Here’s for more details….Prepare, Propose & Plan.

Prepare:  This is your time to be with your child’s teacher…to start building a collaborative relationship with him or her, and to find out things about your child that you do not know. Prior to the conference is a great time to articulate your goals and have the “end in mind.” If you haven’t done so already, make sure you review your child’s work, grades, and progress reports.  There is little need in wasting time in the conference to go over information to which you already have access.  Also, by reviewing your child’s homework, tests, and the ways in which the teacher provides feedback (e.g. notes in the margins, number grades on the top of the sheet) you can help you get a better sense of the teacher’s expectations – both what is stated, and what is actually happening.  In addition, continue speaking with your child about what s/he is experiencing in school.  It’s worthwhile to get a better sense of your child’s interpretation of how s/he is doing, including what her strengths and needs are.  Questions you may want to ask your child prior to the conference include:

  • Do you think your grades reflect how much effort you put into your school work?
  • Is there anyone in school with whom you feel you can get your best work done?  Not necessarily your best friends – but a student you get paired up with, and end up working well with?
  • What are some things the teacher (who you will be meeting) does that you wish she did even more often?
  • What’s one thing that the teacher doesn’t know about you that you wish that s/he did?

Prepare Your Agenda: Take advantage of this opportunity to serve as a role model for your child about what it looks like to be proactive. Although your child may not explicitly express it, he or she is watching you.  The conference is after all about your child!  The very nature of the event has piqued his or her interest.  At the same time, few children want to feel as if they are being “managed” by their parents or their teachers.  The most important thing is to show your child that you have devised a list of questions and topics that you want to discuss with the teacher.  Whether to show the actual list of questions and topics is up to you.  Possible questions and topics include:

  • Progress:  What have you noticed my child getting better at?  How is he or she doing compared to the rest of the class?  Is he or she performing at grade level (and how do you determine what it means to be “at grade level”)?
  • Social Learning:  Is my child confident and friendly with other children?  Since you see him/her in school, could you please share with me examples of his social skills in school?  Does my child work best in a large or small group? Is there anyone in the class who you would recommend that we invite to our house for a playdate….who seems to be a positive influence on my child?
  • Reading: What reading skills are stressed in your class?  At this school?  How do you present reading assignments to all the students?  What is my child expected to do?  My child loves when I read to her at home (not to mention that it helps with vocabulary development and reading fluency….not matter what the age of the child!), do you do that in class? If there was one thing you wanted me to work on with my child at home in regards to reading, what would it be?  Do you have any explicit strategies in mind that I could use to help my child with that aspect of reading?
  • Writing:  What writing skills are stressed in your class?  At this school?  What is my child expected to do in terms of sharing her ideas, organizing her thoughts, writing clearly for an audience, following the rules of grammar, etc?
  • Strengths & Interests:  Tell the teacher what you think your child is good at, and back this up with a story or example.  Also, mention 1-3 of your child’s core interests.  Be brief, as teachers may zone out and even dismiss what you have to say if you come across as someone who just shows off about your child.  At the same time, do not dismiss the importance of sharing your child’s strengths and interests with the teacher.  You are presented with a wonderful opportunity to strengthen (or if need be alter!) the perception that the teacher has of your child.
  • The teacher:  Everyone needs a little praise & recognition.  Teachers (and moms & dads!) expend time, energy and even their own money thinking through and learning about ways to support your child.  Tell the teacher something specific you like about her class…about the ways she and/or the curriculum supports your child in ways that you love (e.g. in becoming more responsible, even more curious, goal-oriented, enthusiastic) – even if your inclined to “not like” this teacher, to resent him or her for something s/he is (or is not doing) for your child.  A+ if you share an exact comment from your child.  The descriptive praise will nestle itself into the heart and mind of the teacher, prompting her to do it even more often. By you sharing such a positive comment you may also be offering the teacher “just the energy boost” she needs at the time too!

So, there you go.  A bunch of ideas for questions and topics to initiate at the conference.  You may want to go through the list, circle your favorites – or at least the ones that make the most sense to you and your child’s experiences and needs in school (and at home) right now.  Let me know, too, if you have others to share with more parents – ones that have worked for gaining more insights about your child at school, usable tips from the teacher for what you can do at home, and most of all, more fertile ground on which to build an ongoing, collaborative relationship with another key educator in your child’s life: the school teacher.

Next up – Propose & Plan.