In today's busy world, parents and educators are stretched to the max, making the face to face time provided by parent-teacher conferences precious. Despite parents having more access to teachers than ever before via email (remember when our parents had to hand-write notes to send in our backpack), there is no replacement for in person conversation. Making the most of the conference is crucial and there are things parents can do to make the experience positive and productive!
Come prepared with specific questions.
Teachers spend hours pouring over a student's work and scores, finding trends and making notes, preparing themselves to talk about your child. Despite the fact that the teacher has an ample amount to share with you, they love receiving specific, targeted questions from parents as well. Before the conference, jot down any questions or observations you might have about how things are going. Especially note things that the teacher has done that have been highly successful for your child's learning. They will keep this in mind in the future! Teachers will oftentimes reference work samples during the conference, but bringing in your child's classwork or assessments to help you discuss your point can also be very effective.
Involve your child in the process.
Your child is the one living and breathing their school day. They can be one of your greatest resources in preparing for a conference. Who else knows their school experience better than they do? Asking them what they are most proud of and/or what they feel they need more support on, not only provides you with insightful information, it extends ownership to them and makes them feel included in the process. Some schools may offer student-led conferences. If not, make sure to be transparent about how the conference went. Especially focus on all the positive take-aways. Children often grow anxious about conferences, creating overly negative narratives in their head about how they think it will go. Involving your child in the process from start to finish will help to ease their anxiety.
Understand you may not get your answers right away.
If you come prepared with questions, or you ask them throughout the conference, know that teachers might not be able to give you an answer on the spot. Most teachers are meticulous and detail oriented and might need more time to think about your question, look back at work samples, or speak to another one of your child's teachers or specialists before being able to fully answer you. If you don't hear back in a few days, however, it's always a good idea to send a follow up email restating your questions.
Establish a team based approach to your child's education.
One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is set the tone, early on, that you are on the same team as the teacher in an effort to provide your child with the best possible school experience. This is not to say that parents and teachers will always agree on every issue. However, keeping a positive, child-centered approach and mentality throughout the meeting allows for a goal-driven conversation.
Come with an open mind.
We know and love our children more than anyone in the world. We celebrate their victories with more vigor than our own accomplishments, and we internalize their pain. Because of this, we can easily fall into a biased view when engaging in conferences. Understand that your child's teacher also spends an incredible amount of time with your little (or big) person. They see them in an entirely different setting and your child might not always act or perform in the same manner as they do at home. While teachers should always spend an ample amount of time addressing your child's strengths and accomplishments, they aren't doing their job if they don't bring up areas of needed improvement. Additionally, that face to face conference might be the place in which teachers have to say some things which are difficult for you to hear. Conferences can often be emotional for all parties involved. Having an open mind and understanding that you might have different viewpoints, and that is okay, can help keep those lines of communication open.
But do not be afraid to advocate for your child.
However, teachers can get it wrong sometimes too. They are human beings tasked with educating a room full of highly diverse learners and personalities. Because they are distributing their time and attention across 20+ different students, they might not be able to capture some of the nuances and unique attributes about your child that you, as the parent, are expert in. Additionally, a general education teacher simply might not be equipped with the resources to meet all the needs of a child with specific learning needs. Ask what services and differentiation your child is already being provided. Inquire as to what outside supports the teacher thinks might be beneficial.
If your child has been through the evaluation process and has an IEP or diagnosis, make sure those supports are in place. Another thing you can do is request progress reports from your child's specialists (speech, OT, school based learning specialist). Remember, you are your child's biggest advocate and strongest voice. If your child shows signs of potentially needing support services or an evaluation, there are plenty of service providers such as Parallel Learning to help your child on their path to success.
Make sure there is time to discuss your child's socioemotional well-being.
Conference time is never long enough and it can easily become entirely focused on your child's academic strengths and weaknesses. Oftentimes, however, your child's socioemotional can be just as important, if not more important. For example, a child consumed with friendship struggles and isolation might not have the baseline capacity to be focusing on multiplication facts. This is especially important for students who might be facing learning challenges. Make sure to let your child's teacher know you would like to reserve some time to discuss these topics!
Having a positive and open relationship with your child's teacher can be a vital component to a successful school year. Teachers spend a considerable amount of time with your child and can be one of your greatest allies in fostering your child's positive outlook on school. Parent-teacher conferences are a powerful place to build and continue this team-based relationship.
With COVID, the last few years have caused many rapid changes to the education system, including teachers having to pivot to remote and then hybrid learning, students missing school due to illnesses and quarantines, and limited availability of teachers and substitutes. Most teachers will tell you that the last 3 school years have been the most challenging of their career. Teacher burnout and exhaustion are at a record high. We encourage all parents and caregivers to remember this when heading into conferences and extend care, empathy, and kindness.
We'd love to hear from you! What have you found to be a key ingredient to a successful parent teacher conference? Make sure to comment below and share your experiences.