Making the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Your child's teacher and you are partners in your child's education. To make the most of this relationship, good communication between the classroom and home is essential. One of the best ways to communicate with your child's teacher is face-to-face in a parent-teacher conference. Most schools schedule conferences once or twice during the year, but because teachers have several students and limited time, these conferences are often allotted just 10 or 15 minutes. Even so, it's easy to learn much in minutes--if you have the right game plan.  Here are some tips to get you started from the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association.

Before the Conference

Prep work is key. Just like you wouldn't bake a cake without first greasing the pan or preheating the oven, you shouldn't enter a parent-teacher conference cold. Consider these proven strategies.

  • Arrange a conference by calling or writing a note to the teacher. During regularly scheduled conferences, you may be asked to sign up for a specific time slot.

  • Make a list of questions and outline goals you have for your child.

  • Let the teacher know in advance of any special concerns you may have so that she can prepare.

  • Talk to your child and find out if there is anything he would like you to discuss during the meeting.

  • Alert the teacher to any family problems or tragedies, such as the recent loss of a grandparent, that may be altering your child's mood.

  • Know your time limit. If your concerns require more time, let the teacher know.

During the Conference

Stay positive and don't be afraid to ask the questions you compiled beforehand. Here are some that you may want to ask:

  • Is my child getting along with the other children? Are there any special friendships or ongoing conflicts?

  • Is she keeping up with classroom activities and homework? Does she have any particular difficulties?

  • Does he participate in class discussions?

  • How are you measuring her progress? Through tests? Portfolios of work? Class participation?

  • How much homework will be assigned? Do you expect parents to help? If so, how much?

  • What future projects are planned?

  • What are the rules of the classroom, and how are they enforced?

After the Conference

If you and the teacher determine that your child is having social or academic difficulties, discuss and devise potential solutions before leaving the meeting.

  • Agree on a specific plan to help your child. Make sure this plan includes ways of checking your child's progress regularly.

  • Review what was discussed in the conference and restate your plan of action so you're both on the same page.

  • Discuss the plan and desired outcome with your child. Set goals for improvement.

  • Communicate frequently with the teacher and other school officials to discuss your child's progress.

  • Schedule a follow-up conference. 

Further reading:

  • Schools are supposed to be safe havens where wonder, creativity and imagination flourish. Bullies, however, can disrupt this serene setting and turn your child's classroom into a house of horrors.  Find out what you and your child can do to beat the bullies.

  • You go to great lengths to childproof your home--the sight of a squared-corner coffee table still makes you cringe. But how safe is your child's school?