My original intent of this blog was to give some pointers to parents concerning parent –teacher conferences. Upon reflection, these are good pointers for any meeting throughout the year. It is imperative to be as informed as possible in our students’ education if we are to ensure their success. Contrary to popular opinion (or action), the need for this information grows as students grow older. Rather than dwindling, at open houses and parent conference nights, high school parent attendance should grow. Often, many teachers can be overheard commenting that they wished as many parents of struggling students showed up as those achieving high grades. This is the main reason for this post. Many times, parents (especially those who struggled in or didn't like school themselves) feel as if conferences with teachers are unclear, confrontational, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Therefore, why not avoid the whole experience? Unfortunately, that only causes a larger problem to develop.
Many of us know that teachers are busy and it is because of this that any time spent meeting with them is valuable and should not be wasted through a lack of an agenda, misunderstanding of issues to be covered, or un-asked/answered questions. There are many parents waiting to hear information from a handful of teachers regarding their students. So how does a parent get the most out of this limited time? What follows is a compilation of ideas and tips concerning preparing for a conference, getting the most out of your time spent, and effective ways to follow up after the conference has ended.
Preparation is important as the conference itself if it is expected to be productive. Parents should:
· Speak with your students about how they are doing in school and why. Ask what subjects/teachers they like/dislike and why. Compare this to their grades and completed work.
· Find out if there are any issues your student would like to speak with the teacher about.
· Ask if students are welcome to attend the conference and decide if it is a good opportunity to teach self-advocacy or responsibility for learning.
· Make a list of questions to address your areas of concern.
During the Conference
· Keep an open mind. Do not start the conference with a specific agenda. Listen to the teacher’s assessment of your student’s performance. It may begin to clear up any misconceptions and avoid a negative, confrontational experience.
· Ask the important questions first in case time runs out. If major concerns are addressed, minor ones may start to work themselves to a resolution. Remember to ask about the frequency and effectiveness of services if your student receives special services.
· Address problems in a respectful, professional manner. Conferences are a good time to discuss and make a plan to solve any difficulties your student may be having at school. Remember to focus on solutions rather than placing blame. Be sure to not just ask for examples, but also how the problems are being addressed. This will help you identify strategies that may or may not work.
· Develop a plan to move forward. This may include steps that both the parent and teacher can take to avoid future problems or successfully address them when they occur. Make sure that everything is clear and understood by both the teacher and parent. Decide how best to stay in touch to monitor your students’ progress.
· End the conference by reviewing everything that was discussed and reviewing the agreed upon plan.
· Students only value education as something that requires effort and commitment when they see it modeled by parents and teachers.
· Discuss the conference with your student. Be direct about what needs to occur for them to improve by helping the student realize it is ultimately their responsibility.
Remember that the desired outcome of a conference should be simplified to a few answers to the following basic questions:
1. Is my student giving his or her best effort?
· Grades do not always give an accurate picture of ability. Teachers are able to tell if a student is working to their potential and how the parent can support this at home.
2. What can my student do that he or she is not already doing?
· All students can improve. It is important that they have a clear understanding of how and where. It could be as simple as completing extra credit or involved as picking up an internship.
· It is important to realize that students’ ability to perform at their highest possible level is ultimately their responsibility.
3. What can I do that I am not already doing?
· Parents may not realize that they are able to assist the teacher in being more effective. By helping ensure that students take ownership of their education, parents create more engaged students who are motivated to learn.
4. How can we all work together to ensure my students’ success?
· There is often a lack of communication and understanding between parents and teachers concerning what is being done at home and in school. Conferences are a great opportunity for everyone to get on the same page – student success.
Remember that parent–teacher conferences are a chance for you to ask questions about your child's progress and how you, the teacher and you student can work together as a team to ensure success.
Asking the right questions, keeping an open mind, and following through can help parents and teachers get the most out of conferences.
The Harvard Family Research Project has an acronym that provides a great framework to follow for an effective conference:
Best intentions assumed
Emphasis on learning
Examples and evidence
Respect for all
Dedication to follow-up
Sources consulted for this post:
Harvard Family Research Project. (2010). Parent-teacher conference tip sheets. Family involvement network of educators (FINE) newsletter, 2(3), Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/fckeditor/File/FI-ConferenceTipSheet-111810.pdf
National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). (2012, October 09). Making parent-teacher conferences work for your child. Retrieved from http://www.pta.org/2532.htm
Sheehy, K. (2012, November 05). What high school teachers wish parents asked at conferences. U.S. news and world report, Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2012/11/05/what-high-school-teachers-wish-parents-asked-at-conferences?s_cid=rss:high-school-notes:what-high-school-teachers-wish-parents-asked-at-conferences