You stand in line in the gym or wait in kiddie-size chairs outside the teacher’s door and when the moment arrives you want to appear involved, interested and insightful but all you can think to say is, “So how’s my kid doing?”
You’re not alone. When it comes to parent teacher conferences most parents want to make the most of their time, but few know what to ask and many find the shuffle at the middle and secondary level from teacher to teacher unproductive.
According to a 1994 United States Department of Education survey, the amount and degree of parent involvement is the most influential factor in determining a student's' success in school. With this in mind, and twelve years of either sitting on one side as a parent or the other side as a teacher, here are my top five tips to make the most of your child’s next parent teacher conference.
1) Come Prepared
With schools now providing access to studentgrades online throughInfinite Campus, take the time before the conference to get the most up-to-date information. Most teachers will fill in work as “missing” if it has been collected but your child did not turn it in. Looking for low scores or missing work is important so you can ask the teacher if the work may still be completed or what elements of the class your child may be struggling with. If you are bringing a young child with you, also try to bring a book or toy they can play with in case there is a long wait. For older children, as you wait for a teacher use this time with your child to ask questions like, “What did you do in this class today?” or “What do you like/dislike about this class?”
2) Bring Your Student to the Conference
Unless there is a sensitive personal issue you need to discuss with your child’s teacher, bring him or her with to the conference. There are two key reasons for this. One, your child needs to know that you are supportive and willing to help them be successful. Taking time to know the people they spend the majority of their day learning from will help you get more out of your, “How was your day?” discussions. Two, if you child is not there it can often lead to miscommunication. The teacher may share a behavior they have seen in class or an assignment they have not received and you need your child there so you can get their input while the teacher is there to hear it. This really helps you avoid the “he said, she said” when you get home.
3) Have a Few Questions Ready
Depending on the teacher, they may fill your time with information and answer all your questions before you even ask them. However, some teachers prefer to ask parents what they want to cover or there is an awkward silence after the current grade is given because neither side knows what to talk about next. This can be especially true if you have a high achieving student because the usual discussion of class performance or missing work does not apply. As much as you may enjoy hearing how wonderful your child is doing, you also want to know how you can better support them. Some possible questions to ask are: Does my child volunteer answers in your class and do they seem attentive at all times? Do you see my child interacting well with his/her classmates? Are there any large projects or assignments coming up that we should know about? If I have questions, do you prefer to be reached by voice mail or email? What will you be studying next? Do you offer any times for out of class help if my child needs it?
4) Take Notes
Come prepared to take some notes, especially at the middle and high school level when conferences involve multiple teachers. Some teachers will have printed out grade updates, others will simply give you the grade verbally. As you learn of any missing work or upcoming assignments it is important to have a sheet of paper and pen to jot down some notes for each class. This is even more critical if your child cannot attend or you will be sharing what you learn with another parent or caregiver that is not with you.
5) Follow Up Via Email
With upper level conferences sometimes lasting as little as five minutes per teacher, it is likely that you may think of a question or have a comment to share after you have stepped away. Write it down, and follow up the next day via email. Most teachers prefer email communication because they can use whatever time they have between classes or during their prep time to send off a reply. Phone calls tend to get responded to less quickly because the teacher needs to have an undetermined amount of time available to return a phone call. This is because they do not know how long the conversation will take. Another option is simply to follow up with a kind email note. Many teachers are exhausted the day after conferences because they have sometimes put in a full day of teaching, a full night of conferences, and they have to be on top of their game for another full day of teaching the following day. This is the perfect time to reach out with a short note to let them know how appreciated they are. It only takes a moment of your time, but it will improve any upcoming communication you may need to have with this teacher and it is a rare and surprising gesture that teachers will truly appreciate.
Armed with these tips, you are ready for a productive and satisfying conference experience.
Upcoming conference times in the Robbinsdale district are:
Armstrong High School - Thursday, February 24, 2:45 p.m. - 7:55 p.m. Conferences are scheduled in 10 minute intervals and are held arena style with most in the cafeteria and some in the media center. Drop-ins are welcome, but they prefer students sign up for a spot.
Robbinsdale Middle School - February 22 - 24, 28, 3:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. each night; located in the gym, arena style.
Plymouth Middle School - Feb 22, 24, 28 from 3:30 p.m. - 8:40 p.m. each night; located throughout the entire building.
Noble Elementary School – March 8, 10- 11 and 15. The parents are responsible for setting up a classroom conference time. The format is located in the classroom with the parent, teacher and student.