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Ideas for Parent-Teacher Conferences

by Suzanna Didier

By engaging in your child’s education, you can impact her academic achievement, according to the Harvard Family Research Project. One way to get involved is to regularly attend parent-teacher conferences. These brief meetings are a chance for you and the teacher to compare notes on the most important topic at hand -- your child’s success.

Practice Careful Listening

Even though you might be nervous about meeting with your child’s teacher, try to maintain a calm and friendly approach. By listening carefully and with an open mind, you send a clear signal that you are on the same team and not working as adversaries. This is far easier to do when the teacher addresses your child’s strengths and a little harder when she gets on the topic of weaknesses. Rather than preparing a rebuttal or getting angry, though, ask questions to help you understand, or ask for examples that help to illustrate her point.

Use a Problem-Solving Approach

Throughout the conference, hold tight to the idea that the goal is outlining strategies for your child’s success. For that to happen, your child, the teacher and you need to work together. While teachers love to hear parents ask, “What can I do to help?”, it is equally important for you to ask the teacher what he is doing to help your child with any identified weaknesses. When changes are needed, write down the steps each of you will take, and review them with your child when you get home. Whatever your part is in the plan, don't be afraid to ask for the teacher's help or for additional resources to carry it out.

Share Information About Your Child

Conferences are an opportunity to give the teacher a more complete picture of your child. You carry valuable insights into your child’s temperament, interests, challenges and needs. Share anything that might help the teacher work more effectively with your child. This is also your chance to discuss any concerns you have such as bullying, learning challenges or difficulties with peers. Finally, let the teacher know about any changes at home that might impact your child's behavior or learning, such as a new baby, a death or divorce.

Prepare Questions

Prepare a list of questions for the teacher. To spark ideas, look through your child’s school work and talk to him about any concerns or questions he wants you to bring forward. Because conference time is limited, prioritize your questions in case you run out of time. Some question topics include how your child gets along with classmates, behavior or academic problems, strengths, homework completion, how the teacher is nurturing your child’s strengths and how your child gets along with others.

Follow-up

Keep the communication lines open, even after the conference. Before you leave, find out what communication mode works best for the teacher: email, phone, text or in-person. If you developed an action plan, schedule a follow-up meeting to talk about progress -- this lets both the teacher and your child know of your commitment to its success. And just as you might dislike hearing from the school only when something goes wrong, teachers appreciate a word of thanks for their hard work. Consider a sending a quick text, a card or an email.

About the Author

Suzanna Didier's work appears in online publications including the National Geographic website, SFGate and Local.com. She is an avid cook who lives on a hobby farm, direct-markets organic produce to local restaurants and has taught at the preschool, elementary and college levels. Didier holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Oregon.

Photo Credits

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