Parent-Teacher Conferences….Already?

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through the first marking period. A fact that makes your upcoming parent-teacher conferences that much more important. Here are some thoughts on how to make the most of those precious minutes with your child’s teacher.

Since most schools now sandwich conferences into revolving 10-15 minute blocks, every minute matters. The most important part: be there. Carve out the time and prepare. It sends a critical message to your kids – and their teachers: I care about your education. If you can’t make the proposed times, email the teacher and politely request another option.

Think in specifics.

I’ve organized questions below into three groups (thanks to a reader’s suggestion) depending on whether your child is 1) doing great, 2) struggling or 3) needs to be challenged. Your child may be a mix of these – doing well in one area, but need more support in another. Not all kids fall cleanly into one group. If you have a specific concern you want to talk about in the conference, send a short email to your child’s teacher in advance and let them know. They’ll benefit from a focused discussion as much as you will. If there is anything out of the ordinary going on at home, give the teacher a heads up. It affects your child’s learning more than you know.

Make notes. Take notes.

If you’re not sure what to discuss, open your child’s notebook and take a look at their work. Where do they struggle? Where do they excel? What points do their teachers make consistently? Is the work sloppy? Do they churn through homework too quickly?  Ask your child what they like most and least about math, reading and science. A topic your child “hates” may offer clues about what’s connecting and what’s not. Socially, does your child have at least one friend in school? Make notes and jot down questions before you go.

Respect both Experts. Listen well.

As the parent,  you are your child’s first teacher and the expert on that child’s individual strengths and weaknesses. On the flip side, the classroom teacher is trained in 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. The more sharing that goes on between these two experts – the more candid and respectful dialogue between teacher and parent – the more successful your child’s school experience will be.

Be Polite, Positive and Persistent.

If you follow the Power of P-Three, you are more likely to be heard and get your child’s needs met. Be Polite. Be Positive. Be Persistent. No matter what the situation, keep that ring turning. It won’t always be easy because mama and papa bear can get feisty. It’s only natural. But anything less than this can lead to a control battle that takes the focus off your child. Here are some questions to keep things positive and focused on solutions for your child vs. critical of the teacher or teaching, which does nothing to help your child now.

For the child “doing great”: (Be a detective.)

  • Everything seems to be going well for Jake. How is he fitting in socially?
  • How do Jake’s classmates see him – as leader, a follower? Is he a peer model?
  • I’m wondering if Jake is performing up to his ability and how we can be sure of that?
  • Do you see any area that he can improve upon? What makes him spark?
  • What can you tell me about Jake’s work ethic? His attitude toward learning?
  • What are Jake’s strengths? Weaknesses? What’s his primary learning style?
  • If Jake was your child, what would you ask his teacher that I haven’t yet asked?

For the child who is struggling: (Be aware of your mama or papa bear instincts.)

  • What exact grade level is Jamie performing at in reading and in math? (eg. 2.0-2.9)
  • How often are these tests given and can I receive copies of the test and/or results?
  • What do you see as the problems or factors contributing to this situation?
  • What support or special help does the school offer if Jamie is not on a special plan?
  • At what point should Jamie be tested? What tests are given?
  • I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Jamie doesn’t fall further behind?
  • How can we tap his strengths to shore up weaknesses?
  • When can we meet again to follow-up on Jamie’s progress?

For the child who needs more challenge: (Know that the word “bored” can offend.)

  • Alex moves quickly through most of her work at home; do you see this in class?
  • Can assignments be given that are more challenging for Alex in each subject area?
  • What can I do as a parent at home to enrich Alex’s learning?
  • What subjects does she excel in and what areas can she improve upon?
  • How is Alex socially? Does she participate in class? How do her friends see her?
  • If applicable, should Alex be tested for the school’s gifted and talented program?
  • Do you see children Alex might be grouped with so she is more challenged?
  • If there is disagreement…May I offer my point of view on why I disagree with this assessment of Alex? Could you help me better understand your point of view?

Next Steps:

If your discussion has focused on your child’s struggles or need for more challenge, then a follow-up meeting is in order. It may make sense to set up monthly touch points until you’re feeling more comfortable that your child is indeed thriving. Or dialogue by email. Do what feels right in your gut. You are your child’s first teacher. Just remember the Power of P-Three: Be Polite. Be Positive. Be Persistent. It will pay off in the end.

Comments

  1. ML, this is a great list of questions, truly helpful. Thanks so much!

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  1. [...] a pattern – three or more comments or actions that negatively influence your child. Use my “Power of P3” – be polite, positive and persistent when you discuss your issues. Stick to the facts and [...]

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