It’s homework time – and not just for kids. Around this time, parents have homework to do too.
Relax…you won’t need to write an essay on “What we did on our summer vacation,” but you will need to bone up for the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year, likely coming up in October.
Typically held twice a year, parent-teacher conferences are a rare structured look into your kid’s experience once school is underway. Their primary objective to share your impressions of your kid’s school experience with their teachers and get basic answers to the question of “How’s Susie doing?”
Even more important, these conferences are a prime opportunity to find out what course corrections – I like to call them pivots – might help your children excel.
Even though many schools post test results and cumulative grades online, sitting down face-to-face with teachers rounds out the narrative of your child’s academic performance to include their effort, timeliness, competence – even a teacher’s reflection on their friendships and other social concerns. For example:
· Do they need a tutor in a particular subject?
· Is a change in their seat assignment in order to curb behavior problems?
· Would they benefit from more challenging homework?
· Are there any extra-curricular activities or studies teachers recommend?
This may seem like a lot to talk about in the mere 5-15 minutes you’ll have with each teacher, but it’s long enough to cover the basics and uncover if a longer in-person meeting is necessary.
Now let’s get back to your homework!
While it’s easier to put the onus for successful parent-teacher conferences on teachers, your children will be much better served if you put in a bit of preparation. Mostly this involves being observant and attentive to your kids’ educational experiences. Generally, your youngest kids may be perfectly delighted with their fledging foray into academia and not have anything negative or troublesome to report, but if they seem reticent about school but can’t articulate why, ask their teacher for their insights into what might be brewing.
Be sure to engage middle-school and teens in active dialogue in advance of the conferences, particularly probing for what subjects and/or teachers they love (or not!), where they might be struggling academically, as well as getting a sense of what other school issues might be “up” for them. Then be sure to follow up with your children about what you plan to discuss with their teachers – and let them know you’ll give them a full report after the fact.
Even if your kids are hitting all the marks at school, use the conference to talk about how best to leverage your kids learning styles to foster their individual passions – and grow as individuals and school leaders.
Beyond these practical and tactical considerations, a few words about parent-teacher conference etiquette is in order.
DO: Be on time. This is respectful to the teacher and other parents too. If you know there are substantial issues to address, be mindful that it may be necessary to schedule an additional time outside of the regularly scheduled conference.
DO: Align with your spouse or partner. If possible, attend together and stay focused on your child’s progress and needs.
DO: Express your gratitude. Remember – teachers are people, too. They work long hours and are generally devoted to the children in their classrooms. So thank them, and make sure they know you appreciate their efforts.
DO: Adopt an attitudinal approach of collaboration with your teacher- and school relationships. Of course you’re going to be a fierce advocate for your kids, but it’s possible to do that and be a partner with teachers. You’re not in the ring, so keep the gloves off.
DO: Demonstrate your engagement in your kids education by arriving prepared and taking notes during the conference and following up on anything you’re asked to do or talk about with your kids. Bring along the report card so you can refer to it as necessary.
DO: If there is any significant familial or other issue that may be impacting your child’s school performance, be sure to tell the teacher. If you prefer the teacher not mention to the child that they know, be sure to say so.
ONE BIG DON’T: For the best outcome for all concerned, make sure you curb any tendency to blame your kid’s failing – academic or behavioral – on their teachers. Avoid an adversarial approach; recognize that your child is an active participant in his/her education and they are responsible for their success.
If you’re unhappy with something in particular that was said or implied during the parent-teacher conference, don’t try to address it that evening in the limited time allocated. Simply send an email the following day thanking them for their time and ask them for an additional meeting to discuss a few unresolved issues. Only if and when you are unsatisfied with a teacher’s response should you reach out to a division or department head or other administrator.
This primer covers enough to help you ace your upcoming parent teacher conferences. If you have thornier or more sensitive issues and would like some feedback, please contact me at email@example.com.