Research has shown that parent involvement in school is the most important factor in determining a child’s success. No matter how old your child is, you matter! Parent interest and participation in schooling conveys the message to your child that school is important and that you care about his or her progress. It is natural that students become more independent, self-sufficient, and self-advocate as they get older. Yet, communication, whether it be parent-child or parent-teacher is essential. When talking to teachers and receiving feedback about your child make the most of your moments and make your time count.
Talk to Your Child
Ask your child if there is anything specific s/he would like you to discuss with the teacher about school. Explain that you are talking to the teacher so that you can help with anything that is going on academically or socially.
Make a List
Be prepared with a list of questions. This will help you to get the answers that you want and keep the discussion on track. If you want detailed answers then ask specific questions. Don’t wait until the last minute of the meeting to raise your most important concern. Questions may include:
- What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
- Does my child hand in homework on time?
- How is my child’s test taking skills? Does s/he seem prepared for exams? What do these assessment results really mean?
- Does s/he actively participate in class discussions and activities?
- Who do they play with at recess? Are they connected with other children during free time? Do they work well with others on group projects?
- Does my child need extra help in certain areas? How can this be provided?
- If your child receives special services, ask about the frequency of the services and your child’s progress. Ask the teacher if they have the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan and how the accommodations and modifications are being implemented.
- How can I help support learning at home?
You are the expert on your child. Take the opportunity to share your child’s likes, dislikes, special skills, strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, and what has worked in the past. Children do not just show up for a reading or math lesson. They bring their whole selves with them. What happens to children outside of school affects their performance in school. Let teachers know of significant changes with family, friends, schedules, sleep patterns, all of which may impact a child’s presentation in school. Keep your teachers informed!
Heller Keler is quoted as saying, “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” Remember, you both have a common goal—your child’s academic and social-emotional success. If you disagree with the teacher’s observations, feel free to comment. Discuss differences of opinion. Recognize that children may present differently in various settings or with different people. Find ways to work collectively and develop a school-home partnership. Teamwork!
Ask for Explanations
This conference is meant for you to learn more about your child in school. Ask for clarification about anything that you do not understand. Ask the teacher for specific and real world examples so that you can better understand what is being seen in school.
Out of Time?
Conferences are often scheduled back-to-back and time allotments may be too brief to answer all of your questions. Don’t despair, let the teacher know that you have additional questions and arrange another time to meet.
Create an Action Plan
Ask your child’s teacher for specific suggestions so you can help your child at home with homework, reading, routines, organization, behavioral issues, etc. The list of recommendations will become the action plan. Track your child’s progress and figure out the best method to keep in touch with your child’s teacher (phone calls, emails, notes, or meetings). As the conference ends, review the action plan with the teacher. Write it down to ensure that you both have the same expectations.
Many schools do not require parent-teacher conference beyond elementary school. However, you may still request a meeting with one of your child’s teachers or a team meeting with all of the teachers. Talk to your child’s guidance counselor or another school professional to help coordinate a larger meeting. Do not wait until report card distribution to find out that problems exist. Avoid surprises and stay in touch with teachers. Also, if there is good news and progress, delight in it and share with your child!
Provide Your Child with Feedback
Talk to your child in an age appropriate manner about what you discussed in the conference. Provide positive points and be direct about any problems. Involve your child in any plans that you created with the teacher. For middle and high school aged students, involvement and engagement is key since the desire for independence is developmentally at its height during this period. Encourage your child to be an active participant in his/her success.