School is in full swing. Pencils are sharpened and books are covered. You’ve paid for school supplies, picture day, yearbook, and T-shirts. You’ve been to Open House night and have an overview of the curriculum, homework assignments, and behavioral expectations. Now it’s time to get serious — the Parent-Teacher Conference.
One common element among successful students is involved parents. Children whose parents are conscientious about education tend to do better academically and have more positive social skills.
The parent teacher conference is not just a one-time event; it sets the pace for an ongoing relationship between parents and teachers for the entire school year. Consider the parent teacher conference as a team meeting. The goal is to plan effective strategies so your child will have a winning season.
A successful parent teacher conference should include the following:
1. Be positive: focus on your child’s strengths, talents, and successes. Let the teacher know that you love, cherish, and respect your child. You hold your child in high regard and expect others to do the same. Remember, you are entrusting your most precious possession to this teacher.
2. Keep it in perspective: children are not being immature, they are acting their age! Child development is a work-in-progress and their behavior should be viewed as one point on an ever-changing continuum. When there is a problem, understand that children do “grow out of it”. One of our jobs is to coach and support them, with compassion and consistency, as they encounter life’s ups and downs. It is critical that parents and teachers mutually support disapproval of misdeeds but not allow negativity to cast a shadow over the entire school year.
3. Focus on reality: neither exaggerate nor diminish your child’s academic progress, social skills, or behavioral reactions. Readily identify your youngster’s strengths and shortcomings. You know your child better than the teacher does, but the teacher is well educated in child growth and development. She has worked with hundreds of children. Remember, too, you are emotionally invested in your child but the teacher is able to be more objective. Respect the teacher as the professional child expert.
5. Ask questions: be specific about your youngster’s exact grade level performance compared to the grade he or she is in. You can benefit from the teacher’s evaluations and observations of your child during school time. What areas does she need extra help with? What is her reading grade level? Is there a vocabulary list you can work on at home? Is there a list of recommended reading books? Find out who your child sits next to during free time and who he enjoys playing with. Does he have a special friend? How does your child respond to criticism from peers or the teacher? Is he helpful, does he take the initiative in learning situations, and use problem solving strategies?
5. Thank the teacher: voice your appreciation for the teacher’s time and interest in working with you to help your child succeed in school. Point out something specific the teacher has done that you especially like, such as birthday recognition, display of children’s work, or notes home to parents. Mention a school-related anecdote your child has told you that reflects positively on the teacher or the school. Offer to volunteer in the classroom or with projects which can be done at home.
Each grade level not only helps with academic progress, but with socialization skills as well. Ultimately each success fortifies your youngster’s feeling of self-worth and self-confidence. The parent teacher conference is one vehicle for monitoring and coaching your child through a positive educational experience.
Dr. Valerie Allen is a licensed school psychologist and educational consultant, and mother of six.