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September 24, 2015

Preparation is the key to effective parent-teacher conferences

As you and your children embark on another school year, you’ve undoubtedly embraced many September rituals. You’ve braved new school orientations, picked out the perfect “first day of school” outfit, and stocked up on school supplies together. When you and your family look ahead on your calendars, you likely notice one more ritual on the agenda; parent-teacher conferences mark the beginning of your children’s fall semesters.

Given your experience meeting with educators each year, you know that parent-teacher meetings are often short. You have a brief window to get the information you crave and to share your own insights about your child’s academic progress. So, how can you make the most of your time? What questions should you ask? Take a look at these tips to bring your best to parent-teacher conferences:

Plan

  1. Do your homework and prepare early: Review your child’s past work, grades, and teacher feedback. Look for patterns of success or struggle. Note any techniques that you know have worked well for your child in the past. You can even employ your own executive function skills by starting a folder at the beginning of the year. Include assignments, progress reports, and notes from teacher meetings. This will save you from organizing the night before.
  2. Talk to your child about her progress: Ask your child what you should expect to hear from her teachers. Find out what concerns she has at school or what her goals are for the future. Including your child’s voice in her own learning process validates her perspective and puts her in control of her own education.
  3. Prepare a list of Questions: Physically write down the questions or concerns you’d like to discuss. When time is ticking away in a meeting, you can get caught up in discussion and forget your original concerns. So, prepare your questions, and consider all aspects of the classroom experience, including academic, social, and emotional progress. Websites like Parenting.com provide multifaceted lists of questions that cover all your bases.
  4. Have three focal points in mind: Talk about The Child, The Classroom, and The Future. Open your discussion by sharing what you see happening at home. You know your child best, so share your key observations. Then, ask about what happens in the classroom, giving your child’s teacher the opportunity to share his viewpoint, plans, and approaches. Finally, engage in two-way discussion to develop appropriate goals for your child -- goals that you can support at home!
  5. Be Heard: Harvard Family Research Project suggests the “BE HEARD” acronym for both teachers and parents. Keep these major ideas in mind, and everything will go smoothly.
    1. Best intentions assumed
    2. Emphasis on learning
    3. Home–school collaboration
    4. Examples and evidence
    5. Active listening
    6. Respect for all
    7. Dedication to follow-up
  6. Determine a communication protocol: Before you follow-up, find out how your child’s teacher likes to be contacted. Also, make sure to share how you can best be reached! Parents and teachers both understand how busy life can get; before you leave your meeting, decide whether phone calls, emails, or in-person follow-ups make the most sense.
  7. Follow-up: Did you and your child’s teacher establish ways you can help your child at home? Did you decide on a weekly or bi-weekly exchange of emails? Whatever you and the teacher agreed upon together, do your best to put that plan in motion. Help your child implement new organizational tools, practice his new study plan, or address a social concern. Lend the support your child’s teacher has suggested, and always ask questions as they arise.

So there you have it! You are now ready to conquer parent-teacher conferences and make the most of your meeting. With strong planning and organization, you can use your own executive function skills to facilitate relationships with teachers, raise and address ongoing concerns, set goals your child can readily achieve, and promote long-term progress in the classroom.