How to have a successful parent-teacher conference

November 2, 2012 | Posted in: Elementary

There was a brief period in elementary school when our oldest daughter struggled with going to school, but we couldn’t figure out why. She wouldn’t give us a reason, but she told us in no uncertain terms that she absolutely hated school – to the point of tears.

At a loss, I emailed her teacher. Was she aware of any bullying? Was there an academic struggle we didn’t know about? The teacher’s response indicated she thought I was blaming her for my daughter’s outlook. That absolutely was not the case – I was simply trying to figure out how to help my child.

I’ve since elected to use email sparingly if we need to discuss a serious issue with a teacher or coach involving one of our children. It’s difficult to interpret tone in written words, and talking in person has proven much more effective when it comes to questions that are deeper than, “May I send in cupcakes for my son’s birthday?”

The key is to approach teacher conversations from the point of view that you are on the same team. You are both coaches, trying to coax the best performance possible out of our (or at least my!) star player. When you tell the teacher about your child’s skills, interests, needs, and dreams, the teacher has better insight into your child and can help him/her more. And when the teacher shares insights about your child, you can promote a more positive learning environment at home. By working together, we are much more likely to have success.

With parent-teacher conferences on the horizon, we’re anxious to have some one-on-one time with our son’s teacher. This is our opportunity to get a better idea of how he is faring in third grade, and to learn how he can do better. Of course, with a 20-minute slot, we want to be sure we make the most of our time. We know his teacher will show us some of his work, but we also want to be prepared so we can walk away feeling that any questions we might have were answered. We’re going to spend a little time ahead of our meeting gathering our thoughts so we can have a focused discussion with his teacher about working together to ensure the best outcome for our son.

We’ve started our research a little early this year, and we particularly like tips we found from the Harvard Research Family Project (HRFP). The HRFP offers the following suggestions for topics to talk to the teacher about:

Progress. Find out how your child is doing by asking questions like: Is my child performing at grade level? How is he/she doing compared to the rest of the class? What do you see as his/her strengths? How could he or she improve? What can I do at home to help him/her succeed in the classroom?

Assignments and assessments. If your teacher doesn’t have them prepared, ask to see examples of your child’s work. Ask how the teacher gives grades.

Your thoughts about your child. Be sure to share your thoughts and feelings about your child. Tell the teacher what you think your child is good at. Explain what he or she needs more help with.

Support learning at home. Ask what you can do at home to help your child learn. Ask if the teacher knows of other programs or services in the community that could also help your child.

Support learning at school. Find out what services are available at the school to help your child. Ask how the teacher will both challenge your child and support your child when he or she needs it.

Other things to remember about conference time:

  • Be on time. If you only have 20 minutes, don’t blow five of them by being late.
  • If you have concerns, start by focusing on the positive. Offer some encouragement regarding areas your child likes in the classroom. Chances are the teacher will be more receptive to your concerns if he/she doesn’t feel criticized from the start.
  • Stay on topic and avoid going off on tangents. Chances are, there’s another parent waiting right behind you, so if you spend too much time sharing stories about how adorable your child is, you’ll miss an important opportunity to talk about your child’s academic life.

Trying to think of other questions to ask your child’s teacher? Check out this link:

There are also helpful tip sheets at Harvard Research Family Project.