Making Parent–Teacher Conferences Work for Your Child
A parent–teacher conference is a time when important people in a student's life can talk about how that student is doing in school. It's a chance for you to ask questions about the class or your child's progress. It is also a time for you and the teacher to work together as a team to discuss ways you both can help your son or daughter.
Whether your child is in elementary, middle, or secondary school, parent-teacher conferences are important. If your school does not schedule regular conferences, you can request them.
Teachers need your help to do a first-class job. Together, you can help your child have a great school year.
Before the Conference
Schedule an appointment—A parent-teacher conference is not the only time when parents and teachers should make contact. Parents may want to schedule a special meeting with their child's teacher for a variety of reasons. If you need to set up an appointment with the teacher, make a phone call or write a quick note to the teacher, and let him or her know if you have particular issues you would like to discuss.
Talk to your child—Find out which subjects your child likes the best and the least. Ask why. Also, ask if there is anything your child would like you to talk about with the teacher. Help the child understand that you and the teacher are meeting to help him or her. If your child is in middle or high school, you may want to include him or her in the conference.
Gather input from others—If your spouse, another care-giving adult, or someone with pertinent information or insight (doctor, counselor, other guardian) can't attend the conference, ask for that person's concerns and questions before the conference.
Make a list—Before you go to the meeting, make a list of topics to discuss with the teacher. Along with questions about academics and behavior, you may want to talk to the teacher about the child's home life, personality, concerns, habits and hobbies, and other topics that may help the teacher in working with the child (e.g., religious holidays, music lessons, part-time jobs, a sick relative).
During the Conference
Establish rapport—As an icebreaker, take notice of something that reflects well upon the teacher. For example, thank the teacher for having made thoughtful notes on your child's homework or for the special attention in helping your child learn to multiply.
Ask questions—Questions you ask during the conference can help you express your hopes for the student's success in class and for the teacher. It's a good idea to ask the important questions first, in case time runs out. The teacher's answers should help you both work together to help your child.
If your child receives special services (e.g., gifted and talented programs, speech or occupational therapy), be sure to ask about the frequency of services and your child's progress.
Addressing problems—Parent-teacher conferences are a good time to discuss any difficulties (either academic or behavioral) a child might be having at school. When problems arise, parents will want to
· Avoid angry or apologetic reactions. Instead, ask for examples.
· Ask what is being done about the problem and what strategies seem to help at school.
· Develop an action plan that may include steps that parents can take at home and steps the teacher will take when the problem comes up at school.
· Schedule a follow-up conference and decide on the best way to stay in touch (phone, e-mail, or letters sent to the home).
Develop an action plan—If the student needs help with a behavioral or an academic issue, you and the teacher should agree on specific plans—that you both will work on—to help your child do better. Be sure you understand what the teacher suggests. If it's not clear, ask him or her to explain. Set up a way to check on your child's progress. You and the teacher can decide how best to stay in touch, such as through phone calls, notes, or additional meetings.
Ending the conference—End the conference by reviewing what you discussed and restating your action plan. This is also a good time to set up your next meeting.
After the Conference
When discussing the conference with the child afterward, stress the good things that were covered and be direct about problems that were identified. If an action plan is in place, explain to the child what was arranged. When an action plan is in place, consider the following: Watch your child's behavior and check on classwork and homework. Ask how the student feels about schoolwork. Stay in touch with the teacher to discuss your child's progress. Express appreciation as progress is made. A good way to promote a continuing relationship with the teacher is to say "thank-you" with a note or a telephone call. Continuing to keep in touch with the teacher, even if things are going well, can play an important role in helping the child do better in school. When a child knows parents and teachers are regularly working together, the child will see that education is a high priority requiring commitment and effort.
Questions to ask during the conference:
- What subject does my child like most? Least?
- What can I do to help my child with subjects he finds difficult? How can I help my child study? Prepare for class? Improve his work? A good time to ask these questions is when the teacher gives you samples of your son's or daughter's work.
- Is my child trying as hard as he can?
- Does my child participate in class discussions and activities?
- Is my child in different classes or groups for different subjects? Which ones? How are the groups determined?
- How well does my child get along with others?
- Has my child missed classes?
- Have you noticed changes in the way my child acts? For example, have you noticed squinting, tiredness, or moodiness that might be a sign of physical or other problems?
- How are you measuring my child's progress? Through tests? Portfolios? Class participation? Projects?
- What kinds of tests do you give? What do the tests show about my student's progress? How does my student handle taking tests?