Maximizing Your Parent-Teacher Conference
The new school year is just around the corner and with budgets stretched thin, parents are going to play an even greater role in helping bridge the gaps in the classrooms to make this year successful for their children.
A successful parent-teacher conference is not out of reach. Knowledge is power and when you are prepared and know what you hope to accomplish, you will be on your way to a productive school year. “You should approach the teacher with a list of questions and say these are your concerns. Our teachers are great professionals at sitting down and saying let us do what is best for the child,” says Anthony Lunceford, executive director for secondary operations and former principal at Houston County Schools.
Do not worry if you are unsure of what to say. “The first thing is to come in and say, ‘I am Johnny’s mom and I just wanted to introduce myself.’ That opens up rapport with the teacher right away,” says Lunceford. Parents are encouraged to let the teacher know that they are a strong support.
Though usually the conference is just between the parent and teacher, special needs children may have a team meeting. “There is a lead teacher and support personnel like an occupational therapist, speech therapist or someone the parent brings,” says Dr. Kim Halstead, principal at Tucker Elementary School.
Each conference has its own goal. “Sometimes it is about remediation but other times it is about enrichment or enhancement,” says Lunceford. Figure out what is important to you and ask questions such as:
• What areas does my child need to improve on and how can I help?
• What are the strengths you see with my child?
• Is there anything I can do to assist in the classroom that would make it easier for you to teach?
• Can I come read to the children?
• What can I do to help my child prepare for the transition to middle school?
Communication is the key. Teachers are letting parents know that they are available to help any time they are needed and can be contacted by phone, note or e-mail. “There are so many tools of communication out there such as our county website and local television stations that have updates,” names Lunceford.
Find out how your child feels about school before the conference so you can relay that information. The teacher wants your child to be performing to the best of his ability and to be challenged. “You can ask what the upcoming topics are so if they will be studying space, you can pay attention to the news and give your child exposure,” says Halstead. Most important is to find out if your child is making progress and if not, how that can be made possible. “In most cases where parents are involved, they go over the schoolwork at home and the child has the supplies he needs for the next day. It does not necessarily mean the child will get good grades or pass everything but he will be more prepared and aware of what is going on in the classroom,” says Ashley Barton, teacher at Sylvan Learning Center in Macon.
Remember that there is no such thing as a dumb question. “Parents may be intimidated by the language or educational jargon that is used so I would encourage them to ask what the term or phrase means,” says Halstead. They will be glad to explain things to you in laymen’s terms. “If your child has special needs, ask what kind of accommodations he will get such as if he is in small groups or will get handouts when others do not. A lot of times in math classes they get to use formulas from a piece of paper or get to use calculators when general education students don’t,” says Barton.
Find out how you can stay informed. “Middle and high school can go into Smart Web to keep up with their child’s grades weekly and e-mail the teacher right away if they would like a conference,” says Lunceford. You may want to ask the teacher if she would like to meet again in three weeks or a month for a follow-up conference. Being informed also means being aware of the school calendar such as the standardized testing dates. “You want to make sure you have not scheduled doctor’s appointments and that your child is getting a good night sleep,” says Halstead. Try not to build his apprehension and show him that you believe in him.
Know that students are expected to have a larger role in the conference in the future. “We are working towards students showing their parents their work and their success and better understanding that the conference is a positive thing and not a negative thing,” says Halstead. After the parent and teacher have met for twenty minutes, the child is often invited to join. It is important for the child to see the parent sitting at the same table as the teacher and to know that they are all on the same team.
Be sure that your relationship with the teacher does not begin and end at the conference. “The most wonderful thing a parent can do is just to pop into the classroom every once in awhile for five to ten minutes. It shows the child you care, gives you a perspective of what is going on and the children love it,” says Halstead.
You may find that attending a parent-teacher conference can be empowering. “What better person to pull on board than the parent because we want their support,” expresses Lunceford.