Get Ready for Parent-Teacher Conferences

parent teacher conferenceFor some parents and teachers, conference time is an uncomfortable, awkward or stressful exchange of information. But it doesn’t have to be. With a little preparation, you can turn your parent-teacher conference into a productive dialogue that actually helps your child.

Most public schools today sandwich parent-teacher conferences into a revolving door of fifteen-minute blocks. Knowing you’re one of 12 meetings in 3 hours or that the next-in-line parent is peering through the classroom door window waiting their turn is not the ideal situation to build connections with your child’s teacher. But a parent-teacher conference is an important touch point. Making time to attend the meeting also sends a critical message to your kids – and their teachers – that you’re involved with and care about your child’s education.

If you can’t make the proposed conference times, email the teacher and politely request another option. By union contract, parents must have access to their child’s teacher to discuss academic progress at a time that mutually works for both of you – and it must be conducted in the parent’s preferred language.

auditory kidListen Well and Respect Both Experts

As the parent, you have in-depth knowledge of your child that a teacher can’t possibly acquire in a few weeks or months. Remember, you are your child’s first teacher. You’re the expert on his strengths, quirks, and what makes her tick. On the flip side, your child’s teacher is trained to know what is socially, emotionally, and academically appropriate at this grade level and knows your child best in a group setting. Respect both positions and listen carefully. Take notes. Listen to what is said and what is not said. The more sharing that happens – the more candid and respectful the dialogue between teacher and parent – the more likely your child will thrive this school year.

P3Use P3: What Positive, Professional and Persistent looks like:

If you follow the Power of P3, you’re more likely to get your concerns addressed and your child’s needs met. Start out POSITIVE (I’m confident we can resolve this situation together; or Luke loves it when you use baseball examples in class). Be PROFESSIONAL (Polite and Respectful in your Observations and Feelings). This means keeping your language focused on your child’s feelings or your own feelings and observations rather than what the teacher or another child is doing or not doing. (I’m concerned…Aidan is feeling overwhelmed…Jamie seems to be struggling with the reading homework….Henry doesn’t feel safe in the cafeteria…Kara is very unhappy with her seat change). Finally, be PERSISTENT when necessary. P3 doesn’t mean you are superficial or avoid problems. It’s a tool that helps you bring up issues so teachers hear your concerns and take action rather than feel blamed and defend their previous actions.

Here are some questions to keep things positive and focused on solutions for your child vs. criticizing or attacking the teacher. I’ve organized them into three groups depending on whether your child is 1) doing well, 2) struggling, or 3) needing more of a challenge. Not all kids fall cleanly into one group. If you have a specific concern you know you want to talk about, send a short email to your child’s teacher in advance. Teachers appreciate a focused discussion as much as you do.

teacher talking to paretnsFor the Child Doing “Fine”:

  • Jackie is doing well academically; how is she doing socially?
  • Do Jake’s classmates see him as a leader or a follower? How is he getting along with his friends? Is their one child he is spending more time with?
  • I’m wondering if Rachel is performing up to her ability; how can we be sure?
  • Do you see any area that Harry can improve upon? What makes him spark?
  • Do you have a sense of Mollie’s work ethic? Her attitude toward learning?
  • What are Joe’s strengths? Weaknesses? What subjects does he gravitate toward?
  • Have you noticed any other interests that could be encouraged?
  • If Morgan was your child, what would you ask that I haven’t?

teacher talking to momFor the Child Struggling:

  • I’d like to understand the grade level that Jamie is performing at in reading (or math) and how that compares to grade-level benchmarks.
  • How often are reading fluency tests given? May I see the results for the past year (s)?
  • What do you see as the problems or factors contributing to this situation?
  • Does Luke stay focused or does he need frequent reminders to finish his work?
  • What other support does the school offer if Sarah is not on a special plan?
  • What kind of reading instruction support does Sam need? Is it in phonics, fluency, or comprehension? Does the support he gets now focus on this specific area?
  • At what point would Lucy be tested? What is involved in the testing?
  • What can we do at home to support these efforts? How often should we do this?
  • I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Jill doesn’t fall further behind?
  • What strengths does Connor have that we can tap to shore up weaknesses?
  • How does Alex work in small groups? Does she participate in class?
  • When can we meet again to monitor and follow-up on Chris’ progress?

dad talaking to teacherFor the Child Who Needs More Challenge:

  • We’ve noticed Abby finishes her homework quickly; are you seeing this in class?
  • We’re feeling that Philip may need some additional challenges? What are your thoughts on that?
  • What subjects does Annie excel in and what areas can she improve upon?
  • What can I do as a parent at home to support Mathew’s curiosity in science?
  • How is Andrew socially? Does he participate in class? How do his friends interact with him?
  • Is Tamika a candidate for the school’s gifted program? Should she be tested?
  • Do you see kids that Charlie might be grouped with so he is more challenged?
  • If there is disagreement: I’d like to offer my point of view on why I disagree with this assessment of Julia. Could you help me better understand your point of view?

ptconference cartoonIf your discussion has focused on taking action for your child’s struggles or providing more challenge, then a follow-up meeting may be in order. It might make sense to set up monthly touch points until you’re feeling more comfortable that your child is on track. Or dialogue by email. Do what feels right in your gut and what works for both you and the teacher. But don’t let issues slide; they’ll only get worse.

Much of your success in being involved with your child’s education hinges on how effectively you communicate with the teachers and school staff. If you communicate in a positive, professional way, keeping the focus on your child’s feelings and needs, you are more likely to be successful.  If you don’t succeed the first time around, reevaluate and be persistent. Follow up in a positive, professional way using a slightly different approach. Remember that educators, like parents, are busy people. Give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. If they don’t, put the Power of P3 to use again. You’ll find if you do this consistently, your efforts will pay off, and your child will thrive.

For more information on parent involvement, or to buy The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, visit www.theparentbackpack.com.

Connecting to Your Child’s Teacher

Ever wonder what it really takes to start out on the right foot with your child’s elementary teacher?

While many parents think it means volunteering in the classroom and showing up for parent-teacher conferences, building a positive relationship with teachers actually begins with what you do at home to connect to your child’s education.

kids in classroomTeachers know which families support their children’s learning — and which do not. That’s because it shows up in the classroom every day through students’ work and the stories they tell. Just as your kids talk about school at home, children come to school innocently sharing stories about what mom or dad said about school, homework and teachers. And research shows, not surprisingly, that teachers have higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their child’s education in productive ways.

Here are four ways you can show respect for and build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher:

1. Do your part: Teachers need your help with the basics and get frustrated when that doesn’t happen: Fill out school forms before the deadline – teachers and schools need this information to connect with your child; read the teacher’s newsletter so you know what’s going on in the classroom; get your kids to school on time every day; and fuel their little brains and bodies for learning. Make sure your children get 10-11 hours of sleep and eat a healthy breakfast every morning (protein, healthy carbs and less sugar) so they can concentrate, process and retrieve information for six and a half hours.  Sleep and diet impact your child’s behavior and learning more than most of us realize. Teachers notice and appreciate when parents prioritize these basic needs.

2. Connect with your child’s reading and homework: 

dad reading kids

Teachers also know which parents are reading with their kids and supporting homework in productive ways. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children(and their teachers) is reading to, with or in front of them throughout their elementary years. Finding just 15 minutes to read every day influences your child in many ways. Read the class newsletter or website so you can reinforce at home what your kids are learning at school. Make sure homework is done, but don’t do it yourself – or correct it. Homework helps teachers identify which kids understand the material and which need a reteach.

3. Communicate effectively: Everything you write or say to your child’s teacher either strengthens or weakens the bridge you’re building. How you communicate with teachers plays a big role in whether your concerns are heard — and how quickly they are addressed. Use my Power of P3 to keep messages focused and productive. Start out on a Positive note whether you’re communicating via note, email, phone or in person. Be Professional (polite and respectful in your observations and feelings) and Persistent when needed. Discuss difficult issues on the phone or in parent-teacher conferences, not via P3email. And never go over the teacher’s head without letting him or her know you plan to do so. It’s not always easy to follow P3, especially if you feel frustrated about your child’s situation. But when blame and accusations seep into your communication, teachers will defend their actions rather than respond to your concerns.

4. Say “thank you” in words and actions: With higher standards, new teacher evaluations, and endless testing, teachers are under a lot of pressure today. Acknowledge and support their efforts by sending a thank-you note or saying thanks when you see them. Even better, have your child write a thank-you note. If you can, send in materials when teachers ask for them. Most teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies and appreciate whatever parents can give. And if you do have the time to volunteer in the classroom or at school, be as helpful as you can.

Showing up for conferences and volunteering in the classroom are important, but need to be combined with the above to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. And the beginning of a new school year is a perfect time to start.

(This article was written by ML Nichols and published in Books for Better Living on August 14, 2013)

Pinch me! Parents magazine features The Parent Backpack!

IMG_1349WOW!! Really? 

I can’t believe I’m reading a review of The Parent Backpack in Parents Magazine!

Can I get any luckier? Here’s what Parents magazine writer Kristen Kemp wrote on page 18 of the September back-to-school issue:
 
Every so often, I run across a book so good it belongs on every family’s shelf. That’s the case with The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.
Author ML Nichols, director of nonprofit The Parent Connection, has written a guide for surviving and thriving in elementary school. She explains the system – from testing to special education to how administrators choose your kids’ next teacher. Best of all, she outlines whet to expect academically at different ages, defines fancy edu-terms, and offers advice for advocating for your child. Hopefully, you won’t need to contact the teacher and principal often – bit if you do, this book provides fantastic strategies.
THANK YOU Parents magazine and Kristen Kemp for this awesome review! And thank you, once again, to all the amazing teachers, parents, writers, friends and family who helped me make this book the best it could be. This would not have happened without you!

 

These next couple weeks will be exciting and nerve-wracking as kids and parents face a new school year. If you’d like to take a peek at the first chapter of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you can do that here on my “Look Inside” pages. 

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy for yourself or someone you know, click on any outlet in the top right corner of this page. The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is available in paperback or as an e-book.

Still pinching myself…

 

ML

 

 

 

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thank you being written

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