Parent-Teacher Conferences: Parents’ How-To Guide

Updated March 29, 2015 |
Parent-Teacher Conferences: Parents’ How-To Guide
Communicating early and often with your child’s teacher is an important aspect of ensuring your child has the best possible education. Yet, sometimes parent-teacher conferences can be stressful for a variety of factors. In this article we provide a how-to guide for making the most out of your parent-teacher conference experience.
Parent-teacher conferences can be a bit unnerving for parents regardless of how many times they’ve attended. It can be difficult to cover all the questions you have in a short period of time, and you may even leave the conference feeling like you weren’t able to accomplish much. However, there are practical steps you can take before, during, and after parent-teacher conferences to ensure you have all the information you need to support your child’s learning.
 
Before the Conference
 
Parent-teacher conferences are often set up such that parents have precious little time with each teacher, in many cases 10-15 minutes at the absolute most. In order to get the most out of your appointment, come to the conference prepared. Begin by reviewing your child’s grades beforehand, including their report card, any progress reports, work your child has brought home, and any comments your child’s teacher has made on his or her homework. Gathering as much information as you can ahead of time will allow you to formulate questions to ask your child’s teacher and be ready to dive into the discussion once your appointment time arrives. Some possible questions to ask include:  
  • Is my child performing at grade level?
  • What are my child’s strengths? Weaknesses?
  • What can my child do to improve academically?
  • What can I do to help my child improve academically?
It’s important to be prepared whether your child is doing well or poorly. On the one hand, if your child is struggling you’ll need to be familiar with why this is so, and examining his or her work can give you some insight into those reasons. It also allows you to be more informed ahead of time so you can ask your child’s teacher specific questions with regard to how to most effectively help your child boost his or her achievement. Conversely, being prepared when your child is performing well will allow you to utilize your appointment time to inquire about extended learning opportunities, such as clubs or organizations, or other non-grade issues such as behavior or relationships with other students. Just because your child is doing well academically doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot you can still discuss.  
Part of your preparations should also include a discussion with your child about how he or she feels they are doing. Take time to ask about grades, but also inquire about how they get along with their classmates, what subjects they like and don’t like, and how they like their teacher. Ask about both the good and the bad in order to get a full picture of what’s going on. If you hear a lot of negative comments from your child, talk to other parents to see what their children are saying. Again, checking in before a parent-teacher conference and gathering information will help you focus your time with the teacher and address the areas of most concern to you and your child.
 
During the Conference
 
The purpose of the parent-teacher conference is not for your child’s teacher to talk at you then send you on your way, nor is it intended to be a time when you berate the teacher for everything that’s going wrong. The purpose is to have a two-way conversation so the both of you are on the same page with regard to providing the best, supportive environment for your child to learn and grow.
To establish some rapport with the teacher, begin by offering some praise for something they’ve done for your child, whether it’s leaving helpful comments on homework or offering before-school study sessions for tests. Teachers will also often open with something complimentary about your child, such as their ability to follow instructions or willingness to help their classmates. Once you’ve both established a feeling of trust and mutual respect, the work can begin.
 
Since time is limited, ask your most important questions first. Whatever the issue, it should be something that you and the teacher can work on together, be it something positive for your child or addressing something that needs to be fixed. When addressing problems, it’s a good idea to avoid apologetic or angry reactions to issues that the teacher brings up. Although it’s difficult to hear not-so-good things about your child, just like you, your child’s teachers want them to succeed to the best of their abilities. Even if your child is the star of the class, be prepared to hear about areas in which they can improve.
 
Many educational experts believe that sharing information about your child can help their teachers develop a better understanding of who they are as well as develop a good working relationship with them. Explain, briefly, what your child’s interests and dislikes are, what they’re like at home, and any issues that may impact their performance or behavior in school. Many teachers have no idea what their students are like outside of school, and at the same time, many parents don’t know what their child is like outside of the home. Sharing a little of that information can be extremely insightful for both you and your child’s teacher.
If you have a child that’s old enough, consider bringing them to the parent-teacher conference. Your child’s education is a team effort between them, their teacher, and you. As such, including them in the conversation is a great way to demonstrate that teamwork and help them see that you are all in this together to support his or her academic pursuits. It’s also a good way to ensure that they know you are on the same page with their teacher, as well as a good way to have your child take some personal responsibility for how things go in the classroom.
Before leaving the conference, be sure to inquire about the communication protocol. Is it best to contact the teacher via email or telephone? What time periods of the day are best to talk? Establishing a framework for future discussions will help keep you all on track for your child’s success.
 
After the Conference
 
For a lot of parents, parent-teacher conferences represent one of the only times they communicate with their child’s teacher all year. Although some school districts are playing with the idea of four parent-teacher conferences each year, most schools still only offer one each semester. To provide your child with the best environment in which to learn, it’s critical that you maintain communication with your child’s teacher.
It’s important to talk with your child after conferences as well. If your child was in attendance, debrief with them on the way home and outline what you felt were the highlights of the conversation. Be sure to remind them of the things they’re doing well, but also begin to discuss plans for how they can improve their performance in weak areas. Explain what you expect of them in terms of improved academic or behavioral performance, and have them outline what they’ll be doing to improve.
 
It’s also a good idea to identify a few things you can do at home to work on with your child. As you implement strategies to provide that assistance, follow up with your child’s teacher to fill them in on your progress, ask questions, or inquire about other things you can do to support your child’s education. If need be, schedule a follow-up meeting with your child’s teacher. These one-on-one meetings can allow all parties involved to delve deeper into the successes and failures that your child is experiencing without feeling the pressure of sticking to a 10-15 minute conference night appointment. Even sending a periodic email is a great way to keep the lines of communication open.
 
Conclusion
 
Although there are a multitude of factors that influence your child’s success in school, one of most important is your involvement in the educational process. But engagement is much more than attending parent-teacher conferences once or twice a year. It’s schools reaching out to families in meaningful ways on a continuing basis, and families staying connected with teachers to actively support learning. To be most impactful, these connections need to last over the course of the school year and be a truly cooperative effort between you, your child, and your child’s teacher.

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