The leaves changing colors on the trees in my backyard and the points on the "No. 2" pencils growing a bit dull are primary indicators that the time for annual parent teacher conferences at my child's elementary school are drawing near. I'll be the first to admit that I am one of those parents who gets a bit anxious at the prospect of sitting down with my kids' teachers. It's silly really, as both boys are excellent students and have relatively good conduct. I've never had a "bad" parent-teacher conference, so my nervousness is misplaced.
This year, I've decided to try to have a better, more productive attitude towards what is actually a tremendous educational opportunity. My oldest son is now in high school, where meetings with teachers happen very infrequently. The high school conference is usually not called to just sit and tell you how great your child is. Our elementary school, on the other hand, affords parents this formal chance once a year to conference individually with each teacher. Tomorrow my husband and I will visit with the three women and one man who spend their time devoted to educating Adam and his classmates.
Determined to make the most out of this opportunity, I turned to a good friend for advice. Kimberly Cochran is the Principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Clovis, California. Kim spent several years in the classroom before transitioning into her administrative role, so she speaks from the perspective of both a teacher and a principal. Equally as important, Kim is the mother of two sons, so she's sat on the parent's side of the desk at these meetings as well. In my book, Mrs. Cochran's word is gold, so I was eager for her advice.
"My best advice… arrive with a smile on your face and a positive attitude," shares Cochran. "If possible, email the teacher ahead of time if there are concerns you would like to talk about. Share the positive things that your child shares with you and remember that the teacher is there to work with you to help your child succeed. Thank the teacher for the time spent together and let him or her know you will continue to keep the lines of communication open."
These are wise words from a seasoned educational professional. Along with Mrs. Cochran's advice, other educators recommend the follow tips for participating in conferences with your children's teachers:
— Plan ahead. Make sure that you prioritize attendance at this meeting and that if at all possible both parents are present. If work schedules present a problem, notify your child's teachers as soon as possible and try to work out a scheduling compromise.
— Do your homework. Many schools send home progress reports in advance of parent-teacher conferences. Study your child's reports and look for trends, areas where your child may be struggling, or other concerns. Make a written list of your questions and concerns. As noted by Kimberly Cochran, bring special concerns to the teacher's attention prior to the conference, giving the teacher sufficient time to prepare a response.
— Respect the teacher's time. Arrive promptly. Remember that your child's teacher will be meeting with multiple parents, so be cognizant of the teacher's time limitations. Should your concerns take longer than the time allotted, schedule a follow up conversation to address more lengthy situations.
— Determine an action plan. With the teacher, prioritize the actions that need to be taken to ensure that your child is fully meeting his educational potential. Talk with the teacher about how you can follow up to communicate about your child's progress, whether by telephone, email or future conferences. Leave the meeting knowing the next step to help your child meet his goals.
— Thank the teacher. Teachers are underpaid and underappreciated for the diligent work they undertake in our society. I plan to take time tomorrow at my meetings with Adam's teachers to let them know how much we truly appreciate all they have done to help our child develop into a responsible young man.
— Follow up with your child. Use your meeting with his teacher as a chance to pass along the good news on what he's doing well. Without attacking, discuss with him areas of needed improvement. Work together to determine short and long term goals, setting a concrete appointment for follow up. Share with your child how very proud you are of his accomplishments. Underscore the value of education and the appreciation you have for both his effort and that of his teacher.
Parent teacher conferences are a unique opportunity for us to help our children succeed, both educationally and in character development. As such, it is well worth taking time to anticipate and plan for a conference that will be productive and rewarding.