The Parent Teacher Team

By J. Bryerton, MA Ed.

Making the most of parent teacher conferences

Teachers are powerful forces shaping your child and conferences are the perfect opportunity to collaborate. Whether things are going well or there is room for improvement, working together will always enhance your child’s learning experiences.

Most conferences are scheduled for 15 or perhaps 30 minutes – a very short period of time to discuss a subject as big as your child’s learning and development! It’s best to prepare in advance and make notes about what you want to ask. (Tip: with such little time you should get a babysitter for the kids, even a baby can be distracting.)

After introductions and a speedy classroom tour, your child’s teacher will likely share some recent work samples and discuss any testing or special projects that are coming up. Talk with the teacher about your child’s learning style and preferences as well as any special interests. Homework habits, health issues, and any changes you’ve seen at home are also important to share. Getting to know your child better helps in planning lessons that will be especially effective.

Be forward in expressing any concerns about your child or the curriculum and classroom. You know your child best and you’re at this conference as their advocate. Ask! If your son or daughter seems not to be challenged or they complain about school, now is the time to discuss the issues. It may be awkward to ask teachers tough questions but they’re professionals and basic courtesy will smooth the way.

Encourage the teacher to report what he has observed, too. Discuss specific areas that are going well and those needing improvement. How can you help with their studies at home? If the teacher tells you that your child is doing just fine don’t take it as your cue to be complacent. Take the initiative by asking how you can keep things going well and what can you expect in the coming months. It’s difficult to hear not so great things about your son or daughter but this is valuable information from someone who also cares for your child. Ask for their recommendations, listen closely, and give a thoughtful reply if you can. Or, simply say that you’d like to think it over and talk more about the issue later – and set a specific date in the next couple of weeks. Without a follow-up you’re going nowhere.

Be sure to ask about how your child gets along with others. Social skills are the most important things we teach our children yet they often go overlooked unless there is a crisis. Who are his friends (you might be surprised!)? How does she do with group projects? What does he contribute to the classroom dynamic? Does she actively participate in her classes and speak to the group? What type of activities does he choose then there is free time? What behaviors might be a concern (sleepiness, gossiping, etc)?

Ask for ways you can work with your child at home to reinforce what the teacher does in class and leave your conference with a plan. It might be a specific goal of reading an additional 15 minutes a night together, a follow up meeting, or simply to congratulate your child on a good deed the teacher shared. When you get home, discuss the conference with your child. You don’t need to tell them about everything or go into details but do give your child the important message that you and the teacher are working together for their benefit. The conference sets the stage for a year’s worth of collaboration for a dynamic parent teacher team.

Jen lives in Charlottesville with her husband and two daughters. She holds a masters degree in education and has participated in hundreds of conferences as a teacher, a parent, and as a parent advocate.

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