EdNews Parent Expert Karla Scornavacco responds:

Q. How can I best prepare for a conference with my child’s teacher?

A. First, talk to your child about his experiences in the classroom. Do his grades reflect how much effort he puts into his school work? What are some things the teacher does that you wish she did even more often? What’s one thing that the teacher doesn’t know about you that you wish that s/he did? Then, prepare your agenda, while considering your child’s input and these points:

  • Progress: What have you noticed my child getting better at?  How is he or she doing compared to the rest of the class?  Is he or she performing at grade level (and how do you determine what it means to be “at grade level”)?
  • Social Learning: Is my child confident and friendly with other children? Does my child work best in a large or small group?
  • Reading: What reading skills are stressed in your class?  At this school?  How do you present reading assignments to all the students?  What is my child expected to do? If there was one thing you wanted me to work on with my child at home in regards to reading, what would it be?
  • Writing: What writing skills are stressed in your class?  At this school?  What is my child expected to do in terms of sharing her ideas, organizing her thoughts, writing clearly for an audience, following the rules of grammar?
  • Strengths & Interests: Tell the teacher what you think your child is good at, and back this up with a story or example.  Also, mention one to three of your child’s core interests to help the teacher understand your child better.

Now, go through the list and circle your favorites and make sure to ask those first. As far as the conference itself, it should go without saying that you need to arrive on time and plan to end on time.  It may help to set a silent timer such as the vibration mode on your cell phone to five minutes prior to the scheduled end of the conference.

Listen actively, and show that you are doing so (e.g. “is what I hear you saying….?” “This sounds like something important”).  Use “I” statements (e.g. “I just wish there was something more we could do;” “I’m convinced there’s another way to go about this;” “I’d like to help”).  Lastly, always feel free to ask for clarification.

Plan out the next steps. Write down things that you and the teacher will do to support your child. Helpful things to write down include: what you (and the teacher!) will do; how often you will do these things; and a possible date for another check-in. Most of all, remember to involve your child in next steps.

The end of the conference is also a good time to ask your child’s teacher his/her preferred mode of communication.  At that time, share your preferences for communication as well.  Communication goes two ways!

Finally, it can’t hurt to offer some praise and recognition to the teacher. It often works well to tell the teacher something specific you, or your son, like about his or her class. The descriptive praise will nestle itself in the heart and mind of the teacher, prompting him or her to do it more often.

For more information on the importance of student-parent-teacher conferences, read this post by EdNews Parent expert and retired teacher R. Kim Herrell.