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Teacher Tips For Surviving School Conferences: ‘It Takes a Village’

We’re deep into a new school year and odds are, parent-teacher conference notifications are starting to pop up. But these annual or biannual meetings are more just than a check-in — they’re opportunities to understand your child in new ways, gain insight into his or her development, and connect with the adult in their life with whom they spend the better part of their day.

“Kids will be more successful in school when parents and teachers work together as a team,” Sarah Miller, a Michigan educator who taught children from grades Pre-K to high school, tells SheKnows. “Parent-teacher conferences can strengthen this partnership.”

However, parental attendance is on the decline, according to a recent survey by the non-profit organization Learning Heroes, which found that 62 percent showed up for the meeting in 2019 compared to 77 percent in 2017. Outside of conferences, the survey showed that only 50 percent of parents communicated with their child’s teacher in 2019 compared to 72 percent in 2017. Interestingly, while parents typically rely on report card grades to assess their child’s progress, teachers say that communication is the best way to learn that.

With that in mind, here are tips from educators for turning parent-teacher conferences into meaningful fact-finding conversations. 

Make a Point To Show Up & On Time

“I have to beg at least 25 percent of my parents to show up for conferences. Sadly, these parents often have children who are struggling in school. I once had a parent say that she would rather not take time off from work to hear how badly her child is doing at school. That was heartbreaking!” —Brianna Leonhard, elementary school teacher whose students have high-functioning autism, in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

“Arriving too early or too late makes my night more difficult and I cannot accommodate these parents with the other scheduled conferences. Fifteen or 20 minutes per conference is already so short.” —Nicole Evert, elementary and high school teacher in Lake County, Illinois.

“If you really want to see teachers roll their eyes, claim your child is bored in class.”

Do Your Homework 

“Conferences create connections between a student’s home and school life. So come prepared with questions and observations from your perspective. Think about how your children handles homework or how they interact with other kids on playdates or during extracurricular activities — these are clues into how your child behaves at school, too.” — Emily Ersboll, 1st grade teacher at the Stratford School Online Academy in Playa Vista, California.

“Stay updated on [your child’s] assignments and grades and review any [prior] communication from the school to avoid surprises at the conferences.” — Natalie Flynn, 4th grade teacher in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

Create an Alliance With Teachers

“Conferences are opportunities to see your child through their teacher’s eyes…[This meeting] should not feel like a ‘one-and-done’ so email the teacher afterward to review what you learned and ask for suggestions for supporting your child at home. You are creating a partnership with your child’s teacher, because it takes a village.” — Sari Beth Goodman, Pre K-6 teacher, Los Angeles, California. 

“If your child has a special education teacher and a general education teacher, I strongly encourage you to schedule a conference with both, preferably at the same time so everyone is on the same page.” —Leonhard. 

“Teachers will concentrate on areas for improvement and concerns. It may feel like teachers only sees the negative so if you haven’t heard many positives, ask, ‘Can you give me an example of where my child is thriving?'” —Goodman.

“While teachers know each student, they will never understand your child the way parents do…Families have insight into how their child processes the world and their curiosities and anxieties. A good teacher will use this information to positively impact students’ unique learning style.” —Erica Kaplan, K-3 teacher in Whitehall, Ohio.

“It’s frustrating when parents are not on the same page.”

Ask Lots of Questions

“Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Can you explain more about how this or that happens?’ And if something is bothering you, please tell us. We want to discuss any issues you or your child might have so that school can go as smoothly as possible.” — Ashley Showell, kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles, California.

“Ask about your child’s independent skills, social habits, friendships, and any other [non-academic] concerns you may have.” —Evert.

Welcome Challenges Without Getting Defensive

“Instead of hearing challenges as criticism of your child or your parenting skills, see them as opportunities to help children [succeed].” — Miller. 

“If you really want to see teachers roll their eyes, claim your child is bored in class. The teacher’s defenses will go up, because you are essentially saying that he or she is not doing their job.” —Goodman. 

“When parents take the blame for missed homework, they don’t set their kids up with self-management skills.” —Dr. Lisa Noudéhou, English teacher, grades 8-10, at BASIS Independent Manhattan in New York City, New York.

Leave Family Drama at Home

“It’s frustrating when parents are not on the same page and argue or blame each other because it wastes precious minutes. Listen to the teacher’s feedback, then at home, discuss the next steps with each other.” —Carla Daubenspeck, 5th-grade teacher in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

“For parents in the middle of a high-conflict divorce or a custody battle, it’s best to plan separate conferences. With such emotions, [the meeting] can become a battleground with teachers stuck in the middle.”  —Kimberly King, kindergarten teacher in Stratford, Connecticut.

“[Avoid] bringing siblings who proceed to make a mess in the classroom. It is very hard to concentrate when a young child is walking around the classroom with a Sharpie.” —Kaplan.

“Don’t get cocktails beforehand. Many parents turn conference night into date night. I beg you to save the date for [another time].” —King.

Test Technology Before Virtual Conferences 

“Be sure to test your video and audio beforehand. Usually, I see several sets of parents consecutively in 10-minute increments, so it’s helpful for everyone to ‘arrive’ on time. And if you are both at home, log in on the same device to avoid an echo.” —Noudéhou. 

Respect the Privacy of Other Students 

“I am not allowed to discuss other children with parents. So, if Tommy pushed Susie, I have to deal with those situations separately and be a calming source of support for both parents. I won’t participate in gossip or share private information.” — King.

Know That Teachers Want the Best For Their Students 

“Most of my favorite parent-teacher conferences have ended in happy tears. I can be a little emotional and sharing good news with parents always brings tears to my eyes.” —Evert.

“Please remember that teachers are human also. We want to be respected because we provide as much care for your child as you do.” —Flynn.

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