Productive Strategies to Tackle Parent-Teacher ConferencesCherilyn Ashley
If a school wanted a great fundraiser, they would set up a bar at parent-teacher conferences. This bar would attract every type of parent. First, the “good students’ parent”: This parent, in most cases, is the class helper, the one who is in-the-know and who is attending not to meet with the teacher, but to sign up volunteers and helpers to assist the teacher. Second, the “struggling students’ parent”: This parent wishes they had a good student, they attend conferences out of necessity and are hoping that emotionally they can make it through another school year. Third, the “middle of the road students’ parent”: This group of parents attends conferences (if they must) because their students are getting by in school and it is not a big deal. These liquid refreshments would attract teachers who are tired of conferences, who have had enough of parents, and who just need a break. Just think of how many parents would attend this kind of parent-teacher conference. It would break parent-teacher conference attendance records worldwide. Teachers would have volunteers galore and enough helpers for the entire year. The conferences would be productive, and students would all have action plans to assist them. Unfortunately, your parent-teacher conference is not going to look anything like this one. Indeed, The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that out of all the events that elementary schools offer, parent-teacher conferences are of the highest attended, with only a 57% attendance rate. This group of parents reports that they leave these conferences bewildered, confused, and with little-to-no idea of how to help their child improve. With that being the case, we’ve come up with some practical strategies to assist you in having a more manageable and productive parent-teacher conference.
The school which your child attends determines the processes used to report students’ progress, grading policies, and other assessment tools. Understanding and gaining familiarity with these protocols is a great starting point for any parent attending parent-teacher conferences. These protocols will assist you in developing questions for your student’s teacher.
Know the Acronyms
Educators love acronyms and have their own culture and language like any major corporation. Parents are expected to be in the know. Use the wrong acronym and you may find yourself in the principal’s office. There are two main acronyms parents of elementary students need to know: First, CMAS, which stands for Colorado Measures of Academic Success, and it is our state’s measurement of students’ academic progress. This test is administered at the end of the school year, testing English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Second, the Read Act, or the Colorado Read Act, which Colorado enacted to increase literacy rates of all students (especially for students at risk for not reading at grade level by the end of third grade). The state of Colorado allocates funds to help students who are struggling the most. How your child has performed on this specific test will determine if your child gets extra reading help and testing throughout the year. Your child’s Read Act score will, in many cases, dominate the time allocated for your parent-teacher conference. Understanding your child’s scores on these tests and a familiarizing yourself with these concepts will assist you in spending time developing an action plan for the academic success of your child.
Your child’s teacher is not your adversary. A parent-teacher conference is not an MMA match. You are not going to prepare for this conference by running the steps in Philadelphia like Rocky Balboa. Unfortunately, bringing your own entrance theme music to the conference is not acceptable. You should leave your entourage of homies at home. Stretching and demonstrating your newest Tae Bo move during the conference is not going to fly either. Most of all, leave your childhood anger toward teachers at home. Don’t go into the conference with the intent to stick it to the teacher. Prepare for this conference by going to your Zen place. Why do we mention this? Some teachers are not the best at the art of running a meeting. Some teachers will pull out a file folder of your child’s work which will include, in most cases, a positive example of hard work and a negative example of your student needing to improve. These same teachers may desire to use this conference time to address your student’s misbehavior. Let’s stop right here! All parents hate to hear negative feedback about their child. We all know that our child is not perfect, but when someone else criticizes them, it gets our blood boiling. Thus, Zen preparation comes into play. You can’t be blindsided by this behavior now; we warned you this may happen. What is the purpose of this conference? The purpose is to help your child improve. In order to make it through, you need to find a way to make this meeting productive for your student. To start preparing for a parent-teacher conference, begin by writing yourself notes to address with the teacher (start this process a few weeks before the conference). Remember, most conferences are a maximum of 15 minutes, and it is a discussion, not a monolog. If you have a lot of questions, it may be advisable to email the teacher in advance so they may respond before the meeting. Below are a few starter questions to help guide you in the right direction:
- Any questions about the school’s programs or policies.
- What is affecting your child at home?
- Questions about your child’s progress.
Ask Important Questions
The purpose of a parent-teacher conferences is to engage in a frank conversation with your child’s teacher to develop an action plan for your child’s success at school. With this in mind, you need to develop your finalized questions for the teacher. Here are some more you may want to include:
- What are your students’ strengths and weaknesses?
- How does your child get along with classmates?
- Is your student working up to their potential? What can your student improve on?
- How is your students’ reading skills? How can we improve those skills?
- What can you do at home to support your student in the classroom?
Initiate the Action Plan
You may be different from most parents and know how to help your student improve in school. Most parents have little or no idea how to assist. Thus, utilizing the parent-teacher conference to establish an action plan to assist your child is important. Continue to follow up through the school year with your child’s teacher, and be sure to keep the communication lines open with your child’s teacher.