Ahh, March – the beginning of the spring season, and maybe less rain, and in preschool – a season of warm playground days, Spring break vacations, Easter egg hunts, Spring carnival, and (ugh!) parent conferences. Yes, parent-teacher conferences, one of the most important things we do, represent the opportunity for parents and teachers to discuss ideas and share information in a way designed to increase a child’s success in school. The foundation for good teacher-parent relationships is frequent, open communication, of which conferences are a part. Parents and teachers see their children in different contexts, and each may be unaware of what the child is like in the other context. Your most valuable ally inside the classroom is the teacher, and your objective should be to learn the teachers’ perspective on your child’s classroom performance.
My hope is that the words “parent-teacher conference” won’t be a cause of concern to parents. I do know that parents may have anxieties such as “what if my child is not doing as well as I hoped?” or “what if he is not making friends?” or “will the teacher think I am a bad parent?” Some see teachers as an authority figure. Others may have had experiences with teachers that left them unsure of how to express concerns to them. Still others fear that questioning a teacher will put their child at a disadvantage in the classroom.
However, teachers do not want to put parents on the spot. They just want to learn how to best help each child in school, and no one knows more about a child than his parent. A conference is about the child, not the parent, and it is important not to personalize information and take it as a direct reflection on how your child is being raised or on lessons that are being taught at home.
How do you prepare for a conference? Before conference day, think about things in your child’s home life, personality or habits that you feel the teacher should know. Think about questions to ask, such as “How does my child interact with you?” “Does my child get along with others – who are my child’s friends?” What does my child like best in school – like least?” “Does my child follow instructions?” “Does my child finish tasks?” “Has my child mastered the tasks or skills that are relevant for his age?” “What are my child’s strengths and areas for improvement?”
On conference day it is very important to be on time and to remember that a conference, like any conversation, is a time for both parties to talk and listen. You are there to learn about your child’s progress in school and during the conference, it is very appropriate to take notes, if you wish, as you ask questions. Although the focus of the conference is how your child is doing in school, share information about what your child is like at home. That often helps teachers to find ways to both challenge and support your child’s learning. Find out how you can reinforce positive school behavior and help to work on areas that need improving. Ask how you and the school can work together. Above all, make sure when you leave the conference that you have a clear picture of your child. Clarify anything you did not understand, and if you feel you need more time to talk with your child’s teacher, schedule an additional meeting.
Parent-teacher conferences can and should be a positive home-school connection. Because there continues to be a growing body of evidence that suggests that family engagement in school matters for student success, there is nothing more important than the opportunity these conferences afford. Done as a collaborative effort, our children are the beneficiaries.