What to Say at Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parents and teachers can provide important and helpful information to each other in conferences with appropriate preparation.

Parents are the most important influences in a child’s life. They are the key to his or her educational success. A spirit of cooperation between parents and teachers is essential.  After all, you both want the same thing—the most learning, accomplished in the best way possible.

Conferences should be held early in the school year, or as soon as a problem is evident. If your child cannot do the homework, cannot complete it in an appropriate amount of time, if (s)he never appears to have homework, or if class papers and/or tests indicate unsatisfactory work, call or email the teacher as soon as possible.

Make an appointment and approach the meeting with a positive attitude. Don’t have the meeting by accident in the hallway. Parents usually know their children better than anyone else. They are a valuable source of information for teachers. Share your child’s strengths and interests. Parents should come prepared with questions. Here are some possibilities:

  1. What is my child’s reading level?
  2. What are his or her standardized test scores?  Please explain them to me.
  3. What is my child expected to master? Is that appropriate for his or her ability?
  4. Is (s)he putting forth maximum effort? If not, why do you think this is so?
  5. How will (s)he be evaluated? How often do you test and/or quiz?
  6. Please explain your grading system.
  7. Are accommodations made if the student is not succeeding in relation to his or her ability?  (tutoring? assignments? and/or test modifications?)
  8. How can I support him or her in the learning process?
  9. Does s(h)e get along with classmates?
  10. Can we make a plan that we are both able to keep?
  11. Parents might be interested in our free Parent Self-EvalutionTest.

Teachers should also be prepared for the conference. They should begin with positive remarks, if only an observation that the child is always neatly dressed or that (s)he has a nice smile. This helps to put the parent, who might be intimidated by the entire situation, at ease. Teachers should know the child’s standardized test scores. They should provide samples of work and tests. If necessary, an anecdotal calendar of the student’s behavior can illustrate a pattern which aids in supporting the teacher’s observations.  If there is conflict, try to help the parent save face. Listen. Increase the options available. Try to solve a simple problem before moving on to a more complex one. Some easy places for parents to begin to help are:

  1. knowing when there is homework
  2. providing a good time and place to study
  3. making a schedule appropriate to the required work
  4. helping the child get organized
  5. practicing simple rote work such as spelling or learning lists
  6. checking homework
  7. praising work that is well done
  8. making sure the child has adequate rest and nourishment

Goals should be clear and answers should be understandable. Adding extra information may take the conference off-track. Remember that the parent and the student are not the same person. Keep the conference on a professional level.
At the end of the meeting, parents and teachers should agree on a plan which they both can realistically keep. A written memo (with a copy for each) might explain in a sentence or two what the parent will do, what the teacher will do, how they will communicate, and when they will meet again. Later, this paper can be shown to the child so that (s)he understands that the parent and teacher are on the same page in this endeavor.

An intervention which is sometimes successful is an invitation to the parent to watch a class from the back of the classroom.  All activities that demonstrate to the student that the parents and teachers are cooperating are extremely beneficial.

One final note–parents should remember that the classroom is not really democratic.  Children must learn what all adults know—you must obey authority figures whether you like them or not, whether you like the rules or not. The more that parents support and reinforce good school policies, the better for all involved.

Teachers and parents might find these free Self-Help Tests helpful for students before conferences:

Self-Help Reading Test (Grades 1 & 2)

Self- Help Reading Test (Grades 3-Up)

Self-Help Study Habits Test (Grades 3-Up)

Parents might also find that another Reading Spotlight Free Tip  (A Plan For Studying) might be useful.


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