Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

 Written by Liz Lee
Parent-Teacher conferences provide wonderful opportunities to connect with your child’s teacher, see the classroom, and generally hear how your student has made the transition into his or her new school year.
Most parents look forward to these meetings with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety.  This is a great time to talk about what’s working and not working at school.  For many parents, however, this yearly event includes the niggling idea that the teacher might have feedback that will surprise or startle you.  For what it’s worth, teachers approach conferences with a similar mixture of anticipation and anxiety.
Parent-Teacher conferences are a chance to exchange information, compare notes and make a plan.  Many parents prefer to approach this event with a clear strategy.  With that in mind, here are a few tips about how to prepare for, and what to expect from, preschool and early elementary conferences. 
Before the conference:
  1. You can expect advance notice with a variety of time slots to fit a variety of schedules.  Don’t see something that works?  Let the teacher know what works for you.
  2. Some teachers use a questionnaire to expand their knowledge of your child.  Don’t be shy!  Fill it out thoroughly and get it back to the teacher as soon as possible so they have enough time to read and think about it.
  3. No questionnaire?  It’s perfectly fine to outline your questions and concerns in writing and send it to the teacher before your meeting.
  4. Timing:  Most conferences last 15 to 30 minutes, and typically everyone agrees that isn’t long enough.  Feel free to ask for a longer conference or a follow up conference if you would like more time.
  5. It’s a cliché but ask questions – lots and lots of questions.   Write them down before you attend and write down those that come up during your conference.  Conferences have a way of speeding by and a list reminds you of the most important things you want to cover.  And by the way, no question is too small or unimportant.

During the conference – Preschool
Preschool is a time of tremendous growth and change.  A young 3 year old is quite different in abilities, needs and interests than an older 5 year old.  For that reason, preschool conferences tend to provide information about child development and where your child fits into the span.
  1. Preschool is very much about tracking growth and much of this growth is measurable through drawing, building, social relationships and play interests.
  2. Expect to see your child’s work in a portfolio, on display in the classroom or both.  Frequently teachers will use a child’s drawings or photos of their play, building or other activities to discuss how things are going in preschool.
  3. Conferences are also a great time to chart new milestones such as writing his or her name, playing cooperatively with classmates and pedaling a tricycle.
  4. Transitions to school and from activity to activity in school are still challenging for children this age and this is an area teachers like to check in on and sometimes brainstorm strategies to support a child.

During the Conference – Early Elementary
Grades K-2 are still a time of tremendous change.  At this point, however, children are becoming increasingly independent and are able to concentrate on tasks for longer periods of time.  They enjoy going to school, taking the bus, having lunch with their friends and learning new things.  
Ready for a more formal learning program, elementary conferences will offer feedback about all domains – social, cognitive and physical development.  This information will be provided within the context of the school or district’s curriculum expectations.
  1. Transitions to school are still hard for some children, especially in kindergarten.  Furthermore, in elementary school the day becomes faster paced with children switching between teachers for specials such as PE and Media.  This kind of transition can also flummox the early elementary child until they gain experience and become more comfortable with their new classroom.
  2. Adjustment to a longer day (when applicable).
  3. As in preschool, expect to see samples of your child’s work through displays in the classroom and portfolios. Often teachers are able to walk parents through what is being taught in class, how it is being taught and how your child is doing by using samples of work.
  4. Social, physical, adjustment and cognitive/learning.
  5. In early elementary, schools begin to use both formal and informal assessments.  Teachers typically explain what these assessments are, what they measure and how to understand the results.
  6. Lastly, the social world is ever important for the early elementary child.  In fact, when asked to name their favorite part school, children in grades K-2 often answer, “recess” or “lunch”!  This is their chance to interact with peers and your child’s growth in the social arena of school will be another topic of conversation.
When a teacher has concerns:
  1. When a teacher has concerns, they typically contact parents before the conference to discuss them.  You are unlikely to hear about a significant problem for the first time at a conference.
  2. If you and your child’s teacher have identified an issue to work on, you may spend part of the conference brainstorming approaches, strategies and solutions.
  3. Ask around – get a second opinion – check with your pediatricians, your friends, your pastor.
  4. Make a plan to follow up.  What will the teacher do?  The school?  You, the parent?  Decide when you will meet to share updates.

When a parent has concerns:
  1. If you have concerns, it is helpful to bring them to the teacher’s attention before the conference.  This gives him/her extra time to consider your feedback, take a look at the issue in the classroom and pull together information for the conference.  
  2. Feel free to request another meeting to finish your discussion.
When a parent needs more time:  
As a parent, you can always ask for more time.  Frequently, parents leave a conference, digest the information, and end up with follow-up questions.
  1. Feel free to send an email or request a telephone call as follow-up
  2. If you prefer a face-to-face meeting or feel the topic requires greater time, attention and back and forth, asks for another meeting.  
Parent teacher conferences are a chance for teachers and parents to share two sides of the same child.  For the parents, they offer a glimpse into their child’s world at school.  For the teacher it helps complete the picture of the child they have spent the fall getting to know.  
Ultimately, conferences bring together important adults in a child’s life so that they can support the child at school.   They are a great chance to share important information, to build a relationship with a teacher and work toward a successful school year. 
About the Author
Liz Lee is a Parent Talk member currently “at home’ with her three children ages 2 to 8.  
Formerly a teacher in both public and private schools, she is interested in the ways school districts communicate with the community, especially with families about curriculum choices and rationales.  

One thought on “Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

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    Thank you Liz. Navigating the school system can be very overwhelming for parents. This is a great guide to give parents permission to ask questions and get to know the other world that their child lives when in school. As parents, we can learn a lot more about our child from their teacher. – Jodi

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