PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCE TIPS
As a teacher and a parent, I know parent teacher conferences can be fruitful and yield an amazing opportunity to acquire information about your child’s education. They can also be a waste of time. Between my husband and I, we have years of teacher, principal, administrator and parent experience when it comes to getting the best results at a parent-teacher conference and we will lay it all out in this post.
Pre-Game Conference Warm-Up
One of the biggest mistake’s parents make going into a parent teacher conference is taking a passive role. Meaning, you just stroll in to hear what this teacher has to say. DO NOT DO THIS! This is your child’s education! You are an active participant in helping your child succeed at school.
Before even going into conferences, reflect on what you want to get out of the conference. Set aside some time, grab a pen and paper and start making a list of questions you have. Really think about the school year and all the things you 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 even a concern. No one wants to sit through a parent-teacher conference with 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 could have been discussed (not in front of a teacher) if parents had done their pre-game warm up.
Your time is limited so being efficient is key to getting your questions answered. Circle your top three questions or concerns and agree to focus on those. If you have more that, let the teacher know you will be sending a follow-up email or request another conference time to go over the list of concerns.
Get Your Child’s Input
Have a discussion with your child. Here are the main questions to ask your child and 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.
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 by saying, “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, not swiss cheese with holes in it. 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? You are trying to find out about social/emotional relationships with others, how self-aware your child is and how they navigate the social/emotional landscape of the classroom.)
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?
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: INSIDE THE CONFERENCE
You’ve asked all the questions and done the self-reflection, now it’s time to actually go into the conference.
Start with a gratitude
Gratitude goes a long way, 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.
After your gratitude, here are some KEY points for a great conference
Be an active listener and take notes. There may be a lot of information coming at you. 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.
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 language or phrases, parents can feel lost in the conversation. Speak up if you feel like you don’t understand.
Remember, this conference is about your child not about what school was like when you were a kid. 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. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spent the majority of a conference with a parent telling me how much struggled in school or because they didn’t like school, their kid automatically must not. 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.
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.
Co-create actionable goals with the teacher and your child
The part of the conference when the teacher tells you what your child could improve upon is where the gold lies. 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, parents walk out without a plan of action and they don’t know what the teacher is going to do about it or what their child should be doing about it other than “just do better”. This helps no one and leads to stress and frustration.
Make a detailed plan. If there is a behavior issue, 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 shows your child that everyone is going to be working together for a common goal. It also holds everyone accountable for their roles in helping the child and it’s clear and actionable for all parties. Make sure you talk about how communication between all parties will be transferred as well as choose a deadline to re-visit, respond and adjust goals if needed.
The same rings true for academic learning concerns. 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. Let the goal be your ending point and work backward to sketch out the roles and actions that would get your child to their goal.
So, there you have it parent teacher conference tips from a parent AND a teacher. You got this! Research shows that when children feel safe and supported at school and at home, they can relax knowing that everyone is working together to help reach what is expected.