Your child's success in school depends largely on your involvement in his education. Follow these easy tips on how to communicate effectively with your child's teacher at your next parent-teacher conference.
According to a U.S. Department of Education survey, the most significant factor in determining a student's success in school is the amount and extent of parent involvement. So, if you can't make it into the classroom on a regular basis, conferences offer a great way to get involved and ensure you and your child are both doing all you can to guarantee school success.
Richard Mancuso, owner of New York City's LearningRx "brain training" center, offers the following tips for parents so they are prepared for their first sit-down with their child's teacher.
1. Start the process with an open mind and good attitude. Don't let bad experiences with school, conferences, or even this teacher force you into a defensive role.
2. Talk to your child. Asking direct questions about conferences may uncover worries you didn't know about before. Ask about social issues, like bullying. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, nearly one-third of youth are bullied at least once a month.
3. Bring information about tests, diagnoses, and treatments that may affect how your child does in school. Don't try to hide a learning disability or other special needs diagnosis, fearing your child may be labeled. The teacher should be aware of tests and grades from previous years and should have copies of Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) or Individual Education Programs (IEPs). If a child has fallen behind, these plans are used to map his individual progress, needs, and provided services.
4. Do your homework before you go. Conference time is limited, averaging 20 minutes in elementary school and just a few minutes per teacher in high school. Review schoolwork, test results, online grading systems, homework policies, and other information already sent home so you don't use valuable time asking questions that you could already have the answers to.
5. Take your child's other parent with you. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students do better in school if both parents are involved, whether the father lives with the child or not.
6. Write down all questions and concerns beforehand so you remember them. Take notes during the conference and jot down new questions as you go.
7. Be an advocate. Work with the teacher to develop the best plan for your child. If the teacher downplays your concerns, don't be afraid to push a bit. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires public schools to provide free and appropriate special education services to meet the learning needs of eligible children with disabilities. Getting the right diagnosis, and the services and accommodations that go with it, may require persistence. If your child doesn't have a diagnosable learning disability but still struggles, cognitive skills testing can reveal if weak cognitive skills are the root cause of the problem. You may also need to insist on more testing, or outside testing, when seeking enhancement opportunities for a gifted child.
8. Be prepared for open-ended questions, such as "How do you think she's doing?" or "Is there anything I should know about?" Be honest! Tell the teacher if you have concerns or if there's something at home that could impact your child, like a divorce, new baby, soccer league, or insomnia. If you're near the end of the conference, this is your opportunity to ask key questions if the teacher hasn't already answered them - questions like "How does my child interact with others? Is she working up to her ability?" And most importantly, "What can we do at home to reinforce what you're doing at school?"
9. Make a follow-up plan and set a timeline for updates. Confirm the best time and manner to contact the teacher to check on progress.
10. Finish at home. Even if there are no problems, chances are your child was a little nervous about conferences too, so be sure to share praise, concerns, and solutions.
For more information on LearningRx and Richard Mancuso, visit www.learningrx.com/nyc-upper-east-side.
Also see: October Check-In: How to Assess Your Child's Progress in School