Parent/teacher conferences are a powerful tool in establishing open lines of communication between parents and teachers. Open communication and joint problem-solving are the keys to a strong partnership between home and school.
Here are three typical reasons for a conference, with the steps parents can take to make the conference effective and successful.
You have a question or concern and want to have a conference.
- Send the teacher a note or an email stating what you would like to discuss and suggesting two or three meeting times. Remember that teachers cannot meet during instructional time. Some teachers prefer to meet before school; others prefer to meet during their planning period or after school.
- If the teacher does not respond that day, follow-up with a phone call.
- Send a note or an email to confirm the meeting time.
- If you might get upset or angry during the conference, ask another family member to go with you. A friendly face will give you confidence and help you stay focused.
- Write down your questions, concerns, and compliments in advance, so you will not get flustered and forget what you want to say. The teacher will appreciate it if you stay on track, and the conference will be more efficient and effective.
- Start the conference with a positive statement and a compliment. “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Mrs. Jones. Justin has made great progress in reading this year. How can we get him on track in math?”
- Take notes. Taking notes helps you remember what was said and keeps you focused.
- Make a follow-up plan to track the decisions and solutions you and the teacher have agreed on. It can be a phone call, a note, or another conference. Just be sure to have a plan. Then everyone is accountable for doing what they have agreed to do.
- If the follow-up needs to be on-going, set up a communication plan that is convenient for everyone. Some parents and teachers prefer email; others prefer a notebook that goes back and forth.
Here’s a different scenario. The teacher or the principal calls you to set up a conference about your child.
- If it’s an emergency, you will have to respond immediately. Before you hang up the phone, ask what the conference is about and who will be there. Emergency conferences are usually discipline-related, so be prepared. It will help to bring a family member with you. Remember to bring paper to take notes.
- If it is not an emergency, set up a convenient appointment time. Be sure to ask what the conference is about and who will be there. You don’t want to be surprised, because surprises can be upsetting and then it is hard to think straight and stay cool.
- Take notes, and ask the school staff to explain anything you don’t understand. If the problem is disciplined-related, ask for a written copy of the policy.
- Stay focused on positive solutions. There are often several ways of approaching a problem. In the case of discipline, there is usually an appeals procedure that you need to know about. Ask questions and know your options.
- If you need some time to calm down and think before making a decision, ask for another conference. Do not be rushed and do not be pressured. School decisions are very important for your child’s future.
Parents are most familiar with the twice yearly report card conference in elementary school. These conferences are an opportunity for teachers to touch base with parents and discuss academic progress. Parents are usually scheduled in 15 or 20 minute slots, so it is not the time to discuss anything at length. Here is what to do:
- Arrive on time and greet the teacher with a positive comment.
- Spend most of your time listening to the teacher and getting the information she has prepared for you.
- Take notes about any further questions or concerns you have.
- Say something else positive.
- Ask for another conference if you have any questions or concerns to discuss. The teacher cannot give you her undivided attention if other parents are waiting. Set the time and date now.
- Leave on time.
Your goals for parent/teacher conferences are to share information about your child, work with the teacher to figure out problems, and design positive solutions. Even if there is a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately, there is still a problem that needs a long-term positive solution. It may take a little time and some experimenting. Information and problems can be related to discipline, medical issues, learning problems, or mental health problems. You have to figure out where the problem lies before designing an effective, positive solution, and it takes team work to do that.