How would you like to be a fly on the wall in your child’s classroom? I bet many of you would say “yes!” initially, but then after giving it some thought, you might start to cringe at the idea of it.
It’s not that we aren’t confident the angels they are at home are the same people they are in the classroom…
I think it’s more that knowledge is good, but barriers are better. I mean, we wouldn’t want our kids to see our every move and interaction at work, right? It’s just a different context.
Luckily, there is somewhat of a happy medium; where you can get the skinny on your child in the classroom without having to witness their every action—the parent teacher conference.
But for as useful as such meetings can be, they’re also magnificent stress producers for every party involved—parents, teachers, and of course the student being magnified.
For you the parent, part of that stress comes from the unknown of what is actually going to be communicated...can’t help you there!
But, the other stressful piece is having a lot on your mind to talk about; so many questions to ask and nuggets to uncover, but also knowing you only have a short 15 minutes to do so.
Parent teacher conference checklist
So, to help you maximize your time and ease your worry, here is a checklist to follow as the big day approaches.
1. Make sure you know when parent teacher conferences are held
If it’s your first time getting the opportunity to meet with your child’s teacher, make sure you have an idea of when conferences might be coming about!
There is typically a lot of communication that goes out regarding these meetings, and thankfully it isn’t something your child is tasked with relaying to you. But, things can still get lost in the shuffle.
So, its best to reach out to the school well beforehand, like at the beginning of the year so that you can block out the time on your calendar in advance.
2. Sign up for a conference date and time
Next, when the time comes around to do so, make sure you sign up for a slot—and try to do so sooner than later. Meaning, if it were me, I’d try and grab an earlier appointment versus something later in the conference period.
Given the fact that teachers are meeting with a number of parents, there is a good chance of burnout and getting a teacher who is “going through the motions” instead of one eager to meet and communicate with you.
3. Check with the teacher to see if you can pass along notes beforehand
Sometimes, teachers will send out communication asking for notes on what you’d like to discuss during the conference. This is a valuable step for both parties, as it allows the teacher to prepare for your specific questions. It also takes a little off of your plate as you won’t be expected to remember every single thing you wanted to talk about in the moment.
4. Talk to your student before the conference
Be sure to let your child know you’ll be meeting with their teacher(s) and ask if there is any information you should know about beforehand. Keep it general and allow your student to interpret the question for themselves. Oftentimes, if there is an issue they feel in their gut will come up as a topic of conversation in the conference, the beans will be spilled right then and there.
This protects you from being blindsided in front of your child’s teacher, and gives you some time to craft a response and plan of action should one be required.
5. Get on the same page with your spouse or partner
While many parents strive to be on the same page with most matters, mom might think a little chitter chatter in class is no big deal, but dad might feel like it’s one of the worst things their student can be doing.
So, while these hot topics and differences are likely already be known by both you and your spouse, make sure you carve out some time to get on the same page—before you enter the classroom (or before the school parking lot, for that matter).
Discuss the things you both would like to know more about and come to some sort of compromise for the sake of navigating the meeting as efficiently as possible.
6. Prepare questions to ask
Probably the biggest no-brainer on the list, but I can’t not mention it! The crux of the meeting is the questions. One pointer, though: Try and ask questions that can only be answered by the teacher you’re talking to. Meaning, don’t waste time asking questions you can get answered elsewhere. Grades, syllabus, etc. are all things you can get information on outside of the parent teacher conference.
7. Ask for concrete behavioral examples
If you have the unfortunate experience of hearing your child hasn’t been the best student in the classroom, ask the teacher for concrete examples. Reason being, certain actions, activities, and experiences can be interpreted differently.
For instance, the teacher might think your student is some sort of instigator, but after listening to what’s going on, and having a good understanding of context, you might come to the conclusion your student isn’t quite the problem.
And for the sake of a healthy conversation, you don’t want to come off defensive when asking for examples. It’s natural to feel some sort of defensiveness, but a level head will allow the conversation to carry on in the most efficient manner.
Getting examples will also allow you to go home and have a good discussion about the situation with your child. Again, be vague with your knowledge in order to see how their story stacks up against the teacher’s.
8. Leave the parent teacher conference knowing areas of focus
Your primary goal going into the meeting should be to uncover any areas where your child needs improvement. So, before you leave, confirm that you’ve heard everything correctly, and that your son or daughter needs to improve on XYZ (and how their progress with the matter will be measured moving forward).
This is probably also a great time to solidify processes, and discuss ways teachers can help the flow of communication to parents, and vice versa.
9. Leave also knowing where your student excels
Combining this point with the one mentioned above, it’s also important to leave with examples of where your student is doing well. Your son or daughter is probably home while you’re at the conference, sitting there stewing and hoping all goes well. Reporting back with good news can provide the positive reinforcement needed for them to carry on such behavior.
10. Understand whatever is communicated is not written in stone
Good or bad, the parent teacher conference is a report on a snapshot of your child’s academic life. It’s not a fortune telling of how the rest of their life will play out.
The good can go bad, so it’s important to positively reinforce good behavior and keep as good of tabs on your student as you ever would. And then obviously, the bad can improve to good, and the first step in any transformation is knowing there is an issue.
And remember, every student can learn, they just do so differently. Poor performance in one single class in one single subject doesn’t mean your student is doomed to struggle. Assess the situation, take a look at alternative learning options, either face to face or online, and give them a chance to thrive in new environments.