You’ve been there before—sitting in your child’s chair, feeling the minutes fly by, and you want to ask your child’s teacher something… if only you could remember now what it was. Given the short time allocated per parent-teacher conference, it’s important to ask your child’s teacher the questions that can help you better understand your child’s academic performance, gain a clearer picture into any strengths and weaknesses and create a collaborative relationship that will last throughout the year.
Amy Shapiro, Executive Director at My Learning Springboard (www.mylearningspringboard.com) says the first step to a successful parent-teacher conference is to get to know the teacher before the conference. “This is important because if concerns and problems arise, you have already established a positive and trusting relationship with your child’s teacher,” Shapiro explains. “Any time you meet with your child’s teacher you want to make the most of the time provided.”
Shapiro also says that the parent-teacher conference is no time for surprises. “As a parent, you want to be continually up-to-date, knowledgeable and involved in your child’s academic and emotional progress,” she explains. “Don’t wait until you sit down at the table to share your concerns. Teachers don’t like surprises either!”
“It’s important to start the process with an open mind and good attitude,” explains Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research and Development at LearningRX (www.learningrx.com). “Don’t let bad experiences with school, conferences, or even this teacher force you into a defensive role. With the right approach, you can turn the conference into a valuable opportunity to collaborate on your child’s progress.”
Mitchell urges parents to go in to the conference prepared with open-ended questions that can make the most of the time allotted and to do their homework before you go. “Conference time is limited, averaging 20 minutes in elementary school and just a few minutes per teacher in high school,” she cautions. “Review schoolwork, test results, online grading systems, homework policies and other information already sent home so you don’t use valuable time asking questions that you could already have the answers to.”
Moving Beyond Grades and Behavior
Jean Hendrickson, Executive Director of Oklahoma A+ Schools, has worked with both teachers and parents to identify questions that can help stimulate more meaningful dialogue during conferences. “Considering both what teachers wish parents would ask of them and what parents really want to know about their kid’s school experiences, we have developed a list of questions to help parents better prepare for conferences,” Hendrickson explains. “Vetted by teachers and parents, the questions are designed to move past the basics like grades and behavior. They help to establish a relationship between the adults as co-teachers of the child and equip students to be creative thinkers, problem solvers and collaborators.”
The Big Ten Questions to Ask
In addition to specific questions directly related to classroom policies, school work and curriculum content, Hendrickson encourages parents to ask open-ended questions to give you a better grasp of who your child is during the school day. Consider asking your child’s teacher:
- From your perspective, does he enjoy school?
- Does he seem curious and eager to learn? When given the choice, what does she choose to learn?
- How does he deal with transitions or changes in the schedule?
- How does he act when his behavior is corrected or redirected?
- What does he talk to you about?
- What kinds of questions does he ask in class?
- In a group setting, what role does he take on? How does he fit into the class?
- Is he confident about school? Is he confident in his abilities?
- How does he express himself best?
- Does he demonstrate empathy? Respect? Wonder?
In addition to these suggestions, Mitchell encourages parents to remember one other important question, which furthers the spirit of collaboration between parents and educators. “Be sure to ask ‘What can we do at home to reinforce what you’re doing at school?’’ she explains. “Then, make a follow-up plan and set a timeline for updates. Confirm the best time and manner to contact the teacher to check on progress.”
Going Home Happy
Even if you only have 20 minutes to cover all these bases, Shapiro says asking the correct questions can help you feel satisfied with the outcome of the conference and help to make the most of the remaining school year. By the end of the conference you should know:
- your child’s strengths,
- goals and steps to facilitate improvement,
- how and when follow-up will occur, and
- what you will be doing with your child outside of school to support these goals.
Mitchell says that there is one last step to a successful parent-teacher conference—taking the message home. “Even if there are no problems, chances are your child was a little nervous about conferences too, so be sure to share praise, concerns and solutions.”
About Oklahoma A+ Schools
Part of the University of Central Oklahoma, OKA+ is the state’s only research-based whole school network dedicated to improving test scores, reducing behavioral issues and creating more joyful and engaged students in its schools. The network of more than 70 schools represents early childhood through high school institutions in urban, suburban and rural Oklahoma. For more information, visit www.okaplus.org.
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor and Online Content Manager at MetroFamily Magazine.