9 tips for a positive parent-teacher conference

conferences wParent-teacher conferences are a critical time to learn how your child is faring in school. If you are feeling apprehensive about a regularly scheduled conference or other meeting with your child's teacher, there are tips to keep in mind to help the communication go smoothly.

Mark Booker, PTA president at Phelps Luck Elementary School in Columbia, looks forward to conferences, and he always takes his daughters with him.

Booker enjoys getting to know his daughters' teachers and learning more about their education, and he feels it's important for the girls, Cypress, 10, and Renarda, 13, to join the conversation.

“We think the best story is the story that can be told with the child present,” Booker says.

Whether or not your children attend parent-teacher conferences — which is a trend just starting in the Maryland area — including them in the process is one of the most important aspects of a successful conference, says Jean Marie Hofstetter, principal of Davidsonville Elementary School. Everything from reviewing a child’s report card before the conference to asking questions and keeping an open mind are important to ensuring a successful and positive conference, she says.

If you are preparing for your next parent-teacher conference, or other meeting with your child's teacher, here is some advice from local educators and parents on how to make it go smoothly.

Tips for a successful parent-teacher conference

1. Know where your child stands academically.

This means looking at the report card as well as reviewing papers and online grades. Courtney Madden, a fourth-grade teacher at Ducketts Elementary School in Elkridge, says her pet peeve is when parents don’t review their child’s report card before the conference. She also suggests bringing along any graded papers parents have questions about or work students have completed independently that might show progress not reflected on the report card.

2. Consult with your child.

Talking with your child before the conference about achievements and challenges is essential, Madden says. This helps make parents aware of what to expect during the conference, and also involves children in the process.

Booker says he and his wife have a conversation with their kids. They ask, “Should Mommy and Daddy know anything in preparing for our meeting?” he explains. “We want to know the challenges and the good things going on.”

3. Ask questions.

Make a list ahead of time and don’t be afraid to be candid with the teacher, Madden and Hofstetter agree. (See sidebar for possible questions to ask)

4. Be positive.

Teachers are advised to start conferences by highlighting a student’s strengths, and parents should try to do the same. Think about what your child enjoys most about school, or something he or she has learned or achieved thus far in the school year and mention it at the conference.

At Ducketts Lane Elementary “the teachers explain what the child’s top three strengths are and how they use these strengths in school,” Madden says.

5. Be prepared to hear about your child’s challenges.

Though conferences ideally focus on a child’s strengths, the teacher most likely will discuss challenges or struggles a child has at school.

Shiney Ann John, principal of Thomas Viaduct Middle School in Hanover, says teachers and parents should discuss how they can work together to increase the child's level of performance.

“Some kids have a great academic record, but they’re not participating at a high level or they
aren’t feeling confident enough,” she says.

The teacher should work with parents to find out how to help the student find his or her voice in the classroom.

6. Involve team leaders or administrators, if needed.

If parents can’t see eye-to-eye with a teacher, they can request a meeting with the team leader or principal.

“Parents sometimes disagree with their child’s teacher,” Madden says. “If you feel that your
child’s teacher is not listening to your concerns, you can ask the team leader of the grade for a conference to discuss your concerns. If the school does not have a team leader, you can ask the school’s
administrator to sit in on another conference.”

Sometimes a teacher asks for the principal to attend a conference or, if the parent becomes too confrontational, the teacher might stop the conference and request to reconvene at a later date, Madden says.

7. Both parents should attend.

Though it's not always possible, teachers prefer to meet with both parents, according to Madden. This way, the teacher hears concerns from both parents, and both get to know the teacher. One parent is not left listening to secondhand information.

“This lets the child know that the teacher and both their parents are invested in their education,” Madden says.
If one parent cannot attend, it’s helpful for that parent to send in questions and to thoroughly discuss the conference with the other parent.

8. Include your child.

In schools where it is encouraged, children should attend and give input during the conference.

“The child actually has a piece and a voice in the conference,” John says, explaining that children are asked to attend at Thomas Viaduct Middle.

In schools where student-led conferences have been implemented, students highlight their strengths and also indicate where they might need improvement. The conference becomes a discussion between the parents, teacher and student, according to John.

If there is a case where the teacher or parent needs to privately discuss an issue, the student is asked to briefly leave the classroom. Booker says this has happened with his daughters on several occasions.

“We have had meetings where we have said, 'You need to go sit outside the classroom while we talk to the teacher,'” Booker says, but usually the conversation is appropriate for everyone involved.

Some schools prefer adult-only conferences, so check with the teacher or school before bringing your child along. If the school does not allow children in the conference, be sure to include them in discussions about their strengths, weaknesses and ideas on how to grow and improve in school, John says.

9. Keep the lines of communication open and stay involved.

Most schools only hold conferences twice a year, but it’s important for parents to keep tabs on their child’s education throughout the year, John says. Volunteer when possible and communicate often with the teacher about concerns, as well as successes.

“A child’s education is so important,” Madden says. “Parents need to show their child that they value education and are involved in their schooling.”

Questions to ask at a conference

Want to be prepared when going in for a parent-teacher conference? Jean Marie Hofstetter, principal of Davidsonville Elementary School, and Courtney Madden, a fourth-grade teacher at Ducketts Elementary School in Elkridge, suggest asking the following questions.

  • How can I help my child at home?
  • How does my child interact with other students at school?
  • How is my child doing in reading and math class?
  • How does my child behave in class?
  • How does my child do on assessments?
  • How much/what kind of support does my child need on reading/math tasks?
  • Is my child kind to other children?
  • Is my child putting forth his or her best effort?
  • How can we support at home the learning during the day?

By Kristy MacKaben

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