Many parents are a bit intimidated when parent-teacher conference week arrives. Following a few guidelines will help make it an enjoyable – and very valuable – experience.

Define what the conference is all about.

The apprehension leading up to parent-teacher conference is usually due to the fear the teacher is going to say something bad about their child, or that she will be judging the parents. The reality is that the parent-teacher conference is a tool to enhance communication between home and school. Through this communication, the teacher can provide the best possible educational experience for the child, and the parents can learn how to best support these efforts at home.

Talk to your child.

Effective education is a team effort, and the major players are the teacher, the parents, and the child. Your child’s perception of her progress and behavior is very important. Before you go in for the conference, ask your young scholar what she thinks the teacher will bring up. This way, you will enter the conference with several concerns that your child has already expressed. If, for instance, your child thinks the teacher will say she is not doing well in math – but, during the conference, the teacher does not bring it up as an area of concern – it will be helpful to discuss why your child felt the need to bring it up. Does she lack confidence in math? Does she have a hard time with the concepts but has done a good job of hiding her struggles?

Write down your questions and concerns.

It helps to have a list of things that you want to talk about. It is very natural to develop “blank mind syndrome” when you are sitting across the table from your child’s teacher. A list will help ensure that you address everything that you want to bring up during the conference. It also provides a place to jot down notes during the conference.

Be punctual.

Unless this is a conference that the teacher has called to address a specific situation, this conference is probably part of a school-wide parent-teacher conference week. The teacher has carefully scheduled his parent meetings, one after another. If one child’s parents are late, it can (a) decrease the amount of time those parents have with the teacher, and/or (b) make everyone else’s conferences late for the rest of the day.

Keep to your scheduled appointment.

For the same reasons as listed above, be sure to call the school if you are going to be late. It might be as easy as rescheduling for another slot later in the day or week. Also, if you are in the middle of the conference and realize that you need more than the time allotted, schedule another conference. Teachers are normally very amenable to this suggestion, and truly appreciate the parent’s thoughtful respect of their schedule.

Share information with your child’s teacher.

Each of us has our own comfort level regarding personal privacy, but there are some topics that should be shared with your child’s teacher if they might impact your child’s education. Also, you might want to make sure that your child’s teacher is aware of any health concerns or allergies; this information is on record in the nurse’s office, but it never hurts to be extra clear.

Ask questions.

Now is the time to clarify anything you aren’t too sure of. One topic that frequently requires additional clarification is the teacher’s homework policy. Other topics might include dress code, daily and special schedules, behavior and discipline policies, and suggestions for helping your child at home.

If things are uncomfortable…

It is very rare that conflicts arise between teacher and parent – but sometimes they do. First, try to resolve any differences respectfully and amicably, using all of the positive communication skills that you would employ in a touchy business situation. If that does not resolve the conflict satisfactorily, schedule a meeting with the school principal. You may even plan ahead, if you’ve had a conflict-riddled relationship with the teacher thus far, and have a third party, such as the principal or school counselor, at the parent-teacher conference. Such rare occurrences can normally be resolved by mediation or clearer conversation.

Share the conference information with your child.

Your child is probably a little anxious about what you discussed in the conference. Experts suggest that you use the sandwich technique for delivering any negative or difficult information:

  • Positive comment: “Your teacher said that you get along great with your classmates.”
  • Negative comment: “Unfortunately, sometimes you’re a little too chatty when you’re supposed to be focused on your schoolwork.”
  • Positive comment: “She knows that you’ve got everything it takes to be a great leader in class. Just make good choices about when you’re visiting with others!”

Discussing the results of the conference with your child is one of the most valuable outcomes of the whole event. It acknowledges the value of the student’s role in the “educational team,” ensures that he understands what areas his teacher would like him to work on, and reassures him that his teachers appreciates the things that he is doing well.

With a bit of advance planning, your parent-teacher conference can be annual event that you actually look forward to!

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