Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences: A Few Helpful Tips for Parents

Posted by Lynn Evans on 10/23/2017 11:00:00 AM

As a school administrator, I’ve seen and been involved with a lot of different parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are encouraged to contact parents for both positive and negative reasons and nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation.  In my experience, often times parents are uncomfortable in a parent/teacher conference setting.  Most want to be a positive and productive part the discussion, but are unsure how to approach the meeting.  Below, are a few tips that will help you navigate your child’s parent-teacher conference and make it a more positive experience.

Know who your child’s teachers are. This one seems fairly simple and straight forward, yet there are parents that are unsure about whom their children’s teachers are.  This is somewhat understandable with children changing grade levels and new staff being hired over the summer.  It is important for parents to get to know their children’s teachers. Many teachers send home weekly newsletters in elementary, and all teachers are to have a teacher page on the school’s website. These are places to start to get to know the teachers prior to that first parent/teacher conference.

Don’t drop in unexpected. Teachers are professionals, just like doctors, lawyers, ect... Unfortunately, they are not often given the same privileges or courtesies. If a teacher has an opportunity to prepare for the meeting, it will make the actual conference go much more smoothly. This is why we have scheduled parent/teacher conferences throughout the school year. This way parents and teachers can have uninterrupted time to talk about your child’s education and progress. If, for some reason you were unable to schedule a time for your child’s parent/teacher conference, please contact the office and the building secretary can help you set one up.  Our goal is always 100% attendance.  It is that important to us as a school district.

Encourage your child to take ownership. Nothing is more detrimental to a conference than to have discussions about parent and teacher responsibilities without discussing the child’s responsibilities. I look at learning as a triangle: it cannot be complete without all three—the teacher, the parent(s), and the child—doing their part. The habits that children establish in school will follow them into college and beyond.

Don’t focus solely on the grade. Straight A’s seem ideal, but the letter grade may not reflect whether or not your child is getting everything out of school that he or she can. Is there something more they can be accomplishing?  It is possible (and we see this often) that a student who experiences academic success early in school will begin to “coast”, or assume that school is easy for them. As they approach intermediate grades and middle school, this can create a lackluster set of study habits.  Additionally, if your child is having some difficulty in a class, you need to evaluate whether or not they’re still learning the material.  Just because a student has a low grade (or a grade lower than you want to expect) doesn’t mean they aren’t learning anything; they may just be struggling with a particular type of assignment in the class.  Have that discussion with the teacher, whether they are getting all A’s or having some struggles, “Is my child learning the material?” and “Is my child progressing (showing improvement)?”

Hold the teacher accountable for grading procedures. If a student earns a certain grade, the teacher should be able to explain why the student received what they did. Make sure to ask about the grading rubric for the class so that the teacher can explain the breakdown of what those grades mean. A student may have 15 perfect grades, but if they are all homework, that will only take the student so far until they reach quizzes and tests. Most classes now are not graded solely based points, or percentages. Showing competency on grade level standards also factor in quite often now. 

Don’t reach out to the principal until you talk to the teacher. If you call the principal about an issue in class, one of the first questions to come up will be, “Have you spoken with the teacher?”  Until this happens, nothing of merit will come from the conversation. Make sure to communicate with the teacher first, particularly with regard to grading and behavior. There’s often no need to involve the principal. Additionally, don’t be alarmed if a teacher asks for the principal to be present during a conference, particularly if the teacher is less experienced.

Keep the meeting about your child. A parent-teacher conference is intended to be about your child, and how they are doing in class. The topic needs to stay on that. The conversations sometimes begin to veer off course and become about another student, or unrelated issues outside of school. If this occurs, either the teacher or the parent should politely redirect the conversation back to how your child is doing in school.

Don’t share too much personal information in the conversation. Because of the nature of teaching, teachers are privy to more information about a child than most. However, this should not be a license to share everything you have to say about your child’s life outside of school, another parent, family issues, gossip, or other non-relevant information.  Keep the information you share centered on your child.  If the information you are sharing is pertinent medical, academic, or social information, then the teacher may be able to use that information to help your child be more successful in class.

Teachers understand that you are looking out for your child.  They want you to be confident in their classroom expertise and in their ability to encourage learning and growth.  By using these tips, I hope you can positively shape your next parent-teacher conference and give your children the best opportunity for success.