Tips for a GREAT Parent-Teacher Conference | From a Seasoned Teacher and Parent

If you are worried about your up-coming teacher-parent conference, then check out these GREAT tips!!  A seasoned teacher and parent has put together a list of things to think about and talk with your child about in advance, so you are prepared for you conference.

{This post was written by Susan Dennis}

It’s that time again.  Temperatures are dropping, fall is in color, pumpkin flavors everything…and parent-teacher conferences are ahead!  I’ll bet you can hardly wait to get through the scheduling process, which for me (the teacher side of the table) entails a whole lot of phone tag and repetitively asking “did you give your mom the note”, and carve time out of your busy evenings to attend the annual conference.  I wish there was an easier way to make the connection between the teacher and parents of each child….but….here we go again!

I’d like to thank Heather and Angela for the opportunity to write a guest post today. I am a teacher, a parent (although well past the conferencing phase…just call me Grammy ☺), and have been a student for most of my life. Obviously, this is a topic that is oh so familiar to me.  Decades of experiences on all sides of the table have formed a bounty (I’m keeping with the fall theme here!) of thoughts, ideas, opinions and emotions in regard to parent- teacher conferences. My brain has been doing what I like to call “incubating” on the topic ever since Angela asked me to write this post.  I thought it would be easier to write, but I’ve been researching, typing notes, and even talking to my phone to get all the ideas out of my head and in some sort of order.  Keep in mind that (as I like to point out to my sixth graders) I was born in the middle of the last century so talking to my phone is not something I’d ever dreamed I do! I certainly love the Notes microphone, but DON’T get me started on Siri .

I digress. I’ve lost my focus.  Please don’t let my students know this. 😉  It is a battle we fight valiantly every day in their own writing pieces!

I’d like to focus on parents preparing for the upcoming conferences, which are being scheduled as I type this post. Preparing for your upcoming parent conference requires just a bit of time and thought but does not need to be time consuming.

First and most importantly, have a conversation (or two) with your child.  Ask how school  feels, how does the time pass, what their favorite part of the academic day (skipping over the lunch, recess and PE answers) and so on….all intended for you to get an impression of what your child’s day feels like to them.  Mentally note their mood in the morning and evening.  Children are gifted when it comes to intuitively knowing if the classroom is working for them.  Listen for the clues during your conversation(s). I often tell my parents that there are two very effective times to have conversations with their child.  The first time would be while driving (you know you are in your vehicle frequently enough, right?) and your child is seated behind you.  This physical arrangement eliminates the need for face to face conversations.  This is particularly effective for older children.  You don’t see the eye rolling and they feel safer blushing and don’t have to hide their discomfort.  The second productive time for conversation is after they have settled in bed for the night.  Relaxed.  Lights out. You’d be surprised what you can learn in that few minutes before sleep.

Next, browse through their notebooks, papers and textbooks and get a feel for their academics.  Look for areas that may be a concern, but also look for things that you like and want to comment on during the conference.  Be the parent that has something to say when the teacher gets to that magic point in the conference and says, “Do you have any questions or concerns?”  Believe me, the teacher wants a response!  Silence is awkward for all

Finally, come prepared to talk about your child.  You are the one who knows them better than anyone else in the world and you have the special knowledge that will help your child and the teacher work together on academic achievement. I like to give my parents a voluntary homework assignment during Meet the Teacher at the very beginning of the year.

Parent Homework (totally voluntary!):  I like to learn about my students from the people who know them best – you!  I would love it if you would take a few minutes and send me an email (or a good old-fashioned written note) and tell me about your child.  (The only one that will read it is me.)  As a personal favor – please try to keep it at a million words or less .

Prep Suggestions

Some ideas to bring to the conversation:

  • Any changes in the home that could affect school performance
  • Any difficulties your child may be experiencing in school
  • Your child’s special medical needs
  • Your child’s after school activities
  • Your child’s hopes and dreams
  • Your child’s home responsibilities
  • The best way for the school to communicate with you
  • What are your impressions of your child’s academic work?  Make sure that you and the teacher are seeing the work in the same light.
  • Be prepared with any questions that are particular to your child/situation.
  • Consider…would you like your student to be involved in the conference?  Ideally, this should be requested well ahead of time as it is not the norm.  As a teacher, I have held many parent student-parent-teacher conferences.  Sometimes for positive reasons and sometimes for student accountability reasons.  Student-led conferences are usually very effective and successful if all parties agree to it.
  • Consider…would you like to have anyone else present at the conference? Trust me, if the teacher feels the need for others to be there in support, it will happen!  Do you need anyone? Friend? Relative? Counselor? Advocate? Principal?
  • Offer to give back….can you help in any way to support the teacher from the home perspective?  Academic? Follow through?  Support? Encouragements?  Volunteering?
  • Reverse the flow…ask the teacher if he/she has any questions for you.
  • Keep in mind that a parent-teacher conference should be a two-way conversation.  If you sense that the teacher is dominating the conversation…speak up!  This will be easy if you have done your “homework” and know what you would like to discuss.

Remember, you are your child’s best and most important advocate.  Make the most of your parent-teacher conference!