Educators typically schedule conferences with parents to discuss their child’s academic progress and challenges, as well as behavior and social-emotional development. But often parents have concerns or questions at other times. Yet, many parents are reluctant to reach out to teachers because they may feel intimated or unsure how to get their concerns across in a productive, non-confrontational way. However, if you have any concerns or questions about your child, you can and should initiate a parent-teacher conference. Chances are your child’s teacher will happily accommodate the request. To get you started, here are 4 tips to help make a parent-initiated conference pleasant and effective for both parties.
1. Start with the positives.
At the beginning of the conference, start by thanking the teacher for taking the time to meet with you. Then share several positive comments, such as what you like about their teaching style, their classroom, or the school. Share something specific your child has said about a recent activity they enjoyed or what you’ve observed they’ve learned this year. Launching the conversation with positive comments will set everyone at ease.
- Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me.
- I really appreciate you sending home the spelling list by email each week.
- Your classroom is well-organized and cheerful.
- The atmosphere of the school is friendly and welcoming.
- My child can’t stop talking about the book you read last Friday.
2. Bring up your concerns by asking the teacher for help.
Before the conference, write down your concerns. If they seem confrontational or critical, restructure them so instead you are asking the teacher for help. Asking for help, rather than criticizing, fosters collaboration between you and the teacher, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes for your child.
- Instead of: You don’t communicate with me about my child as much as I’d like.
- Ask: Can you help me support his educational needs by sending home a weekly report?
- Instead of: You assign too much homework for my child to complete in one night and it’s causing stress and anxiety.
- Ask: Can you help me determine if we should revisit his IEP and consider a homework quantity accommodation?
3. Ask if there is anything you can do to help support the teacher’s efforts.
Even though the school is where most of your child’s formal education will occur, what happens at home plays a huge role in setting them up for success in the classroom. Most teachers will gladly offer suggestions to families to help bridge the home-school connection.
- How should I structure my child’s morning routine so they arrive ready to learn?
- How should I structure my child’s evening routine so they complete homework and get plenty of rest?
- What educational toys and games are the best for my child?
- What school supplies should I keep on hand?
4. Ask the teacher how they prefer to communicate with you.
Educators are busy! Showing up unannounced at a classroom door is probably not the best method to speak with them. So ask what is. Some teachers prefer to communicate via educational software such as Parent Square or Class Dojo. Others may welcome an email or a hand-written note. Additionally, ask how often you can communicate. If each parent sent a daily email, that’s a lot of valuable time taken from the teacher’s many responsibilities. Respecting teachers’ communication boundaries and preferences will go a long way in continuing to build and maintain a mutually respectful relationship.
Children are the priority. Change is the reality. Collaboration is the strategy. – Judith Billings, former Washington State School Superintendant