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Parent-Teacher Communication Part 3: The Conference

Parent-Teacher Communication Part 3: The Conference

​Effective Communication Is Worth Its Weight In Gold

​I'm no traditional math teacher. I don't wear wooden jewelry or floral print dresses. I don't have schoolhouse, chalkboard, and apple art all over my classroom. I like things to be as simple as possible for my students because it helps than learn more efficiently. But, like all of the very best teachers out there, I know that three-way communication between me, my students, and their parents is worth its weight in gold. When we work as a team it's almost as if the student has no choice but to succeed. I'd like to teach you, parents, how to establish that communication with teachers in the simplest, most effective way possible. That starts with investing a little extra time at the beginning.

Simply put, there's just no substitute for an in person, in your face meeting with your child's teacher. These are best as soon as you suspect there may be a problem. Or if you feel your child needs a "reset" in a particular class. If you're the one requesting the meeting it's usually because you're looking for better grades for your child. And if the teacher is requesting the meeting? It's probably for the same reason.

Getting Ready

Hopefully you've gathered up all the info I recommended in Part 1. Maybe you've also sent an email with some specific questions. See our example email script in Part 2. Follow these steps to make sure you know everything you can before your meeting.

  • Print or review all of the communication you've gotten from the teacher so far. No one likes to repeat themselves and you can be sure the teacher is preparing for you.
  • Is there a website where you can check grades? Go printout your child's current grades.
  • Is there a place for the teacher to post assignments? Check it out and see if it's frequently updated.
  • Gather everything you can and stick it into a file folder, along with our Parent-Teacher Conference Organizer (see below).
  • Look over all of these materials and make a list of specific question you have for the teacher. The organizer will help.
  • Ask your child about his concerns or questions. You may be surprised at how well students understand their situation!
​The Conversation

​Teachers are definitely used to these meetings. Most of the time we wind up "running" the conference because parents are often shy or unsure of themselves. It doesn't have to be that way, and it can be refreshing for the teacher to have a parent open the meeting and ask questions.

You and your child are the customers! Really.

  1. Begin with the standard "thank you for meeting with us" pleasantries. Break the ice with a story about your child or a compliment to the teacher.
  2. Get down to business. Use the Conference Organizer as a guide, but it's totally okay to jump around too. You'll want to spend most of your time on your student's progress, of course. What are his weak areas?    
    • If it's tests and quizzes, determine how you can find out about those ahead of time so you can help your child review. Also, ask about extra help sessions.
    • If it's homework, have the teacher show you where student notes go in the binder. (You'd be amazed at how few students realize that the notes they took in class will show them how to do their homework.) 
    • Are students expected to write down assignments in a planner? Is homework posted online every night? Can they take a picture of the board with their cell phones?
  3. Ask about a normal day in class. What's expected of the student? What materials do they need every day?
  4. Tell the teacher about YOUR expectations for your child (and let your child hear you tell them). Do you want to know when your little girl drops below a B? Tell them. Do you only want to hear if your child is failing? Tell them that, too.
  5. Set expectations for future contact. What works best for both of you? Email? Phone calls? Ask the teacher how long it takes for them to respond to emails so you know what's normal. This also helps them understand that you expect a timely response.
  6. Summarize any important points and state any follow-up actions that you, the teacher, or your child will take after the conference. Is the teacher going to forward you a curriculum guide? Are you going to sign and send back that last test? Is your child going to start bringing his calculator to class?​

#1 Most Frequently Asked Question: What about the teacher that comes across with a bad attitude? Well, it doesn't happen a lot, but every great now and then you may get a lemon. This is a teacher who really does want your baby to succeed, but just doesn't know how valuable it is to work together. This is a great time to ask that a guidance counselor or administrator be present. And go in with your calmest, most professional game face on. Get that counselor or administrator on your side by asking great questions. After the meeting, cc them on all future emails with this teacher.

#1 Most Frequently Ignored Question: What if I come across with a bad attitude? Whatever you may think of the situation, the school, or the teacher, you're not going to get what you want unless you establish yourself as a rational player. You don't have to be Mary Poppins or Mr. Rodgers, but do your best to put on your professional mask so that you can get real work done. I promise, you'll be far more likely to get what you want for your child.

​In most cases, if you do this right, you should only have to have the one big parent teacher conference. Sure, you may pop in to say hello in conference night. But now you've set the stage for everyone so that much more can be accomplished via email later. When your child comes home with a gripe or a bad grade you'll know how to handle it. If your angel slips a little the teacher can email you and have a face to put with the request for support.

A parent-teacher conference organizer just for you. 

  • Guided questions for you to ask the teacher
  • Get Organized before your meeting
  • Capture essential information

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