Making the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conference
The first parent-teacher conference of the school year provides a great opportunity for you and your child's teacher to share insights and information. At this meeting, you can develop a relationship with the teacher and present yourself as a team player in your child's education.
If your child has a learning disability and receives special education services, it's essential that you make the most of the conference with the general education teacher. Because most teachers schedule 30 minutes or less for each conference, planning ahead can help you maximize the experience.
The Planning Process
You may have met with your child's teacher when the school year began. By the time the conference rolls around, several weeks will have passed; this means you, your child, and his teacher should all have a better sense of your child's struggles and strengths. How can you organize your comments and concerns? Here are factors to consider:
Ideally, you'll start preparing during the first few weeks of the school year. What should you pay attention to?
- Ask the teacher to give you information about the planned curriculum, how she assigns and evaluates work, and what her teaching philosophy is.
- Look for patterns in your child's school work. What subjects (such as math or reading) seem difficult? Are certain tasks (such as writing or computing math problems) more difficult than others?
- Listen to what your child says about his school work, as well as his relationships with his teacher and classmates.
- Note any classroom accommodations and techniques previous teachers have used to help your child succeed.
Organize and Prioritize
From the list of concerns and observations you create:
- Select the most important points to discuss with the teacher.
- Prioritize your concerns so you'll be sure to cover the most critical topics before "your time is up" at the conference.
- Summarize your top concerns on paper to take with you to the conference.
As the conference date draws near, remember the meeting is an opportunity for you and the teacher to collaborate. Remember that you're the expert about your child, while the teacher is the expert on teaching kids at his grade level. You'll both come to the table with ideas and opinions. Remember, too, that collaboration sometimes requires compromise; striking a balance of ideas is often in the best interest of your child.
At the Conference
Now, you're ready to meet with the teacher. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind during the conference:
- Let the teacher "lead" the conference. Be friendly, open, and appreciative of the positive things she does for your child.
- Allow the teacher to express her views, but make sure your priority concerns are addressed. This should be a give-and-take exchange. Hear the teacher out before you make any final requests or suggestions. What she says (new information, insights, or ideas) may alter the approach you take.
- For concerns you and the teacher agree on, ask how you and she can work together.
If you haven't already done so, ask the teacher how and how often the two of you will stay in touch. Will you make contact daily, weekly, or only as needed? Will you communicate by notes, telephone, email, or in person? Making such arrangements sends the message you're a team player in your child's education. It also helps you and the teacher plan for two-way communication throughout the school year.
At Home After the Conference
Whether or not your child attended the conference with you, it's helpful to sit down with him the same day to discuss what occurred. Depending on his age and maturity level, he may need help understanding what problems and solutions were covered. Most kids also want to have a clear idea of what's expected of the teacher, the parent(s), and, most importantly, from him. Be sure to point out his strengths along with his struggles. "Closing the loop" with your child will assure him that you, the school, and he are on the same team!
Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, topics which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.
© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All Rights Reserved. Adapted with permission of Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation.