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.

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. [Read more...]