When parents and schools work together, children benefit. According to a report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, "When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more."
Sometimes it is a little scary to meet with your child’s teacher. This is especially true if your child is having difficulty and you feel the teacher does not understand or care. Generally, teachers do care about their students, and parents and teachers can communicate their concerns in ways that make a positive home-school connection that benefits the child.
Most teachers do want their students to experience success in school. LeAnna Webber, a school psychologist, says, "I wish [parents] knew the hearts of our teachers. We are here to help and [parents] should try to trust us." Kindergarten teacher M.J. Coward says a similar thing, "I wish that [parents] understood we want each child to achieve his/her potential. We are not the enemy." Even so, many find it difficult to communicate their concerns to their child’s teacher.
Parent-teacher conferences can be very positive. Here are some ideas that may help.
- Identify areas of concern before heading to the conference. If your daughter is struggling in math, plan to share your observations about how she approaches her math homework. Ask the teacher if she sees the same things in school.
- Talk to your child before the conference. Find out if there is something he hopes you will talk about with his teacher. Often parents and teachers forget to include the most important person -- the one who might know more than anyone else about what he does well or where he needs help.
- Write down any questions you wish to cover at the conference. It is easy to forget something once the conference begins! With your questions in hand, you will be more likely to get the answers you want. For help thinking of questions, see "Back to School Conference Questions."
- Both parents should attend the conference when possible. When children are struggling in school, things can get emotional. This makes it difficult to remember all your questions and then later remember what the teacher had to say. With two people there, one can take notes about the conversation and any plans that you make.
- Plan for the conference to be a two-way conversation focused on your child. Listen to what your child’s teacher says, and she should listen to what you have to say. If the focus of the conversation veers away from your child, say something like, "That is interesting, but let’s talk about Lisa. What are her strengths?"
- Try not to be defensive. When the teacher tells you areas where your child needs to improve, listen and try to problem-solve together for the benefit of your child. If the teacher does not bring up areas for improvement, then you should ask, "What areas can we work on to help my child do better?"
- Make a plan together. Figure out if there is something you might do at home to help your child in school. Find out from the teacher what he plans to do, as well. (Be sure to write this plan down so you can refer to it later.) Try to focus on one concern at a time rather than trying to fix everything at once. You can meet together again to decide on what the next focus should be.
- Schedule a follow-up meeting to gauge progress if you feel it is necessary.