Prep for Parent-Teacher Conferences
8 ways to partner up in your child's best educational interests
With the fall semester well under way, it may soon be time for your first parent- teacher conference of the year. It is not unusual for parents and teachers to approach these times with mixed feelings of hope and apprehension. Here are eight ways you can maximize the time together to help ensure that, like a good conversation, the encounter will be one in which everyone shares something and learns something.
- Both parents/guardians should attend if possible, even if divorced or separated. (The same goes for stepparents with whom the child may live.) One parent relying on the memory or interpretation of the other does not always provide the most accurate presentation of the teacher’s comments. These meetings are brief but crucial; missing an hour or two of work, if you can, is a worthwhile sacrifice.
- Confirm the date and time slot beforehand and be on time. Meetings are usually scheduled tightly, and one or two late parents can affect the entire day’s schedule, causing stress for everyone involved.
- Let your child know you will be meeting with his teacher and ask him what he thinks she might say. This can give you a helpful idea of your child’s perception of himself at school.
- If permitted by the school, request a time to observe a class prior to your conference. Let your child know you will be visiting but, once there, stay in the background and do not interact with her. Focus on how she relates to other children and adults; her level of self-directedness and ability to concentrate and follow directions; what she does during free choice time; and her overall attitude or demeanor in the classroom. Take notes and be prepared to discuss her social, emotional and academic development at the conference, sharing what makes your child seem happy and successful as well as anything that may give you cause for concern.
- Share with the teacher any recent, significant changes, both positive and negative, that may be occurring with your child or family – for example, the birth of a sibling, move to a new home, death or illness of a relative, parental job change or new babysitter.
- Ask the teacher about how well your child is progressing toward the academic and social benchmarks or goals he should be achieving. If these goals are not aligned with your own goals for your child, discuss a possible compromise. Ask if there is anything you can do at home to support the teacher’s goals, even if your child is progressing. And if the teacher indicates concern or a lag in development or effort, request more frequent progress updates and ask when the delay should be cause for greater concern.
- If significant issues are raised, request a subsequent meeting either by phone or in person to discuss the situation further, as the usual allotted time for a parent-teacher conference is insufficient to plumb areas of major concern.
- Remember to thank the teacher for her time and assure her that you would like to partner with her in the best interest of your child. Conferences are ideally just the beginning of an open, trusting relationship between parents and teachers.
Marie Conti is head of school at The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, PA and has conducted well over 1,000 parent-teacher conferences in her 34 years in early childhood education.