I often hear from friends how parent-teacher conferences feel perfunctory: just another box to check during the quarter and taking up a Tuesday night. While that’s obviously not the case for all parents, I believe that we all have the responsibility to make each conference truly beneficial.
I can understand why we think of them as just another box to check: we enter with set expectations of “satisfactory” or “needs improvement” and once we’ve heard a semblance of that, we check it off our to-do list. Done. There is, however, an immense grey area between those two extremes that contains the value. As professionals and active members of our communities, we know how important action is, and deciphering that grey area gives you actionable outcomes.
Discussing performance can be a sensitive issue; fortunately most teachers are exceptionally caring people. They work tirelessly and during conference time they go out of their way to meet you in person (during their evenings, too). Some teachers may take the performance of a particular student as a reflection of their teaching ability, which I think is unfair.
Teachers have insight that we as parents never see: they spend eight valuable hours of the day with our children, and often have a relationship that we, because of our role as parents, will never have. From this relationship, teachers have the ability to give great feedback on how you can help your student be better prepared for academic pursuits.
By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to strategize with your teacher, giving insight into what your child can start doing, what they would benefit from continuing, and what needs to go.
1. How confident is my child in her abilities and how engaged is she in the learning process?
Having the confidence to be an active participant in the classroom is a crucial part of building a solid academic skill set. If you just get a simple “yes” in response to this question, ask the teacher how often your child raises her hand. Do they tend to raise their hand when they know the right answer or when they don’t understand something? Although it may seem counterintuitive, it is more important that your child participates when they have a question and not just when they know the answer. This demonstrates they have agency—that they’re taking ownership—in the learning process.
2. What do you feel are my child’s greatest strengths as a student and what areas should we be working to improve?
Even the most successful students have opportunities to improve. Push the teacher to give you some potential areas of improvement if necessary. Don’t settle for “everything is going great.” If that’s all you can get out of the meeting, it should be a red flag for all parties. The teacher should have more to comment on, but as a parent, you can explore how to get your child more engaged in learning and in school. Even the best students have ways to work ahead and continue excelling above and beyond their level. Don’t settle for any limits.
3. What are three things I can start today to help my child succeed in and out of school?
If you are not getting great ideas from the teacher, the number one thing I recommend to parents is to get your student reading for pleasure. At a young age, it doesn’t matter what they are reading as long as they continue to read. As students get older, it’s more and more important that they pick up nonfiction readings. (Don’t worry, this is an important issue and I’ll send out more resources to help students read more in the future.) Often reading more comes back to interests. Passions are important when you select a tutor, and they’re also essential for helping your child engage in school. Tying their interests outside of school to things in school from a young age is hugely important.
The insight parent-teacher conferences provide will let you preempt issues and help your child excel.
I love hearing others’ experiences. Please share with me how you’ve made the most of your teacher conferences.