7 Tips to Help Parents Get the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

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Even though school has just started for some, Parent-Teacher conferences are just around the corner. Here are some tips that you can use as a parent to have a more effective parent-teacher conference.

As a teacher, I loved this time of the year. All my conversations with parents always gave a lot more insight into the child's life outside of school, as well as how I could help them better in the classroom. I enjoyed meeting all the families. There is something about the in-person interaction that makes it so much easier to communicate between the school and the home.

In the span of three days, teachers meet with every child's parent in a series of back-to-back 20-minute meetings. No child ever gets lost in the shuffle, but parent-teacher conference week can be draining for the teacher. These suggestions will help you get the most out of your meeting.

7 Tips to Help Parents Get the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Be on time, but be understanding if the teacher is running late.

I know. Totally a double standard, but here's why: Other parents do run late and some have more to discuss than others which make their conferences run a lot longer. Know that the teacher wants to speak with you and devote time to your child, even if your conference is running a little late.

Also, if you feel you have a lot to discuss that will go longer than 15-20 minutes, talk with the teacher before hand. If needed, she or he may be able to schedule you for two conference slots instead of one.

If there is a concern, email the teacher before the conference.

There are so many interactions that go on during the school day that teachers simply don't see. If you have a concern about how your child is interacting with her peers on the playground or if your child is complaining about how hard math is, email the teacher as soon as possible. Many times, a parent would ask me during a conference about a problem that their child was having with a student in another class on the playground. I felt stunned because I had no idea that the problem existed. However, after the parents mentioned the problem to me, I made it a priority to observe these two students together, talk with them, and get to the root of the problem.

Be prepared for a lot of data.

Schools these days make so many decisions based on data. DIBELS. NWEA MAP Scores, Galileo... students have to take so many tests! All of your child's scores will be presented to you at the conference. In the midst of all these numbers and if your child has been progressing normally so far (i.e. no learning disability suspected), you can ask the teacher two meaningful questions to give you a good grasp of your child's progress:

  • How do my child's scores compare to other students in the same grade? This will help you see if your child is progressing on grade level. Usually this answer is found in the child's percentile rank.

  • How do my child's scores compare to other students in this class? This will indicate the general aptitude of students in the school (or the class in particular if it is Accelerated or ELL) and also how your child might be grouped during math or reading time.

Ask, "How can I support my child at home?"

The teacher will be ready to give simple ideas that you can do at home to help your student progress in the classroom. These can be simple things such as taking your children to the library or practicing sight words.

If anything your child tells you about the classroom sounds "fishy," ask the teacher.

Kids are funny in the way they interpret situations or things people say. One year, my students were studying mold growth on bread. I had a couple of very active boys who wanted to open the Ziploc bags and pretend to eat the bread. I told the class that breathing in mold could be dangerous, so they should leave the bags closed. Unbeknownst to me, one of my well-meaning female students had opened one of the bags in curiosity. She went home and freaked out to her mom that she was going to die because of the mold in her classroom. I received a very panicked phone call from that parent questioning what we were doing in Science. I love that the parent contacted me first, because I was able to explain the situation and we resolved it together.

Don't stress out if your child isn't hitting grade level goals at conference time.

Your child still has three-quarters of the year left. Pick one goal for your child and work on that. (Thanks to Liz for this recommendation!)

Finally, write down all your questions.

Conferences go so fast and if you don't write your questions down, you are bound to forget some of them. Also, if after the conference, you go home and have more questions, email your teacher. Communication is key!

What tips would you recommend to other parents to navigate parent teacher conferences?

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