It seems the academic year just began, yet many schools are already hosting parent/teacher conferences. Created to foster open communication for the benefit of students, these conferences can sometimes create stress and worry for parents and teachers.

A range of research suggests that parental involvement plays a vital role in a student's success. According to the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), "an increasing number of innovative approaches to education leverage and connect " seamless complementary learning systems that place families as core partners in the learning process."

Here are some suggestions to make your next parent/teacher conference more effective and less stressful:

Arrive informed and prepared

Most teachers make significant efforts to communicate with parents through newsletters, emails or notes sent home with students. My wife, a teacher for 2 decades says she appreciates parents who take time to review materials prepared for their benefit and that of their child.

Take time to look over the schoolwork children bring home. If any of that work raises questions or concerns, The Learning Community recommends bringing it to the conference. Describe clearly any specific situations in the class that make your child uneasy and discuss them with the teacher.

Be positive and respectful

The conference is an information exchange, not an opportunity to list deficiencies in the school system, the classroom or the teacher. Teachers chose their profession because they love working with children.

Expect a two-way conversation

"The conference is a time for you to learn about your child's progress in school. But it is also a time for the teacher to learn about what your child is like at home," noted information from the HFRP. It might be a good idea to prepare a list of questions.

The teacher comes to the conference with knowledge of learning strategies, information about your child's performance and about his interaction with other students. Parents are familiar with a child's life at home and previous experiences that might affect a child's confidence or interest in school.

"Pooling your information gives you both a better picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses, and lets you develop an effective plan for helping your child succeed," according to The Learning Community.

Discuss opportunities and challenges

Like you, teachers want your child to succeed. HFRP suggests thinking about both your child's strengths and challenges before the conference. Then, discuss with the teacher ways you can be involved in your child's learning.

Leave with a reasonable plan

The HFRP recommends making notes of the specific things the teacher and parent will each do to support the child. Most teachers provide individualized attention to every student and would like to do much more. However, much of the heavy lifting of daily focus and follow-up falls on the parents.

Talk with your child

Before and after the conference, show your child that you want to help with learning at home. Share positive comments from the teacher. Ask for suggestions.

Here are some common courtesy tips for parents

  • If there is a specific appointment time, stick to it. One parent who arrives late or takes too much time can disrupt the schedule for everyone with later appointments. If you need more time, arrange a meeting on another day when the teacher is not trying to talk with every parent.

  • Large class sizes mean most teachers can't spend much time with each parent. Think about it: If a teacher schedules 28 appointments at 15 minutes each, that amounts to seven hours. That makes for two long sessions after a full day of teaching.

  • If you can't make it to the appointment, let the teacher know. Don't just fail to show up.

  • Don't bring other children. For a teacher trying to talk with a parent about the needs of a specific child, it is very distracting to deal with other children who don't need to be there. This is especially true if children are running around the classroom getting into things.

Five questions recommended by

  • What skills and knowledge will my child be expected to master this year?

  • How will my child be evaluated?

  • What can I do to stay more involved in my child's academic progress?

  • How do you accommodate differences in learning?

  • How are older students prepared for further learning after high school?

With a little preparedness, you can enjoy a positive experience in meeting with your child's teacher. Hopefully, it can reinforce a positive and supportive relationship throughout the school year.

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