents alike appreciate each other as partners in the education process.

When this collaboration works well, everyone comes out a winner!

Finally, when you speak to your children after the conference, highlight all the kind, positive  information you were given about them.  With sensitivity and encouragement, share with your child the teachers’ thoughts about areas in need of improvement.  Let your children know they are not alone and they have your help and support.