Conferences are a good way for parents, teachers and other school staff members to communicate about issues ranging from academic progress to classroom behavior. They can be initiated either by the parent or by the school. Either way, parents and teachers can share information and develop strategies for helping a child succeed.
The National PTA has the following advice for parents about parent-teacher conferences:
Before the Conference
Schedule an appointment: A parent-teacher conference is not the only time when parents and teachers should make contact. Parents may want to schedule a special meeting with their child's teacher for a variety of reasons. If you need to set up an appointment with the teacher, contact them and let them know if there's a particular issue or issues you'd like to discuss.
Talk to your child: Find out which subjects your child likes the best and the least. Ask why. Also, ask if there is anything your child would like you to talk about with the teacher. Help the child understand that you and the teacher are meeting to help him or her. If your child is in middle or high school, you may want to include him or her in the conference.
Gather input from others: If your spouse, another care-giving adult, or someone with pertinent information or insight (doctor, counselor, other guardian) can't attend the conference, ask for that person's concerns and questions before the conference.
Make a list: Before you go to the meeting, make a list of topics to discuss with the teacher. Along with questions about academics and behavior, you may want to talk to the teacher about the child's home life, personality, concerns, habits and hobbies, and other topics that may help the teacher in working with the child (e.g., religious holidays, music lessons, part-time jobs, a sick relative).
During the Conference
Establish rapport: As an icebreaker, take notice of something that reflects well upon the teacher. For example, thank the teacher for having made thoughtful notes on your child's homework or for the special attention in helping your child learn to multiply.
Ask questions: Questions you ask during the conference can help you express your hopes for the student’s success in class and for the teacher. It’s a good idea to ask the important questions first, in case time runs out. The teacher’s answers should help you both work together to help your child.
If your child receives special services (e.g., gifted and talented programs, speech or occupational therapy), be sure to ask about the frequency of services and your child’s progress.
Addressing problems: Parent-teacher conferences are a good time to discuss any difficulties (either academic or behavioral) a child might be having at school. When problems arise, parents will want to:
- Avoid angry reactions. Instead, ask for examples.
- Ask what is being done about the problem and what strategies seem to help at school.
- Develop an action plan that may include steps that parents can take at home and steps the teacher will take when the problem comes up at school.
- Schedule a follow-up conference and decide on the best way to stay in touch (phone, e-mail, or letters sent to the home).
Develop an action plan: If the student needs help with a behavioral or an academic issue, you and the teacher should agree on specific plans to help your child do better. Be sure you understand what the teacher suggests. If it's not clear, ask him or her to explain. Set up a way to check on your child's progress. You and the teacher can decide how best to stay in touch, such as through phone calls, notes, or additional meetings.
Ending the conference: End the conference by reviewing what you discussed and restating your action plan. This is also a good time to set up your next meeting.
After the Conference
When discussing the conference with the child afterward, stress the good things that were covered and be direct about problems that were identified. If an action plan is in place, explain to the child what was arranged. Watch your child's behavior and check on classwork and homework. Ask how the student feels about schoolwork. Stay in touch with the teacher to discuss your child's progress. Express appreciation as progress is made. A good way to promote a continuing relationship with the teacher is to say "thank-you" with a note or a telephone call. Continuing to keep in touch with the teacher, even if things are going well, can play an important role in helping the child do better in school. When a child knows parents and teachers are regularly working together, the child will see that education is a high priority requiring commitment and effort.