It’s that time of year when parents and teachers get to have that annual chat to talk about how their child is doing in school. I think teachers begin to think about parent conferences well before it is time. I know I do. A teacher can learn so much about a student, even when the time allotted for conferences can be so short.
While some families look forward to conferences, other families can find it very stressful. It doesn’t have to be. Throughout my years of teaching, parents of some of the highest performing students come in with stress and worry about how their child is doing in class. I like to think of parent conferences as a time when parents and teachers can meet and get to know each other. It’s a time to understand each party’s expectations for the year, and a chance to come up with a few ideas to help children be successful in school. And I just have to say, success in school can mean something different for every child. Maybe it is academically successful, gain confidence, building relationships with peers. The list can go on and on. Conferences shouldn’t be only about grades and scores because understanding the whole child is important.
Parent- Teacher Relationship
The parent-teacher relationship can be a tricky one for many reasons. As long as the ultimate goal of the conference is the student’s success and that continues to be the focus, the meeting can be very productive. Although parent conferences take a lot of time and work to put together, I typically enjoy them. I like to meet students’ families. It helps me understand who they are. Once I meet the families I can better help them.
I know many parents get a little nervous. Even though I’m a teacher, I’m often a little nervous about conferences for my own kids. Each of my kids has a different personality, so that means each conference can look very different. One child is a perfectionist, and very much a rule follower. One is very chatty, moves quickly through everything, and can’t get enough of all the interaction that school provides. Another likes to get involved in discussions and doesn’t mind beating to their own drum. You get my drift.
Regardless, everyone wants to hear that their child is learning and behaving well in school. No one wants to hear what their child is doing wrong. The truth is, no matter how well a child is performing, there is always room to improve or something to learn. As adults, we’re still learning, it just may not be in a formal education kind of way like children.
If you’re heading into parent-teacher conferences and you’re feeling a little nervous, don’t be. Here are a few ways you can prepare.
Ways to Prepare
- Think of parent conferences like a getting to know you kind of meeting. A good rapport between parent and teacher is paramount. It’s hard to be on the same page for the child when the parent-teacher relationship is rocky. If you remember the reason for the meeting (the success of your student), then it should go smoothly. Ask questions. Ask for clarification on anything you’re unsure about. If there’s a disagreement on a topic, then try to come up with a solution where you and the teacher are okay with moving forward.
- Don’t be afraid of the data. Sometimes parents feel inundated with all of the information they get during conferences. Sometimes it’s a lot of class information and rules about the school year. Other information tends to be a lot of data (scores that students receive on beginning of the year assessments or tests). Teachers are used to looking at the same kind of data year after year, and review it for multiple students. Don’t be afraid to ask what it all means if you’re confused or don’t understand. Don’t be that student that says yes, or nods their head saying they understand even though they have no idea of what’s being said. What’s the point! And if the data isn’t showing where you think your child should be, remember it’s only the beginning of the year. A lot of learning still has to happen. Also, ask how you can help. Maybe it’s practicing a skill or checking work, or watching out for something in regular old conversation.
- Write down any questions and concerns to discuss. This is your chance to ASK QUESTIONS. Discuss anything you are concerned about or wondering about. I know there tends to be a lot of teacher talk during conferences, but be sure you get a chance to ask your questions if they haven’t already been addressed.
- Don’t be afraid to call and set up another appointment. Teachers are only given a certain amount of time for each conference In many schools it is only mandatory to have conferences one time a year. There is a chance you won’t get through everything. If that’s the case, then be sure to set up another meeting at a later date. You can choose to continue the discussion or meet later in the year when your child has settled into the year. By then, you’ll have a better idea of how they are doing.
- Ask Beforehand. If you’re not new to parent conferences, you pretty much know what to expect, but even then, every teacher and every school is different. There may be different topics they feel are most important to address for parents. Conferences are limited in time. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ever ask me what exactly I’d be discussing during their child’s conference, but it could be a good idea. That way you’re mentally prepared to talk about those topics or get your questions answered. Like if I could prepare for all of the data they’re spitting out at me (parent hat on now). Because I’m conscouis about my own feelings as a parent going into conferences, I really try to make sure I’m understandable when talking about it as a teacher.
- Keep in Touch. Don’t feel like once your conference is over that is the end of communcation with the teacher. Don’t be afraid to check in. It’s a good idea anyway to keep up with how your child is doing in school, and how they are learning. It doesn’t have to be a sit down meeting. There’s always email, a phone call, or better yet, if your child’s teacher is using an app for communcation, take advantage of it. It’s such a quick and easy way to get in contact with the teacher.
If you’ve already had parent conferences, hopefully, they went well for you. Whether the meeting went well or it could’ve gone better, don’t be afraid to schedule another or keep in touch. It’s always a great feeling for teachers to see parents have a vested interest in their child’s learning. It’s a good thing for a child to see also.
A parent conference is like a meeting for parents and teachers to learn. I hope your conferences go well and that you and your children have a wonderful school year. The year has really just begun!