How to make the most of your parent/teacher conference

As the school year comes to a close for many families, numerous parents have emailed me asking for guidance on how to approach their upcoming end-of-the-year parent/teacher conference. Having taught for many years and been on the “teacher” side of the conference, as well as having raised three children and been on the “parent” side of the conference, I have a few tips to share for getting the most out of your parent/teacher conference.

Parent teacher conference

Clear your schedule

Parents are often very busy, juggling demands from work and home. I found that parents who tried to fit the conference in “on the run” were often too distracted to actually relax and listen to the information they were receiving. Also, arriving even a few minutes late to a conference creates tension that has a negative impact on the conversation as it reduces the already short conference time and places added pressure on your child’s teacher to stay on schedule.

The easiest way to handle this potential problem is to plan to arrive at your child’s conference 15 minutes early. This way, even if you have been busy and did not have a chance to prepare for the conference, the time you spend waiting for your child’s teacher will allow you to focus on your child, think clearly about any concerns you may have, and prepare to really listen to what your child’s teacher has to share with you.

Prepare the teacher

Often parents have a certain concern or are curious about a specific aspect of their child’s development. The parent/teacher conference is the perfect time to address these issues. But to get the most accurate information, it is important to give your child’s teacher a “heads-up” about any issue or concern you have. This will give the teacher the opportunity to collect data (some of your child’s work, perhaps, or the viewpoint of other adults who interact with your child) before she meets with you. Also, the teacher can adjust the time she spends on other information she intends to share so that there is adequate time dedicated to your concerns.

A few days or weeks before your scheduled conference, consider sending your child’s teacher a brief email or a note that outlines your concern and expresses your desire to discuss this issue with the teacher at your child’s upcoming conference.

Stop and listen

A parent/teacher conference is about sharing information between the parent and the teacher, and this involves talking on the part of both parties. However, most teachers take pride in being well-prepared for conferences and have organized their thoughts and the comments in a certain order. For this reason, it is important to give the teacher a chance to share with you all of the information that he or she believes is relevant without being interrupted.

Consider bringing a pencil and pad of paper with you to the conference. This will allow you to easily record the most important parts of the information your child’s teacher is sharing. You will also have a convenient place to jot down any questions or concerns you have about the information you are hearing. When your child’s teacher pauses before changing topics, you can quickly ask a question you flagged or, at the end of the conference, you can scan your notes and see if anything stands out to you as an unresolved issue or an area where you need more clarification. Generally, teachers leave time after sharing their comments for a response from the parents, so you will have the opportunity to share your thoughts then.

Schedule a follow-up discussion if needed

Often concerns about a child need and deserve more time than the conference slot allows. However, attempting to lengthen the conference through numerous questions can be unproductive, as your child’s teacher will likely be eager to meet with the next family or go home after a long day of conferences.

If you or your child’s teacher raises a concern, take a moment at the end of the conference to begin formulating a strategy or plan for helping your child resolve the issue at hand. Ask the teacher how he or she is approaching the concern and ask what you can do to help, as well. Then schedule another time to meet to solidify the plan (if necessary), to check on your child’s progress and to assess the helping strategies. Typically these follow-up conversations can happen over the telephone or via email. In this way, the teacher will be able to give your concern the appropriate attention it deserves at a time when he is not distracted by the next set of parents coming in for their conference.

What can you share with other parents?

What have you done to get the most out of your parent/teacher conferences? What has your child’s teacher been most receptive to, and what did not work as well? Do you look forward to parent/teacher conferences or would you rather just get a written summary from your child’s teacher? I would love to hear from you, so please consider commenting, below.

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Images used under Creative Commons from Jose Kevo