Making the most of your parent-teacher conference

Learn what issues to focus on and how to plan for a productive parent-teacher conference.

By Kristin Stanberry

The first parent-teacher conference of the school year provides a great opportunity for you and your child's teacher to share insights and information about him. At this meeting, you can develop a relationship with the teacher and present yourself as a team player in your child's education. (If your child has a learning disability and recieves special education services, it's essential that you make the most of the conference with the general education teacher.) Because most teachers schedule 30 minutes or less for each conference, planning ahead can help you maximize the experience.

The Planning Process

You may have met with your child's teacher when the school year began. By the time the conference rolls around, several weeks will have passed; this means you, your child, and his teacher should all have a better sense of your child's struggles and strengths. How can you organize your comments and concerns? Here are factors to consider:

Gather Information

Ideally, you'll start preparing during the first few weeks of the school year. What should you pay attention to?

Organize and Prioritize

From the list of concerns and observations you create:

Find Out Who Gives Feedback

At least a week before the conference, ask the teacher if feedback from other educators will be included. For example, if your child:

Asking for feedback from several people will help you and the school view your child as a "whole" person with strengths as well as needs.

Get Perspective

As the conference date draws near, remember the meeting is an opportunity for you and the teacher to collaborate. Remember that you're the expert about your child, while the teacher is the expert on teaching kids at his grade level. You'll both come to the table with ideas and opinions. Remember, too, that collaboration sometimes requires compromise; striking a balance of ideas is often in the best interest of your child.

At the Conference

Now, you're ready to meet with the teacher. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind during the conference:

At Home After the Conference

Whether or not your child attended the conference with you, it's helpful to sit down with him the same day to discuss what occurred. Depending on his age and maturity level, he may need help understanding what problems - and solutions - were covered. Most kids also want to have a clear idea of what's expected of the teacher, the parent(s), and, most importantly, from him. Be sure to point out his strengths along with his struggles. "Closing the loop" with your child will assure him that you, the school, and he are on the same team!

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.