How can I get the most from parent-teacher conferences?
Most parents with children in school will tell you that the time set aside for each report card conference is very limited. It’s important for both parents and teachers to prepare carefully in order to make these meetings effective.
Many schools now involve students in these meetings. In one example, small groups of students receive their parents in their classroom to show their work and discuss their progress. For a period of 30-60 minutes, the students and parents work through prepared activities while the teacher moves around the room, spending a few minutes with each family. This type of conferencing answers many needs. Students take ownership of their learning. They become aware of the importance of work goals and develop responsibility and leadership skills. Parents hear directly from their children about learning objectives and see samples of their work. However, don’t hesitate to request a private meeting with the teacher if there is more you want to discuss.
Misunderstandings can occur between two people who speak the same language; careful listening is even more important when one or both of the participants are using another language. If the teacher’s English is weak, or if you’re not comfortable in either French or English, take this into consideration. Check that you have understood by restating a comment in your own words. Ask for specific examples to help clarify a point, or give examples if you believe the teacher does not understand you completely.
Finally, remember that teachers are human too! Some get even more nervous about these meetings than certain parents. They’re also no more perfect than you; they, too, can make mistakes. Remember that the objective of a conference is for you and the teacher to discuss and become partners in supporting your child’s education.
One teacher always tells parents in September, “I promise to believe only half of what the children tell me about their families if you’ll promise to believe only half of what they say about me!”
To get the most out of meetings with the teacher:
- Read over the report card carefully and compare it to previous reports.
- Talk to your child. Let them know that the conference is an opportunity for you, them and the teacher to discuss how to work together to help them become an even more successful learner. Find out what he or she likes or dislikes about school, what they believe are their successes and challenges, and how they feel about their learning.
- Think about what you want to learn from the meeting. Write down your questions and comments. Be prepared to give specific examples, especially if you wish to raise a particular concern. Leave a space after each question in which to note down the teacher’s answers.
- Time is precious: don’t waste it on small talk.
- Share information and insights into other aspects of your child’s life which can influence his learning.
- Ask for an explanation of any unknown term, and don’t be intimidated by jargon.
- To get clarifications or examples, ask questions. For example, if told that your child is often last to finish a math assignment, you might find after further discussion that it’s because he or she is daydreaming, or going to too much trouble to print the numbers very neatly.
- Discuss your child’s learning style and specific learning needs. If told that your child is experiencing a problem, don’t take it personally. Ask the teacher questions for more clarification to get to the possible cause. Compare the teacher’s perceptions with your own or with those of your child’s other teachers, exploring possible reasons for any differences. For more information on this subject, see Diverse needs in French immersion.
- Make another appointment with the teacher, if there’s not enough time to address all your questions or concerns. So that you can both be prepared, take a minute to develop a list of the topics to be explored further.
- Go over your notes from the meeting, and if something still isn’t clear, or you think of another question, follow up with a note or call to the teacher. Then file your notes for future reference.
- Have a follow-up conversation with your child about what was covered. Talk about both their strengths and areas in need of growth. If they need help, talk about what will be done to provide this assistance, or what you can do together.