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Parent-Teacher Conference Jitters?

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Here are a few tips to optimize this special one-on-one time you will soon have with your child’s teacher!

What to expect:

  • The parent-teacher conferences are usually a packed 20-30 minutes intended to review how school has been for your child thus far this year. The teacher will be prepared to go over formal information, such as report cards, work samples, and assessments as well anecdotal information, all of which will be of great interest to you. This is your chance to get detailed feedback on your child, so grab it while you can.
  • Like homework, it is another opportunity to strengthen the home-school connection. The teacher will provide you with insight into your child’s strengths and stretches and some suggestions for what you can do to further support your child at home, while also explaining what he/she will be doing at school to meet your child’s needs. It is a chance to really deepen the collaborative potential that the adults in your child’s life have to support him/her in becoming the best that he/she can be!

Some things to consider as the conference approaches:

  • Start looking more carefully at your child’s schoolwork and generate questions that arise for you about it. Take notice and jot down examples of any patterns you are seeing in your child’s work or attitudes about school this year to share with the teacher. (Consider carryover rough spots from previous years and new strengths, improvements, or struggles emerging.)
  • Share with your child that you are going to be meeting with his/her teacher (if it is not a parent-student-teacher conference) and ask what he/she thinks are the most important points to cover.
  • As the conference date draws near, start to prioritize the top three or four points that you would like to address. These can include social, emotional, and physical, as well as academic concerns or questions you have.
  • If things have been generally negative for your child in school, try to find at least one positive aspect of school this year, be it the teacher, new friends, special activities, or newfound interests to share with the teacher.

At the conference:

  • To get the most from the parent-teacher conference: Relax and enter with a friendly, open, and appreciative attitude.
  • Allow the teacher to lead the conference and let him/her get through the information that he/she has prepared. Stay aware of the time and remember that you should have some opportunity to share your concerns too. It is okay to notice that the time is running short and to gently interrupt to let the teacher know that you would like a few minutes to share some things as well. What usually happens is that the conference is a give-and-take exchange and the conversation allows for you to participate within it.
  • While we all want to hear only wonderful things about our children, try not to get defensive when not just special skills or achievements are addressed. Listen to the teacher carefully when he/she is speaking about the areas where your child has room to develop. (If you do start to feel upset, remind yourself that the teacher is on your side and the two of your have the same goal: To help your child be as successful and as happy as possible.)
  • Should you have concerns about the teacher’s choices or policies, or you don’t agree with them, you will benefit most by learning why the teacher is doing what he/she is doing. It is best to address these kinds of issues with questions. Curiosity and the genuine desire to understand will keep the dialogue more open and clarify for you what the objective is behind the area of concern.

A few good questions to ask about your child at school:

  • Is my child working up to his/her ability?
  • What are my child’s academic (or social, emotional, physical) talents and weak areas?
  • What can we do at home / What is being done at school to develop his/her weak areas/strengths?
  • What is my child like in class?
  • What is my child’s learning style?
  • How would you suggest we go about dealing with…?

Following the conference:

  • Whether your child was present or not, discuss with him/her the conversation you had with the teacher during the conference. You want your child to know that you are all on the same team, supporting him/her. Always end the discussion with your child on a positive note, stating a concrete strength that you and the teacher discussed.
  • Take some time to reflect on the conference and feel free to arrange to communicate more with the teacher when there is a need. You should come away from the experience with new insights about your child and ways that you can continue to support him/her in school! The intention of the conference is to build a strong alliance between home and school on behalf of your child.

Beth Kanne-Casselman, MEd, LMFT has a private psychotherapy practice in the SB Area working with individuals, couples, and families. She has taught pre-school through high school and presently teaches second grade.

October 1, 2015

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