Many parents look forward to a chance to talk with their child's teacher...and many dread it. Either way, it's an important opportunity to build a relationship with an adult your child spends a lot of time with. Here's how to get the most out of a parent teacher conference:
Talk to your child
Talking to your child beforehand helps you make sure you know which issues to talk to their teacher about. Ongoing open communication is vital, especially with older children. If you suddenly ask if there's anything you need to talk to their teacher about, often they'll clam up. If you're chatting casually every day, you can note areas of concern as they come up.
According to this article, it's not uncommon for parents to be blindsided in parent teacher conferences when a teacher brings up an issue they had no idea was even a problem. You can't guarantee that this won't ever happen to you, but talking to your child regularly makes it less likely.
Prepare your questions in advance
Know what you want to ask and how you want to phrase it before you leave. If you have a lot of questions, write down the questions or a trigger word to help you bring up a specific point. Most teacher's won't mind if you refer to your notes occasionally.
Not even sure where to start? Care.com hasa list of 20 questions you might want to ask during a parent-teacher conference.
Make a great first impression
Teachers should treat all kids equally (and many do) but it never hurts to be friendly, positive and pleasant towards a new teacher. You never know if her opinion of you might impact your child. It shouldn't, but it might. If you seem open and friendly, their teacher will also feel happier about approaching you in the future if there's an issue that needs discussing.
Listen as much as you talk
Your child's teacher may have a lot to tell you, and if it's negative, she may want to 'wrap it up' a bit early. Listen carefully and keep an open mind. If you hear something negative or unexpected, stay calm and ask for more information.
Pause before responding
This is important if you hear something surprising about your child. Make sure you really understand what the teacher is trying to say before responding. Use a filler phrase like 'Really?' or 'That surprises me. I wasn't expecting to hear that.' This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts. Don't respond impulsively or angrily, even if you are upset by what you're hearing. If this issue seems too big to cover in the next few minutes, ask to schedule another meeting to discuss it.
Always ask how you can help
Teachers love to hear you ask, 'How can I help him with that?' or 'What can we do at home to support this?' It helps make the teacher's life easier if the parent is on board. Having you both working towards the same goal will genuinely help your child.
Ask what your child will be learning next
This shows an interest in the curriculum and may mean you can help support your child's learning with out of school activities, outings or even just conversations. A tip sheet from The Harvard Family Research Project suggests that parent teacher conference is also a great time to ask if there are other programs and services in your community that can enhance your child's learning.
As your child gets older, you may find he has several different teachers you want to talk to, and a parent teacher conference can start to feel a bit like speed dating. You may only have five to ten minutes with each teacher before rushing on to the next. Afterwards it all blends into one massive meeting, making it hard to remember who said what.
Put each teacher's name into the 'notes' function on your phone, and make a few basic notes between meetings. Even having a couple of key words will remind you of the conversation and will be helpful later. If you've agreed on any strategies or support you can offer at home, or there's something specific you want to monitor, make more detailed notes as soon as you get the chance.
Ultimately, your parent-teacher conference is a way to help your child, enhance his learning and help make school a more positive and rewarding experience. While it may not be your favorite evening, it's definitely worth making it a productive and positive experience.