After the kids are back to school and we’ve settled into our routines, it’s time for Parent Teacher conferences. Your child’s teacher has scheduled back-to-back conferences, trying to accommodate everyone’s schedules, so what should you do to prepare? How can you make the most of your short time together? Here are some tips, from a veteran teacher who knows what works and what doesn't:
Involve your children. Attend as a family, if at all possible. Consider it an opportunity to demonstrate to your child and teacher(s) that you and your partner value education and care about your child’s school life. It can be helpful to make sure all of you understand any information about grades, assignments completed, concerns, and teacher recommendations. Knowing that people are talking about you, is stressful for all of us, even for kids. Include your child in the conference if possible. If your teacher prefers not to include your child, talk to your children before your conference about school and ask what they think is going well, what they are struggling with, their likes and dislikes.
Develop a relationship. Help your teacher better understand your child, especially if there are recent changes or unusual circumstances. A new baby, the illness of a grandparent or other family member, moving to a new home are a few examples of life events that impact your child and may result in changes in mood , energy level, attentiveness, behavior or attitude in the classroom.
Come with an open mind. Parents who had difficulties in school sometimes bring those old fears with them to the Parent Teacher conference. Some of us worry that our child’s struggle with school is a poor reflection on our education levels or parenting abilities. Please try not to be defensive. Listen to your teacher share information about progress, test scores, homework and observations. Your teacher shares your goal of helping your child succeed in school. Take notes and ask questions about anything you don’t understand. You know what kind of behavior you see at home and when your child is with you and your family. Sometimes parents are surprised to learn about behavior with peers or relationship struggles. Again, try to listen with an open mind and discuss the teacher’s observations calmly with your child.
Ask questions. We are all guilty of slipping into overuse of acronyms. Don’t hesitate to ask your teacher to clarify or explain anything you feel unsure about. Teachers want parents to be engaged and interested in how their children are doing in school, so ask questions. Read or re-read emails, newsletters and notes that have been sent home. If your teacher has a classroom website, get in the habit of checking it at least weekly. Does your teacher use email to communicate with families? Create a folder in your inbox so you can find all emails quickly and refer to them. Before you leave, have a clear understanding of recommendations made by your teacher and ask about the best way to follow up. Maybe even schedule a follow up phone or in-person conference before you leave.
Volunteer your time. Teachers put in many hours at night and on weekends preparing lessons and activities and grading schoolwork. It’s a great way to get to know your child’s teacher better and to observe your child in the classroom setting. Some employers even encourage their employees to volunteer.
After the conference, don’t stick that progress report in a drawer and forget about it. Follow the teacher’s recommendations. At the end of the next quarter, review those recommendations and see if you need to make additional changes. Be sure to celebrate with your student any improvement you see. Your student will appreciate that you recognize that extra work.
At the end of the school year, pull out a couple of your student’s assignments from the beginning of the year and compare them to work completed at the end of the year. Being able to see improvement is motivating, and it’s also an important part of the process of helping your students to be take responsibility for their learning.
Terri Ashley-MacQuarrie, M.Ed., is Manager, National Community and Family Support Services at K12. Her experience includes teaching preschool- 8th grade in brick and mortar schools and Kindergarten- college in virtual settings. She also schooled all three of her children at home.