How to Have a Meaningful Parent-Teacher Conference

I’ve been on both sides of the desk for conferences. Some have been more successful than others, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the preparation beforehand that makes the difference. I’d like to offer a few tips on how you, as a parent, can get the most helpful information from your child’s teachers on parent-teacher conference day.

  1. Don’t bring your child with you (unless the teacher requests it): There are times it’s helpful to have a parent/teacher/student meeting, such as when strategizing study skills, organization, or other things where direct communication will facilitate a solution. However, unless you are meeting with that purpose, it doesn’t allow for as much information to be shared between parent and teacher. The dynamic is totally different because when there’s a student in the room, the teacher tends to talk to the student. There may be things I want to say to the parent that I wouldn’t say in front of their child.

 

  1. Ask the teacher how your child is doing socially: A big advantage of attending a school as opposed to home schooling or cyber-school is the social skills that students begin to master only by being forced to interact daily with their peers. For some children, the main stress of school has nothing to do with academics. By middle school, kids aren’t telling you much about their social lives, but their teachers may be able to give you some insight.

 

  1. Come with an open mind: As a parent, I have to remind myself of this often, but my children’s grades and behavior are not a reflection of who I am as a person. They have free will and will make mistakes and decisions that I don’t approve of. It doesn’t make me a bad parent. As a teacher, I remember this too. My goal in working with parents is to be a problem-solver, not a judge. If you are not willing to be open-minded about your child’s challenges, you may walk away from the conference feeling defeated instead of empowered.

 

  1. Bring specific questions or concerns: The toughest opening for a teacher is, “So how’s my kid doing in your class?” Since we only have a few minutes to talk, I’d like to know right away which areas are of concern to you.

 

  1. Share personal information when you can: There are times parents have called to report that a grandparent or a beloved pet recently passed away, there has been a change in home environment for a child, or they are overcoming a serious illness. All of this information helps teachers because students often look or act different in the classroom without explaining what’s bothering them. It’s especially important to tell teachers if your child has been evaluated for learning disabilities or health issues. As a teacher, I have worked as a partner with parents in monitoring kids with food allergies, asthma, and changes in ADHD medication. We are the eyes and ears when you can’t be and can often provide information that will aid you and your child’s health care provider.

 

  1. If your child’s teacher doesn’t provide some positive feedback, please ask for it: The last thing you want is to walk away from a conference feeling sad or hopeless about your child’s school experience. Even kids with the toughest behavioral or academic challenges have redeeming characteristics and good days that we as teachers can point out. If your child is unhappy in school, you may be the emotional dump at home who hears about all the things that went wrong during the day. You didn’t get to witness your children having fun with their friends at lunch or delivering a great presentation to their peers or answering a question that stumped everyone else in the class. We need to focus and build on these little victories together.

 

  1. Tell your teacher what works well at home and what you need help with: You may feel like you’re on your own once your child gets home, but teachers often have tips that may help studying and getting organized at home go more smoothly too. If getting out the door in the morning is an issue, or getting homework done before ten p.m., please ask. Many of your children’s teachers were or are currently raising children. I feel fortunate to have that “insider’s perspective” on how best to work with my children academically and I’m more than happy to share my thoughts because happy, well-prepared students make my workdays pleasant.

 

  1. Take notes: Especially if you are meeting with more than one teacher, you will be hit with a lot of information, too much to process all at once. Taking notes gives you an opportunity to look back on what you learned, possible areas to follow up with the teacher on later, and a chance to see patterns (maybe your child always forgets homework that’s due on Monday, or something else that you may be able to adjust).

 

  1. Tell us what your child loves to do at home: Parents have told me about non-academic skills their children have, unusual hobbies, or passions that lie outside the classroom. When I know these things, I can work to connect them to what I teach, making school more interesting for students and helping them feel like they are essential people in the classroom.

 

  1. Ask your child if he or she thinks there is something you should ask or address: Teachers encourage their students to be advocates for themselves, but there are times kids feel intimidated to talk to a teacher about something. A parent can be the intermediary, at least to get the conversation started.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: stock photo by patrisyu http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

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10 Things I Learned About Teaching From My Kids’ Coaches

As a teacher and a parent, I’m always looking for role models on how to do my job better, and some of the best examples I’ve seen have been my kids’ coaches. My children have had the privilege of trying many activities ranging from kung fu to horseback riding, and I love to watch the grace of a skilled coach bringing out their best effort. Here are some tips any teacher can take away from best coaching practices.

  1. They emphasize that team effort is what really counts. Good coaches know they need the whole team to win games and keep morale high, rather than relying on a star player. In the classroom, there are always going to be a few students who excel and know all the answers, but you quickly see the class become passive and disinterested if you only pay attention to those top students. It’s important to make sure all students know they are expected to be contributors to the class’s success.
  2.  They praise more than they criticize. I’ve noticed that my kids’ coaches hand out far more compliments than reprimands, and it’s not just a general “great job,” but more like, “Your form was excellent in that kick” or “I love the way you remember all the parts of the bridle.” When kids feel confident, they are more ready to accept redirection. It may be easier to hand out grades with little feedback or to point out only what needs to be fixed, but after watching coaches, I’ve realized that my students thrive on pep talks, both individually and as a whole class.
  3.  They find a gift or skill in every child. Great coaches set the bar high with ever-increasing expectations, and the kids meet them. They do this by looking at each child as an individual and rewarding that child’s skill set. We don’t have offense and defense in the classroom, but there are still many ways to utilize kids’ particular talents. I can be forgetful, but I know I always have a student who will remember what I was talking about if I get interrupted. I have students who keep me on the ball with class planning by asking what’s due two weeks from now. I have students who love to organize my bookshelves and ones who enjoy collecting forms. Some lead discussions and some motivate a group during teamwork. Everyone brings something to the table.
  4.  They employ other kids to help coach. Sometimes kids make the best teachers because they are more relatable and use kid-friendly language to explain a concept. I’ve noticed that kids are awesome at sharing tips on how to review for tests and how to keep organized. Some students are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic learners. It’s like giving kids a whole toolbox of skills to choose from.
  5.  They recognize that good sportsmanship is more important than winning the game. Great coaches emphasize the fact that effort counts more than achievement. In the classroom, we are encouraged to promote a growth mindset. For example, instead of saying, “You got all of the answers correct on that test,” you might say, “You did a great job of showing all your work for these word problems.” Kids who label themselves as poor students (or who have been labeled by others as such) tend to look at a grade as an indicator of who they are as a person. Likewise, strong students are sometimes afraid to try new things because it might show them as a failure.
  6.  They explain and repeat. Coaches do not say things once and assume they will be remembered. In fact, you will hear them give the same directions week after week. At any given time, some kids are not listening because they got distracted, some had a bad day and can’t take in much more, and some didn’t have enough sleep or nutritious food and they’re not at their best. By repeating key information, it gives more chances for those kids to remember what they need for success on an assignment.
  7.  They warm up and cool down. Coaches never start practice with a new skill. First they follow a warm-up routine and they practice skills that are already familiar before adding new ones. In teaching, we call that scaffolding, where we are adding more onto an already solid base. It takes kids a little bit of transition time to ease into practice or class, and after working at a new skill, they need a little time to decompress at the end as well. A mini-game or other reward after some new skills reinforces the fact that it’s fun to try hard and learn new things.
  8.  They know when to back off. I’ve seen coaches let a tired or frustrated kid sit on the sidelines for a few minutes or take a walk around the field to get re-centered. Sometimes a student isn’t going to get the most out of class no matter what. I’ve learned by watching coaches to say, “Okay, you’re having a bad day; you can sit this one out, but I’m expecting your best again tomorrow.”
  9. They are genuinely happy to see each child. Most years, I have more than a hundred students, and it’s easy to lapse into viewing each class as one amorphous group. But great coaches notice who skipped practice or who’s not bringing their all and they comment on it. They tell those kids they were missed and offer some encouragement to get back into the game. Sometimes you might be the one person in a child’s whole day who notices they need some extra attention.
  10. They use routine to make everyone comfortable. Coaches use predictability to build good habits and ease anxiety about what happens next. We all thrive on routines, but it’s even more important for kids, who have less control over their day than we do as adults. Routine helps us build good habits.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpg

Amazon  Barnes & Noble Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

Photo credit: “Soccer Ball” by Satit Srihin http://www.freedigitalphotos.net