A goal without a plan is just a wish
How to have a productive, purposeful parent-teacher conference
So, I try to pay attention when something passes right under my nose more than once. In this case, someone telling me or asking me to write a blog about how to go into a parent/teacher conference.
Yes, there is a way to do it...trust me. As a teacher and a parent, parent-teacher conferences can be fruitful and yield an amazing opportunity to acquire information about your child’s education OR they can be a waste of time. It’s really a question of how you handle it.
So, between my husband and I we have years of teacher, principal, administrator, and parent experience with how to go about getting the best results at a parent-teacher conference and we will lay it all out in this post.
One of the biggest errors parents make about going into a parent-teacher conference is to go in a passive role. Meaning, you are just going to stroll in and show up to hear what this teacher has to say.
DO NOT DO THIS!
This is your kid’s education, you better get your head wrapped around the mindset that you are an active participant in helping your child succeed at school.
Before even going into conferences you need to do some reflection about what you want to get out of the conference. So grab a pen and paper and start making a list of questions you may have. Carve out enough time to really think about your child’s school year and all the things you have questions about or want to know more about.
Ask any other guardians or primary caregivers to do the same. One of the biggest road bumps in a parent-teacher conference is when one partner goes in to hear what is going on and the other parent goes off on a random tangent that the first partner had no idea was a concern. It can cause friction and frustration in the conference and no one wants to sit through a parent-teacher conference with two parents arguing. Believe me, it happens more often than you would think and it usually starts with one parent asking what the other parent thinks is a “bonehead” question which all could have been discussed (not in front of a teacher) if parents had done their pre-game warm up.
The other bonus to a pre-game warm-up is that if you are divorced or separated or are having a strained relationship with the other parent, this is a good way to get on the same page for your child’s sake and focus on your child’s education which is the point of the whole thing, right?
After both guardians have made their lists, compare notes. One of you may have the answer to another’s question and you can cross that off the list. Your time is limited so being efficient is key to getting all your questions answered. Circle your top 3 questions or concerns and agree to focus on those. If you have more that did not get answered, tell the teacher you will be sending a follow-up email or request another conference time to go over the list of concerns.
Ok, so after talking to any other primary caregivers, have a discussion with your child. Here are the main questions to ask your child and please note that if this is your first time asking them these types of questions they may need some time to think about their answers. You may want to ask them a couple of times to get a consistent, true answer.
Questions to ask:
What do you think your strengths at school are?
What do you think you are able to do well?
Do you think you have any weaknesses? Another way to ask this is to also say, do you have any holes in your learning that you would like help filling? An analogy I often use is swiss cheese. If I was a mouse going to school I would want my learning to look like a solid block of cheese, and not swiss cheese with holes in learning. Do you feel like there are any holes in what you should know?
Who do you get along with in school (notice I didn’t ask, who are your friends)? Why do you think you get along so well? Who do you disagree with in school? What do you do if you disagree with someone? What does your teacher expect you to do?
Do you feel like you could ask your teacher anything or tell your teacher anything that you want to know more about or think is important? Here you are trying to find out about social/emotional relationships with others and how self-aware your child is and how they navigate the social/emotional landscape of the classroom.
What is one thing you are grateful for about school and your class? This may help you with your opening remarks at the conference.
Game time: In The Conference
Ok, you’ve asked all the questions and done the self-reflection, now it’s time to actually go into the conference.
First, start with a gratitude.
Gratitude goes a long way and even if you disagree with the teacher or have major concerns. Start with an acknowledgment of time spent educating your child. Try to point out 1-2 key reasons you are grateful for what the teacher does to help educate your child every day. Most days the teacher spends more waking hours than you do with your kid so being a team is key to a successful school experience.
Here are some KEY points for a great conference:
Start out with the idea that you are the active listener and take notes. There may be a lot of information coming at you and your head may get swirly, so bring a pen and paper. The key to active listening is to just listen, not to comment or interject. We often miss what is being said because we are so busy thinking about our response. Just soak in what the teacher is saying and jot down any points you may want to discuss further.
Repeat back, if the teacher made several points while you were listening and you want to make sure you have it correct, repeat back what he/she said so that you know you understood the information.
Use phrases like, “so what I heard you say is….”
Very often, especially if a teacher uses a lot of teacher-ease or educational phrases parents can feel lost in the conversation. Speaking up if you feel like you don’t understand is perfectly fine.
Remember, this conference is about your child not about your previous schooling. Your child is their own separate person therefore what you learned as a child or what you thought of school is not where the focus of the conference should be. Try to be an objective listener and not relate comments about your child’s education back to your personal experiences of school. I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat to talk about a child and spend the majority of the conference with a parent telling me how much struggle school was for them or their child did that because they did that or because they didn’t like school, their kid automatically must not. I think nerves plus the emotional triggers of being back in a school can sometimes make you want to walk back down memory lane but resist the urge to bring up your schooling at all.
When you start recalling your schooling at a conference you are triggered from an emotional standpoint. Try to stay in the role of a logical observer and information intaker. Once you start leading with your emotions, you will have a difficult time remaining in the present moment and really hearing what the teacher has to say about your child.
Let’s say we are at the part of the conference when either the teacher tells you or you ask what your child could improve upon.
Here is where the gold lies that many people miss: co-creating actionable goals with the teacher and your child.
If there is a problem or something that needs improvement, do not leave that conference without a game plan that includes what the teacher will do in the classroom, what your child needs to do, and what you can do to support learning at home.
Often, teachers will tell you what needs improvement and then parents walk out without a plan of action nor do they know what the teacher is going to do about it or what their child should be doing about it other than “just get better”. This helps no one and leads to stress and frustration.
Get detailed about what the plan is. If there is a behavior issue at school ask the teacher what your child needs to do to improve it, what the teacher is going to do to help facilitate it and what you can do to help from home. Then create steps to get you to your goal. This helps your child in several ways. First, it shows them that everyone is going to be working together for a common goal. Second, it holds everyone accountable for their roles in helping the child. Third, it is clear and actionable for all parties. Talk about how communication between all parties will be transferred as well as choosing a deadline to re-visit, respond and adjust goals if needed.
The same rings true for academic learning concerns or just areas that could improve. You may want to ask the teacher to help you lay out a concrete plan for the next month to help your child improve upon their skills. What is the goal? Let that be your ending point, then work backward to sketch out the roles and actions that would get your child to their goal.
The goal may be something you wish to see your child doing at school but haven’t yet. Ask the teacher what the plan is to reach that goal and then ask what the steps are to get your child there.
Going into a conference with open-minded actionable plan goal setting is important for keeping everyone on the right path.
So, there you have it. The tips. You got this! Go rock that conference and help your child build a life beyond his/her wildest dreams. Because research shows that when children feel safe and supported at school and at home, they are able to relax into an understanding that everyone is working together to help reach what is expected.
Ok, ready for all your questions and comments! Please take a moment to let me know what you thought or to ask me a more specific question about parent/teacher conferences.
Want to know more about why the home-school connection is so important to your child success? Read this: