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10/14/12blog post

five steps for a successful parent/teacher conference

This is not a pleasant time of the year for some families. Report cards have just been sent home and conferences are being conducted with parents. If your child is doing poorly in school, you dread these meetings.

Many parents report that these school conferences are just painful and ineffective. They complain that teachers simply recite what parents already know about their child’s poor performance. Teachers are overly negative, commenting only on problems rather than accomplishments. Many parents tell me they leave these meetings having no real understanding of what the teacher is actually trying to communicate.

The biggest frustration felt by parents is the absence of any specific and realistic guidance from teachers about what can be done differently. Parents are acutely aware of their students’ problems, but don’t know how to change their kids’ ineffective habits, poor study skills, or lack of motivation.

Here’s how I suggest that parents approach these important discussions with teachers.

  1. Bring your student. Your child should be present at these meetings to hear the teacher’s feedback. You can always excuse your youngster if sensitive material is discussed.
  2. Clarify your expectations. Begin the meeting by clearly stating what you hope to accomplish. The most important outcome of these meetings is to answer one question. “What can be done differently by parents, teachers, and the student to encourage better performance?”
  3. Stay focused. Respect the fact that most teachers have very limited time, typically around 20 minutes for your meeting. Don’t waste this time by complaining about your child. You should also feel free to interrupt the teacher, some of whom go into excessive detail about the problem rather than discussing possible solutions. Try saying something like this. “I think I have a good understanding of the problem. I want to be respectful of your time, so I’d like to hear any suggestions you have for me or my child. Better yet, send your teacher this article before the conference!
  4. Ask questions. Don’t be reluctant to ask the teacher to explain or clarify his conclusions or recommendations.
  5. Summarize the plan. Before the conference ends, summarize what will be done differently by you, your child, and the teacher. If you are unhappy with the results of the meeting, ask for additional time and request a guidance counselor or principal to attend as well.

The really important stuff starts when the conference ends and you try to help your child make some changes in his study habits and approach to school. Focus your attention on some modest and achievable goals rather than looking for some dramatic changes. Stay in close communication with the teacher, most of whom are caring and dedicated to helping your child. Most importantly, never give up on your child.