Especially after the past year and half of non-traditional instruction and frequent interruptions due to COVID, parents (and students) may feel anxious as parent-teacher conference time approaches.
“Many parents are worried about the academic impact of the pandemic and ensuring their children aren’t falling behind given the many circumstances of the past 18 months,” says Dr. Maggie Wright, clinical psychologist and founder of the Wright Psychology and Learning Center. “I would encourage parents to work closely with their child’s teacher to identify any areas of concern and be proactive about creating a plan to bridge the gap in subjects where they may have fallen behind.”
So how you can you make the most of the brief time with your child’s teacher and keep the conversation positive and constructive?
Read on for some helpful tips – and sample prompt questions – for your upcoming conferences:
- Talk to your child. Before the conference takes place, discuss with your student what they anticipate – anything they are worried about, excited for you to know, or would like your help addressing with the teacher. “Many times, especially for younger kids, parents can be their best ambassador. Conferences can be a time where you help your child voice their concerns or advocate for needs they may have,” says Dr. Wright.
- Keep it constructive. When discussing areas of concern, avoid questions or remarks that come across as accusatory, especially when the child is in the room as well. “Parents, teachers and students are on the same team and should be aligned in seeking solutions, not placing blame or making accusations,” says Dr. Wright.
- Balance the conversation. Even if there are important topics of concerns to be covered, don’t forget to discuss the student’s strengths, areas of growth or positive behavior. “Every conference should be a balance discussion on areas in need of improvement, but also key accomplishments and strengths,” says Dr. Wright,
- Let the student be heard. Even though many conferences include the student at the table, often they can be left out of the conversation. “Be sure to seek the child’s input so they feel their voice is heard – and not just the point of view of the parent or teacher,” says Dr. Wright.
- Agree to take action. As a group, decide the right set of next steps, who’s taking them and by when. “Whether that’s a teacher following up on school-based services, the parent pursuing an educational evaluation, or the student agreeing to a new homework habit, be sure to confirm commitments being made and when you’ll agree to revisit these topics again in the future,” says Dr. Wright. “Ongoing communication and collaboration is key.”
Need some ideas of questions to ask (or how to word them constructively?) Here’s some thought starters:
- What do you see as my child’s strengths?
- What do you think are the academic struggles for my child?
- Is my child on grade level for reading? What about math?
- How is my child doing socially?
- Does my child seem happy at school? Have you noticed any unusual behaviors?
- What’s your recommended approach or philosophy on how to help my child where they need improvement? (Academically, socially, behaviorally?)
- What resources does the school provide to help my child meet their academic/social/behavioral needs?
- What can we do at home to support what you’re doing in the classroom and to help my child’s academic progress?
- Do you think my child is reaching his/her full potential?
- What are your preferred methods of communicating as we continue discussing these areas of focus? (Email? Phone? Text?)