Many parents view parent-teacher conferences as a necessary evil. Frequently, they are inconveniently scheduled, causing you to take a day off from work (either to attend or to watch your kids). And they are short because the teacher had to get through a whole bunch of them before they can take a break to run to the bathroom or get something to eat.
How then do we make the best of these conferences and get something out of it so we learn more about our children as learners and are better situated to help them?
The key is to do your homework.
I know it seems silly, but think about any important meeting at work that you didn’t prepare for. Odds are that it didn’t go as well as it could have. Or think about a meeting that you went to where the other person didn’t prepare. Were you just a bit frustrated? Don’t be that person for your child’s teacher.
First, think about your concerns. What about your child’s school experience are you worrying about? Here are a few areas to think about:
- A specific subject
- Behavior in class (e.g. paying attention, off task, participation)
- Student skills (e.g. note taking, asking questions, using learning strategies)
- Peer relationships
Now, think about aspects of school that your child is proud of our that you are proud of. Use the same list to help you think about it.
This is the beginning of your agenda for your conference. Now you just need to organize it into an outline like this:
- Strengths that we see
- Strengths that the teacher sees
- Concerns that we have
- Concerns the teacher has
- Ways the school can help
- Ways we can help
- Plan to follow up
It may be helpful to phrase your concerns (and even your strengths) as questions to help get more specific information. Here are some examples:
- My child seems to struggle with her math homework each night, are you seeing similar behaviors in the classroom?
- Our child loves reading, how can we help maintain this interest?
- My son needs a lot of support to finish his homework, how do we make sure that he is not overwhelmed?
- Our daughter keeps sharing that she doesn’t feel challenged and is bored. How engaged is she and does she need more?
Fill the agenda with these questions under the appropriate section. Then, send it to the teacher along with a note like this:
We are looking forward to meeting with you at conferences. In advance of us sitting down together, we wanted to share some thoughts that we had about our child’s learning so that we can make good use of our time with you.
Insert agenda here.
We would be very interested in seeing our child’s work as it relates to our questions or her progress in your class.
Please let us know if you have any questions of us in advance of our conversion.
We look forward to meeting with you.
Make sure that you make a commitment about what comes next. You and your child’s teacher may have agreed to try out something and it is important that you follow up with each other at an agreed upon time. Most schools only have conferences once a year and you don’t want have this conversation be the last contact, particularly if you have serious concerns.
Using this strategy can turn your conference from a rushed, harried affair to the beginning of a partnership with your child’s teacher.