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A Productive Parent-Teacher Conference

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Making Your Time with Your Child’s Teacher as Productive as Possible…

Many parents look forward to parent-teacher conferences. They are curious about the “unseen” part of their children’s days at school, and hopeful for the news that their children are off to a great start to the academic year. Unfortunately, many of these same parents leave parent-teacher conferences disappointed. The reasons for this disappointment are not always because a child is not doing as well as the parents had hoped, but more often result from not getting questions answered or concerns addressed, feeling like the time they had with their child’s teacher was too rushed, or feeling like their child’s teacher was “going through the motions” and did not shed any new light on their child’s progress. Fortunately, many of these disappointments can be assuaged by preparing for parent-teacher conferences and by keeping a few things in mind before heading in to talk to your child’s teacher on conference day.

The following are steps to consider taking to make your parent-teacher conferences more productive and satisfying:

Step 1: Meet with your child first

I was once told that, “a good meeting takes three meetings.” Parent-teacher conferences are no different. This first “meeting” can be informal. Mine frequently happen while I am driving and my child is in the back seat. It helps if the child is alone and not distracted by siblings or friends. In these meetings, I ask questions like: What do you think your teacher is going to tell me about at the parent-teacher conference we have coming up (and, more specifically, in math, in English, about being disruptive in class, etc?) Is there anything you would like me to talk to your teacher about?  Or, now that you have been at school for a while and are seeing how things work, is there anything you are thinking about doing differently? This conversation is a wonderful opportunity to “run ahead” of any possible issues and see how well your child and your child’s teacher are working together.

Step 2: Organize your questions and concerns ahead of time

You would not head into a business meeting without preparation, why should a meeting with your child’s teacher be any different? Parent- teacher conferences are limited in time so it makes sense to use time as effectively as possible. Some teachers appreciate an email ahead of the conference listing a few questions. This gives the teacher time to think about his/her response and to do research, if necessary. You can also write your questions down so that you are sure not to forget them during the meeting. Keep the number of questions reasonable—perhaps two to three—that get to the heart of your concerns.

Step 3: When meeting with your child’s teacher, remember the teacher’s position and express a commitment to working as a team

Remember that parent-teacher conferences are a stressful time for teachers. The forced time limits are difficult for your child’s teacher too, though he or she may not feel comfortable telling you so. Do not forget the fact that while the teacher is talking to you, there are other parents standing outside the classroom door tapping their feet wanting and needing the exact same thing you are. It is important to be respectful of the teacher’s time and commitment to all of the students in the class.

One way or another during the course of your conference with your child’s teacher, express your desire to work together as a team. Questions like, “How can I support the work you are doing with my child at home?” accomplish this. Too many parents expect the teachers to “do it all,” but the fact is that studies prove that parents working with their child’s teacher and school is the most effective way for children to learn and to do well in school. Seek ways of improving your ability to partner effectively with your child’s teacher.

Step 4: Meet Again

If you were not able to address all of your concerns during your parent-teacher conference, or if your child’s teacher raised something you would like to discuss more, arrange to meet with your child’s teacher at another convenient time.

I also believe in having a debriefing and final meeting with my children after the conference. The truth is that the kids are dying to know what was said about them during the conference and they are on pins and needles until you share it. A short meeting that shares what was talked about (and asks for the child’s input and feedback in return) is effective. Maybe you can discuss why your child’s and the teacher’s perceptions are different and ask for your child’s thoughts about how he/she might make progress on this. Post parent-teacher conference meetings are also a time to give praise, not empty praise, but genuine recognition for hard work and progress made.

Not only will following these steps help to improve the quality of your parent teacher conference, but your focus, organization and thoughtfulness will send an important message to your child and your child’s teacher that you care about what they do during those “unseen” hours of the day. Additionally, your child will absorb the fact that his or her education is something you consider important.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

November 5, 2014

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