The parent-teacher meeting is one of the greatest tools parents and teachers have to ensure a student's success. Children spend a great percentage of their days in school, so it's important for parents to get a true picture of how their children are performing and progressing. From the teacher's point of view, parental feedback is essential so that he or she can provide tailored attention to each student's strengths and challenges.
With the following do's and don'ts, you'll be able to increase the value of the parent-teacher conference for your child's success and happiness in school.
"As an educator, I try to make parents feel comfortable immediately so they are more willing to share their concerns," says Marlene Caroselli, author of 500 Creative Classroom Techniques for Teachers and Trainers. "Parents' comfort levels, though, can also be increased if parents are prepared for the meeting."
Preparing for the meet
US-based clinical psychologist Erin M. Floyd, PhD, shares her top do's and don'ts for the entire process of preparing for and attending the parent-teacher conference. Before the conference, you must:
• Schedule an appointment with the teacher to discuss problems, as opposed to dropping by unannounced. Give the teacher a general idea of your concern so the teacher can prepare.
• Ask your child whether there is anything she would like you to discuss during the meeting. Assure your child that you and her teacher are meeting to help.
• Prepare a written list of questions, concerns and proposed strategies.
• Work on a win-win attitude about the meeting.
During the conference, you must:
• Leave your child out of the general discussion to avoid embarrassment or shame.
• Start the conference on a positive note. Thank the teacher and school administrators for this meeting and emphasising the importance of collaboration.
• Present your written list of concerns and offered plans. Respect the teacher's observations, recommendations and classroom requirements.
• Maintain a win-win perspective. Keep the tone positive and focused on problem-solving versus just problems.
• Generate ideas, and negotiate the best ways to approach all your child's issues. Agree on specific actions that have a fair chance of success.
• Take notes of the discussion, including specific plans, responsibilities and target dates. Establish a way to regularly check your child's progress.
During the meeting, you must not:
• Let the discussion deteriorate into a non-productive session of complaints.
• Muddle parent and teacher roles.
• Be defensive. "If you disagree with the teacher's assessment," Floyd says, "respectfully tell the teacher so. Let him know you will continue to investigate the issue further with him."
After the conference, do:
• Emphasise to your child the positive aspects brought to light by the teacher. Praise your child for her achievement whenever possible.
• Mention problems as needs that will be addressed. Discuss the action plan on which you and the teacher agreed.
• Follow through at home as you agreed to do.
• Maintain contact with the teacher to discuss your child's progress, and if needed, plan a gradual follow-up conference.
One step that parents are taking is creating a detailed document of their child's special needs so that at the start of the school year, the teacher can meet them.
On the website Kidzmet, you can complete a ‘pairing portrait', which provides an assessment of your child's personality, interests, strengths and cognitive challenges.
With a copy of this report in hand at the start of the school year, the teacher can try to accommodate the student's needs.
Caroselli offers a helpful communication tip for after the meeting: "When discussing the conference with your child afterwards, begin with an anecdote from your own school experiences. Tell your child about a time when a glowing report encouraged you to follow a particular path or when a negative report made you commit to working even harder."
Experts advise keeping a folder for your child's educational notes and plans so that you can continue to follow up as the school year progresses. And if at any time you sense that you need to discuss new issues, don't hesitate to request an additional in-person meeting, which is always more productive than all the emails put together.