By Stacy DeBroff
October careens to a close, we still face the daunting prospect
of getting our kidsand ourselvestruly acclimated to
back-to-school schedules. Amidst this chaos and slow settling into
the routines of fall come the parent-teacher conferences. Your conversations
in the parent-teacher context give you access to a trained professional's
assessment of the developmental, academic, social, and creative
issues that our children face during the day. Teachers see your
child at work and at play, in large social groups or alone. They
gain invaluable and objective insights about where your child is
going and what he needs to work on to get there.
meetings exist for you to learn your child's progress in school,
but they also present an opportunity to for you to help resolve
behavioral or developmental concerns. Teachers use the information
they glean from you to contextualize their impressions of your child,
and these impressions help determine their educational and developmental
goals. With your input, teachers are also in a position to help
you structure how you approach education at home.
formal sessions are critical, usually crammed into a half-hour,
when we can sit down one-on-one with our children's teachers with
their undivided attention.
our child's education is daunting. The temptation is to dash in
with a few questions or issues in mind, and to let the teacher take
charge of the session.
parent-teacher conference takes on particular significance for parents
of children with special needs. All children have unique learning
styles and capabilities, and many need particular care and supplementary
aid in and out of the classroom. The parents of a special-needs
child should view the parent-teacher conference as a way to clarify
for the teacher what has been most problematic and most helpful
for their child, assess whether enough is being done at school to
provide for the child's necessities, and determine what other courses
of action must be taken with regard to their child's education.
The parent-teacher conference becomes a valuable starting point
from which to implement measures essential to your child's development
your own agenda to a parent-teacher meeting ensures that the issues
foremost on your mind are discussed. If you are not proactive about
organizing your thoughts and setting goals for what you need to
communicate and learn during this meeting, your concerns can be
overlooked. Most teachers seek to cover ambitious grounds during
these sessions: from academic assessments, progress reports, behavioral
issues, to impressions about social interactions with classmates.
Even if the time allotted for the session runs over or a follow-up
meeting should be scheduled, you can feel confident that the most
important issues in your children's lives are addressed.
prepare for a parent-teacher meeting, set aside a sheet for each
child at the beginning of the school year, and jot notes to yourself
based on what's going on outside of school, your key concerns, and
your child's reactions to school. These issues range from your child's
academic progress to family events to concerns about exclusion or
harassment from particular classmates.
your worksheet in whatever format works best for you. Look through
the information you have at homereport cards, homework, notes
from the teacher, the parent handbookto help you frame your
and reflections your child has shared with you as to how school
is going that tell the teacher how your child has been internalizing
his or her school experience
own observations about your childchanges in behavior at home
and with your family, particularly strong likes and dislikes, fears
personality, problems, habits, and hobbies you feel it's important
for the teacher to know
changes outside of school of which your child's teacher should be
awarea move to a new home, the birth of a baby, a divorce
or death in a family, specific family circumstances affecting your
child, or medical issues
concerns you have about academics, homework, how classroom time
is structured, socializing, music, art, or athletics
about the school's programs or policies
my child taken standardized tests within the past year? What were
they for and what were the results? How significant are these tests?
What kinds of tests are being done? What do the tests tell about
my child's progress? How does my child handle taking tests?
grade level is my child performing on in various subjects?
does his work compare to that of his classmates?
do you keep parents informed of progress or problems?
the teacher explain how she tracks your child's progress
or complaints which you feel must be aired, such as problems with
classmates or discipline or the teacher's interaction with your
is my child behaving in class?
you aware that my child is having difficulty working with you?
suggestions do you have for finding ways to improve my child's relationship
you think that a transfer to another class would be in the best
interest of my child?
for talking with the teacher
an effort to get along with the teacher, even if this means biting
your tongue, as an antagonistic relationship will not help your
be confrontational; approach the situation with a cooperative attitude.
a list of both positive and negative experiences your child is having
at school and share them with the teacher
sure you hear both sides of the story; so far, you have only heard
you have done something to offend the teacher, make sure to offer
a sincere apology.
to be open-minded and listen to the teacher's views.
for something positive for which you can praise the teacher.
you feel it would be difficult for you and the teacher to have an
effective conference on your own, ask for the principal, guidance
counselor, or another teacher to be present as mediator.
to ask if you do not get along with the teacher:
can each of us do to be able to work together this year?
we avoid involving my child in our differences?
we find some ways to help my child do well in school?
are your views on our areas of disagreement?
I tell you why I don't agree with you views on (topic)?
to ask if your child is struggling academically:
is my child's ability level?
do you feel is causing my child to struggle in school this year?
special help can the school offer my child to get back on track?
it be appropriate to test my child for a learning disability?
can I help my child do better?
to ask if you child is not challenged in school
is my child doing academically in your class?
you feel my child is breezing through class assignments with little
or no effort?
you make class assignments that are more challenging for my child?
the school have a program for gifted and talented children? Should
my child be tested for it?
can I do at home to enhance my child's educational experience?
for talking with the teacher:
with the teacher the possibility of adding extension and enrichment
opportunities to your child's curriculum.
are often the ones who must expand the school's curriculum in order
to challenge their children and keep them interested. Consider enrolling
your child in some enrichment classes or activities either after
school or on the weekends.
a parent's group involved in the education of gifted children.
to ask if your child is having a tough time socially:
my child have friends at school?
do you feel my child is having problems socializing with other children?
there anything you can do in the classroom to help my child feel
more comfortable around his peers?
you have suggestions about what I could do at home to help my child
get along better with his classmates?
it be a good idea for my child to talk to the school counselor or
psychologist about ways to improve his socialization skills?
for an assessment of your child's progress so far this year:
does this compare with the teacher's assessment?
my child regularly complete assigned tasks, including homework?\
my child performing at/above grade level in basic skills (math &
my child working up to his or her ability?
there areas my child needs extra help or seems less motivated?
my child participate in class discussions and activities?
are my child's strengths and weaknesses in major subject areas?
we review some of my child's classwork together?
you recommend that my child receive special help in any subject?
you believe my child would benefit from special counseling for social
services are available for my child?
you observed any changes in how my child learns this year?
academic progress has my child made since our last conference (or
beginning of the school year)?
which areas does she struggle?
do you perceive my child's strengths to be?
my child in different groups for different subjects? Why?
are my child's best and worst subjects?
do your see as my child's interests and strengths?
my child seem challenged academically?
are my child's creative thinking and problem-solving skills?
well does my child follow instructions, listen, and work independently?
my child seem happy at school?
does my child react to trying new things or making mistakes?
you observed any behavioral changes this year?
my child get along well with classmates?
there specific ways I can help my child at home?
actively involved should I be with homework assignments?
there anything you would like me to particularly focus on outside
to your child about his experience at school:
activities does he like the most? How does he like classmates and
he have some questions or issues he'd like you to address with the
does he believe the teacher will have to say about him?
your partner can't attend the conference with you, ask him to add
his concerns and questions to your list.
paper to jot down notes during the conference so comments, suggestions,
action items, and follow-up items are not forgotten
confusing comments and ask for examples if you are not sure what
the teacher means.
which children the teacher would encourage you to arrange playdates
with for your child.
your child's teacher on any emotional upheavals at home that may
be impacting your child, what extracurricular activities your child
participates in and how much he enjoys them
these suggestions as a springboard for you to begin a thoughtful
conversation with your child's teacher to make sure the fall stays
on track for your child. Remember that the purpose of this meeting
is not only to hear complaints or compliments about your child;
rather, the conference offers a forum for fostering cooperation
and communication between you and the teacher to help your child
grow, develop, and learn in the best way possible.
on time. Your child's teacher may have conferences scheduled back-to-back,
so if you are late you will deprive yourself of meeting time.
possible, both parents should attend and should be in agreement
about what you want the meeting to accomplish.
yourself and begin the conversation with a smile. If you put the
teacher on the defensive it will be more difficult to have a successful
meeting. Be positive and ask objective questions. Keep the lines
of communication open, so do not begin with complaints.
the beginning of the conference listening. Let the teacher direct
the conversation. The information he shares may answer some of your
to hear about your child's problem areas and be prepared to ask
how you can help her.
your child's in-school behavior and temperament, and how that differs
from your child at home
your most important questions first, just in case time runs out
before you and the teacher have a chance to discuss them all.
the conference by summing up decisions you've made together.
for additional meeting time whenever you need it, and take the initiative
to ensure that a direct line of communication between you and the
teacher remains open at all times should critical issues present
notes to share direct quotes with your spouse
prepared to follow up non-defensively on criticisms or concerns
by asking more detailed questions
"I am concerned about the aggression your son shows towards
"It would be so helpful for me to know more specifics about
this...What specific types of behavior? Toward any particular child?
At any particular activities or times of the day? How do you handle
this? What specific things should we focus on at home?"
free to write down suggestions and follow-up actions
Begin the action plan you and the teacher worked out together.
the teacher's suggestions and comments with your child. Discuss
with your child simple steps to make improvements.
see if the action plan is working, watch your child's behavior and
check your child's classwork and homework.
in touch with the teacher to discuss your child's progress. Meeting
with your child's teachers should help build strong parent-teacher
your child's teacher requests a conference at another time during
the school year:
to your child before the conference. Find out what he thinks is
his best subject, and what subject he likes the least. Find out
why. Ask your children if there is anything happening at school
that he would like to share with you.
you are a working parent who can't arrange to meet during regular
hours, make this clear to the teacher and try to set up a time to
meet that is good for both of you.
calm and try hard to work together with your child's teacher to
help your child do well. Arguing, or blaming each other for problems
your child is having, helps no one.
the teacher for ideas to help your child do even better in school.
sure your child doesn't worry about the meeting. Help him understand
that you and his teacher are meeting in order to help them.
DeBroff is President and founder of Mom Central, Inc., a company
devoted to providing pragmatic tips and advice to strengthen busy
families and enhance the home environment. She is the author of
several best-selling books on household and family organization
including The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms; Sign Me Up!
The Parents Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, and Extracurriculars;
and Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer. For more
information, visit www.momcentral.com