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How to have better parent, teacher, student conferences

It’s time for parent-teacher conferences! Teachers have been preparing, getting together test data, helping students with goal setting, and making sure their rooms are welcoming for families. How can you as a parent have the best experience possible for you and your child at conferences? I have been a public school teacher for 15 years in two different schools. I’ve also experienced my daughter’s own elementary conferences. I have seen what has worked (and things that didn’t) in my middle school classrooms. Use my experience to help you better parent, teacher, student conferences with these simple yet effective tips.

Bring your child to conferences.

It doesn’t matter if your child is in Pre-K or in their junior year of high school. Having your student attend conferences shows that you and their teacher are invested in their education. In addition, when your child participates in their conference, they are accountable for explaining their own strengths and opportunities for growth. Instead of speculating with the teacher why your student is struggling or just relying on qualitative data from test scores, you’ll get it right from the source. Your student can have a candid conversation with you and the teacher about how they can be successful in school. Ownership of their learning is so important even at an early age! I also love when parents can come and see the environment in which their child learns and grows. Often, your student may show you where they sit (if the conference is held in their classroom or classrooms), things they have created, and how they learn best!

Schedule an appointment and arrive on time.

Most schools optimize conference times by creating a schedule and sticking to it as close as possible. It’s OK to be a bit early in case the teacher is ahead of schedule. Elementary teachers typically have 10-15 minute slots that are private with each family. As your student enters middle and high school, you’ll most likely sign up for a 20-30 minute time slot to meet with teachers. If you can, briefly check in with each teacher. Even if your child isn’t struggling in a class, it’s important for them to be able to share their success and hear positive things from the classes they are shining in!

Schedule more time if needed.

There are times where you’re going to need more than 15 minutes to conference with a teacher. Also, there may be times that you need to problem solve without your child present. Set up a time to chat with the teacher on the phone or visit outside of conference. This may be before or after school or during the teacher’s plan period. Respect if the teacher would like an administrator, counselor, or another teacher (that works with your child) to be present. Remember, teachers, admin, and counselors are all there for the same reason: to help your child! We’re all on the same team.

Prepare questions ahead of time.

Every time I go to the doctor’s office, meet with a financial planner, or go to a conference, I always think of questions I meant to ask after I leave. Don’t let that happen to you. Come with a notebook or use digital reminders on Google Calendar or Google Keep to get alerts. These are perfect ways to remind you to ask the teacher questions about things happening in class, upcoming projects or assessments, or future class placements. You may also want to ask about things you can do at home to help your child either be challenged or improve in areas where they are struggling.

Utilize technology before and after conferences.

Most schools provide some type of online reporting system for parents to view grades and/or assignments (depending on grade level). Make sure you are checking in to see how your student is performing academically. Some teachers may use resources like SeeSaw or Google Classroom to post assignments. Check your email for other ways teachers may choose to communicate. For example, I love using Flipgrid to have students record videos to communicate and collaborate with each other and conference with parents.

Reach out to your child’s teachers with major concerns or problems.

Conferences are definitely a time for you to communicate with teachers about your child’s needs as well as celebrate their strengths and achievements. However, if you have major concerns over content being taught in the classroom, issues your student is having with other students (especially in secondary when many families are in the classroom or large room where conferences are held), communicate those concerns prior to your short meeting. It’s also challenging for a teacher to gather paperwork or information for special education or gifting testing during a short conference. Conversations like these can happen during conferences if the teacher is given fair warning to gather information.

Make conferences about your child first.

I absolutely love my kids’ parents, but sometimes that means we start chatting about non-school related things! That is not what the conference time is for. Resist the urge to talk about your other children, sports, or family vacations amongst other topics. It’s OK to have these relationship building conversations, but you don’t want to dominate the whole conference time while there are other families waiting. You also want to show your child that they are the #1 priority during the conference. Focus on them first and foremost. When it comes to parent, teacher, student conferences, the most important thing to remember is to be open and honest with the teacher, but know that you are both there for the same reason, the child sitting with you. Trust me. No teacher got into education just to have hours of parent, student, teacher conferences, but we do appreciate being able to problem solve with families and celebrate your child’s achievements and successes in and outside the classroom. Biography: Jen is a middle school public school teacher and PhD student in Omaha, Nebraska. She writes about education at Creative Tech Teacher.

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