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4 Tips for Maximizing the Value of Parent-Teacher Conferences

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4 Tips for Maximizing the Value of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Stacy Rosenblum

In last week’s article on parent-teacher conferences, we emphasized how important it is to treat these meetings as valuable learning opportunities. Time is always limited, whether the conference is 10 minutes or 30 minutes. Teachers have to encapsulate months of progress and challenges into a quick presentation and provide evidence of both.

Parents may hear information that is surprising or contrary to their opinions or feelings about their child for the first time, while also being asked to agree to a plan designed to help their child improve. It’s a lot to handle in a short period of time, so it’s no wonder so many parents leave parent-teacher conferences feeling overwhelmed and confused.

Here are 4 important tips that will help you maximize the value of parent-teacher conferences during and after your time with the teacher:

Focus on the Subject of the Conference: Your Child

We already know that parent-teacher conferences bring up a set of complex emotions. But more often than not, this has more to do with our own memories of being in school, and underlying fears that our expectations will go unmet or be contradicted by the teacher’s evaluation.

It is imperative that parents resist the temptation of comparing themselves to their children at the same age, particularly if the child exhibits learning differences. This will only generate anxiety, which will in turn distract parents from listening to the advice of the teacher.

It may be difficult to understand why your child struggles in an area that was simple for you to master -- but remember, your child is a unique individual, not a clone of yourself. Which is precisely what you need to keep reminding yourself during the parent-teacher conference. Put your anxieties aside, open your ears, listen to the teacher’s assessment, and take good mental notes.

Ask the Teacher How You Can Help at Home

Teachers always love to hear parents ask: “How can we help at home?”

If your child is having difficulty meeting a particular expectation in the classroom, ask how you can help address that specific expectation, and make sure you clearly understand the expectation as it was originally laid out. The more specific your understanding of the problem and the teacher’s expectations, the more tactical and focused your efforts can be at home.

There is no blame to be assigned when a child is struggling. The best way of supporting your child is to make a collaborative plan with the teacher, and when necessary, an administrator. There’s no better time to outline and mutually agree on this plan than when you are face-to-face with the teacher.

Always Stay Positive

Taking a long range perspective on the learning trajectory of your own child can be really tough. It’s tempting to jump to conclusions and label an issue that isn’t there, depending on how the teacher conveys his or her observations.

If the teacher reports that a child is squirming and inattentive during morning meetings, it does not imply that s/he has ADHD. Moreover, if a child is slow to learn letter sounds, it does not automatically mean s/he is dyslexic. We must resist the temptation to draw kneejerk conclusions.

Instead, think about your child in the context of their progress as a learner. Ask yourself: “When should this skill be solidified?” or “At what age is this behavior typical?” Frame the problem in a way that makes it easy to work with the teacher to find a solution, while keeping personal anxieties at bay.

Remember to Follow Up

You’ve made it through the conference and asked the question that all teachers love: “How can we help at home?” Now the ball is in your court. Agree on a follow-up schedule with the teacher in an effort to build accountability into the collaborative plan you develop.

Some of the recommendations included in that plan might be inconvenient given our frenetic lifestyles. But if a teacher suggests it, you can bet it is important. Implementing a teacher’s advice is the best way helping your child at home. After a month, report back to the teacher on how effective the plan has been so that changes can be made as needed. At the same time, don’t hesitate to make suggestions of your own.

Ongoing communication with the teacher is essential and a wonderful way to make the positive effects of parent-teacher conferences last well beyond your face-to-face meeting.