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5 Tips for the New Parent-teacher Conference

Having a parent (family, caregiver) teacher conference is a great way to get more context, beyond letter grades and averages, about how your child is doing in school and how to collaborate for their success. As families, we are most in the dark about the day-to-day of school and how or how not our child is engaging, participating, and experiencing school. Talking with a teacher who spends time with your child can provide you with a vibrant picture of how things are going. Here are 3 great tips for discovering more and setting up a collaborative vibe.

Tip #1 - Insist on having a conference

I know this sounds aggressive but today you have to be insistent if you want to have a conference with your child's teacher or school. In many schools time for conferences is not included in the calendar making it hard to coordinate with teachers on a mutual time to meet. Also, many folks feel that progress reports are sufficient information for families and in the post-Covid school world, the face-to-face conference has all but disappeared. Also, many teachers, rightfully so given the large number of students on their roll, do not prioritize family communication if a child is passing or doing “okay” in their class. If you want a conference and your child is not failing you might get pushback because they’re doing fine. Reiterate that you’d like to meet to talk about how you can collaborate with the school to help your child thrive- not just survive. Since you want to be active in your child's school success, you have to let that be known to the teacher and ask for a time to meet, then remind, then ask again...until you get your time.

Tip #2 - Be flexible

Like I said, school schedules don't easily allow for leisurely scheduled conferences with families so being willing to meet when the teacher has a planning period or lunch or before or after school will make all the difference. Also, I always offer to meet in any format that is convenient (phone, Zoom, in person)- whatever works for the teacher. Your willingness to fit a teacher's schedule reflects your collaborative approach and shows understanding for #crazyschoollife

"Productive collaborations between family and school, therefore, will demand that parents and teachers recognize the critical importance of each other's participation in the life of the child. This mutuality of knowledge, understanding, and empathy comes not only with a recognition of the child as the central purpose for the collaboration but also with a recognition of the need to maintain roles and relationships with children that are comprehensive, dynamic, and differentiated.

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Tip #3 - Ask questions to start

While we come to a conference with an idea of things we’d like to know or discuss, it’s good to start with questions. I like to start with questions to provide me with more context for what I want to discuss. Here are some ideas: "How is my child doing in your class?” “In your expert opinion, what are their strengths? areas for growth?" If you want to know focus, attention, test taking, ask about that specifically. “How is their focus or attention?” From these questions, you'll get a clearer picture of how your child is going about their work in a class and see how your questions/concerns measure with the teacher's observations. If your child is in attendance include them with a couple of questions, "How is the class going for you?" Followed by more specific questions like, “What's working well? What do you wish was different?

Tip #4 - Establish collaboration

After some back and forth and discussion about your child in school, ask "What can we do, if anything, to support from home?" This question shows a teacher that we are all on the same time- page of student success- and that our relationship is a collaborative one. As a teacher, there were times I longed for a parent to ask me this question! So- ask. The answer also gives you a specific action item which might be there’s nothing to do at home (which I suggest you accept and move on to another worry.) At our recent conference, the teacher suggested practicing math facts at home. Since then our kid does 15 minutes a night practicing facts which has helped with her confidence and math success- yes, their grade.

Tip #5 - Debrief with your child

Whether or not your child is at the conference (my preference for the majority of meetings) or not, it's good to chat with them after. You can summarize what was discussed and get their input, or if they are in attendance, ask for their impression and feedback. Remember: your child is the center of this discussion. It’s their school day, their experience, and ultimately they are the ones who will have to do what needs to be done. Including your child early and often creates a collaborative environment and builds confidence that they are and will be heard.

If you remember one thing...Collaborative Communication is Key

Your child doesn't have to be failing a class to meet with a teacher or someone at the school. Conferences are meant to be a meeting of the minds- it’s when a group of people who care about the child’s success in school have the time to connect and strategize. These conferences allow the caring adults to dig below the surface and cooperate to provide the students with all they need to do their best. Want more? Listen to The School Whisperer Podcast - new episodes every Friday. (click here) or on Apple Podcasts or Amazon.

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