SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Time for a Midyear Progress Check

Midway through the school year is a key time to reflect on your child’s school success. It’s the perfect time to “celebrate the halfway point” or to “plan it out.” By these two phrases I mean:

  • Acknowledging that your child has met or exceeded expected benchmarks for his age and grade.
  • Or if he is working below grade level, setting goals and helping him create ways to achieve those goals.

Here are some important things to consider if your child has reached her midyear goals:

  • This means that throughout the first semester your child has had many small, daily successes. He has used prior knowledge to “figure things out.” Talk to him about what has helped him when the work has been difficult. For example, what strategies did he use to remember subtraction? What did he do when he came to an unknown word in reading? Encourage him to build on those strategies, as the work becomes more challenging in the second semester.
  • Provide opportunities to expand knowledge. Visit your local library regularly for borrowing books, attending story hour, or engaging in other library activities. Visit local points of interest or museums. Provide paper, crayons, markers, etc. Unplug from entertainment devices and encourage him to draw, write, and create.

And if academic remediation is needed:

  • The first step is to meet with your child's teacher to understand exactly what areas need to be addressed. Ask the teacher for some simple ideas, tips, or techniques he could recommend to close the gaps.
  • After the teacher conference, meet with your child. Focus on what she has done well, so far. Then, together plan out one or two important goals that will build on her successes. For example, if she’s good at sounding out words, set the goal of helping her become more fluent in sight words (the ones you can’t sound out).
  • Reiterate that no one is perfect. I tell my 1st grade students that mistakes are great! Don’t be afraid to make them because that’s how most people learn. Help instill a sense that mistakes are an opportunity to get it right the next time.

These approaches, as you both reflect on midyear progress, will help increase your child’s self-confidence and develop a sense of perseverance. These strategies will also acknowledge and reinforce that organized hard work produces good results.


> 3 Essential Questions for a Midyear Check-in

> 6 Questions for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

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3 Essential Questions for a Midyear Check-in

For most school districts across the country, January is the halfway mark of the school year, even if your district follows a trimester model. Most important, it’s the perfect time to have a “check-in” with your child’s teacher, whether or not this is a planned conference time.

The check-in can be a scheduled meeting with your child’s teacher, a phone call, or even an email. To start the conversation, here are three simple yet essential questions to ask the teacher:

  • Is your child’s reading on grade level at this point in the school year?
  • Are his math skills where they should be now?
  • Is his social and emotional development on par with other students in the class?


The answer to these three questions will give you a blueprint on how to proceed with the remainder of the school year. From January to the end of this school year is a very large block of time with few interruptions. Much can be accomplished to ensure grade-level success.

Key information you want to know includes:

  • If your child is on grade level, keep doing what has worked at home to support this success.
  • If she’s above grade level, ask the teacher for suggestions to enrich reading or math at home.
  • If she’s below grade level, ask the teacher for ideas to help fill in missing gaps. Also ask about the possibility of getting extra help or support from within the school.

The academic rigors of Common Core State Standards makes it important to have this information now. This allows you and the teacher time needed to support, enrich, or help your child catch up before the end of the school year.


> 6 Questions for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

> 3 Skills Critical to Common Core Success

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Common Core Review for Kindergarteners and 1st Graders

Right now most school districts are six to eight weeks into the new school year. That’s a long time for a kindergarten or 1st grade student! It’s also a time when many schools are scheduling first parent conferences.

Here are some of the Common Core State Standards learning skills that young students (and parents) may be experiencing for the first time, in homework or school worksheets, specific for kindergarten or 1st grade students.

Kindergarten English/Language Arts:

  • Following words, left to right and top to bottom on story pages
  • Retelling a story with key details
  • Recognizing some common “sight” words (for example, the, of, my, do, is, are)
  • Using a combination of drawing, dictating, or attempting to print to begin writing stories

For a kindergarten child in math:

  • Counting by ones and tens to 100
  • Identifying objects in groups as “greater than,” “less than,” or “equal to”
  • Correctly recognizing basic shapes
  • Begin to correctly recognize and write numbers from 0-20

1st grade English/Language Arts:

  • Recognize what makes a sentence (capitalization, punctuation, etc.)
  • Use drawings and details in a story to describe character, setting, or events
  • Begin to understand the “main idea” of a story
  • Participate in collaborative conversations about stories, books, etc., according to class discussion rules

For 1st grade math:

  • Understanding place value of tens and ones (for example, when seeing the number 52, knowing that the “5” means 5 “tens” and the “2” means 2 “ones”)
  • Be able to order at least three objects from length (shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest)
  • Tell time to the hour on both analogical and digital clocks ( and to the half-hour by the end of 1st grade)
  • Use parts of circles, squares, or rectangles to understand halves and fourths (quarters)

This is a general framework to help you understand some of what your kindergarten or 1st grade child is expected to master, or what he or she may need to practice. Follow my blog, throughout the school year, for additional skills and clarifications on Common Core State Standards.

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Parent-Teacher Conferences Help Develop the School-Home Relationship

In a few short weeks, parent-teacher conferences start. Interestingly, both parents and teachers are anxious about them! Parents worry about whether their child is performing well enough and behaving in class. They worry about whether their children are being treated fairly and whether they have friends. Teachers worry about whether they can meet the needs of every child in their classroom. They also worry that parents will judge them unfairly and verbally abuse them during the conference. Both need to realize that children thrive when parents and teachers work together for the good of the child. This is especially true when a student is struggling in school. Here are some suggestions that might help make conferences more productive.

  • Spend some time thinking about what you want for your son. One of my favorite educators, Michael Thompson, suggests that parents think about their “hopes and fears for their child” and communicate them to his teacher. This helps his teacher understand both you and your son better.
  • If your daughter is struggling in school, communicate that to her teacher. Realize, though, that teachers cannot fix everything at once. It is best to work on one major issue at a time. Read my earlier blog Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills for a more thorough explanation. You and her teacher can decide what needs to be top priority. Together you can make a plan for what needs to happen at school and how you can support the efforts at home.
  • Remember that failure is a normal part of life. When your child fails a test or even a larger unit of study (like the whole quarter), it is not the end of the world. You and his teacher can work together to make a plan for how he can still find success.

There are a lot of resources here at SchoolFamily.com about making parent-teacher conferences productive. You can find links to them in the Parent Teacher Conferences Article Archive. Keep in mind that your child benefits most when you and her teacher work together for her benefit. Communicate concerns, of course, but also celebrate small improvements together by letting her teacher know when you see them.

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New Questions You Should Ask at the Parent Teacher Conference

While there are many articles covering the exchange of information at parent-teacher conferences, some recent developments should also be stressed.  

“Common Core Standards” are now federal mandated models for K-12 education, and they have been implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia.  

An additional development is that school policies have caused parent / teacher meetings to be condensed, to accommodate larger numbers of parents and guardians.

Discussing Common Core Standards is important because parents can easily get grade-level expectations through their state department of education that clearly define reading, writing, and math standards, for a particular grade level. So, in addition to the important question “What is my child’s current achievement level and how does it compare with other students in the same age group?” a good follow-up question would be “How does my child rank in grade level expectation using Common Core Standards?

Another very important question to now ask is “How does my child learn best?” While most students learn by a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on) strategies, usually one is more dominant. Some children are more visual, some learn best by listening, while others benefit more from actual doing. By this time in the school year, most teachers have a sense of your child’s learning style. The answer to this question helps you understand ways to help your child at home. It also reinforces how well your child’s teacher knows him.

School Family has an excellent downloadable for parents titled Back-to-School Conference Questions.  Bring those questions to the parent-teacher conference, and use the questions mentioned here to supplement them. This will help you maximize the time you will spend with your child’s teacher. The information exchanged could lead to a very positive effect on your child, and ensure a successful school year.

Tips for a productive parent-teacher conference

More resources for parent-teacher conferences

More about learning styles

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How to Foster a Positive Parent-Teacher Relationship for Your Child’s Benefit

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several days teaching at a new teachers’ institute. We worked together on all sorts of things new teachers need to know before beginning their careers. One of the workshops was about communicating with parents. I was not teaching that seminar and as I sat there listening and watching, I realized that the parent-teacher relationship is really the key to school success for children. Yet, parent-teacher conferences are often uncomfortable for both the parents and the teacher.

I also thought about two authors who have written on this topic. One is Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, who wrote, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. In her book, she writes, “Children flourish when the adults in their lives agree on them. Children do not have strong identities of their own. They see themselves through the eyes of the adults who love and teach them. For that reason it is important that the adults in their lives see them in a unified way.”

In Michael Thompson’s essay, The Fear Equation: Solving a Complex Parent-Teacher Problem, he writes about the emotions that both parents and teachers feel during conferences. Parents bring to the table memories of their childhood experiences in school and feel afraid, exactly like they did when they were children. Teachers sit there believing myths about unreasonable parents who lash out at teachers in order to intimidate them. What they both really need to be doing is talking with one another about the child!

Today, I was wondering why this problem persists. Nearly every one of us can think back about both good and bad experiences we had in school. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the bad. Parents should approach their child’s conferences with confidence, and try to remember good things about school. No one knows a child better than his parents.

And teachers are not bad people even if they do make mistakes at times. In his essay, Thompson says, “Schools are tender places, full of teachers who have latent fears of their own.” Teachers should approach parent conferences with respect for parents as people who try very hard to do what is right for their child. They should give parents a chance to tell them what is on their mind regarding their child’s progress in school—a chance to ask questions and make suggestions.

With this model of mutual respect for one another and focus on the child, the parent-teacher relationship will be positive. The person who benefits from this is the child. As Lawrence Lightfoot says in her book, “If parents and teachers are on the same page with respect to children, it is much easier for the children to feel whole and understood, and to succeed.”

Best wishes to both parents and teachers are we get ready to begin the new school year. I can hardly wait to have students in my classroom. I miss seeing the kids every day!

Editor's Note: Explore this important topic further through these SchoolFamily.com articles about parent-teacher communication. And print out our Back-to-School Parent-Teacher Conference Questions checklist to take with you when you meet your child's teacher for the first conference:


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40 Tweets By Parents, Teachers About Parent-Teacher Conferences

Editor’s note: Principal Joe Mazza runs a weekly Twitter gathering each Wednesday evening called Parent-Teacher Chat (#PTchat). For more information on the chats, see information at end of this guest blog post.

The #PTchats I run allow parents, teachers, and school administrators from around the world to come together on Twitter for one hour to discuss family engagement topics. It’s very exciting that social media has allowed for this exercise in transparent perspective sharing where we can discuss how to best support kids!

During a recent #PTchat, the topic was parent-teacher conferences. Below, you will find actual “tweets” sent during the session; first, some from parents; next, those sent by teachers. The tweets reflect multiple perspectives, and cover the goals, latest research, and innovative tools used by teachers and parents to maximize parent-teacher conferences. These conferences, after all, are usually very short, so for the best interests of the student, parents and teachers must partner to make the most of these face-to-face opportunities.

Following are parent responses to the following scenario: Once you have secured your child’s meeting parent-teacher meeting, it’s important to enter the meeting with the correct shared-purpose in mind. What is your perspective about a parent-teacher conference? Why do you have that perspective? And what perspective do you think is best for your child? (Note: The responses use shortened language and symbols since tweets are limited to 140 characters each):

Tweets from the Parents’ Perspectives

“As a parent, I think it is critical to have opportunities to engage in a F2F (face to face) dialogue about my child's progress.”


“As a parent, I see how my kids can improve on what they're already doing.”


“Luv when kids are w/me @ meetings”


“ [When planning conferences] ask the parents what would work best for them?”


“Both sides go in w/open minds”


“Schools should set a goal for teachers to make at least 5 positive contacts a week with the parents of struggling students”

“For me, I want to know what the challenges are and [I want to] have specific ideas/tools on how I can support the learning at home”


Now it’s the teachers’ turn. Before, during, and after a parent-teacher conference, conscientious teachers have your child’s best interests in mind. At the same time, parents must remember that there are many things a teacher is trying to squeeze in during the short meeting. The goal is to maximize the time and have as much two-way dialogue occur as possible. If both parties are comfortable having the student present at the conference, it can be beneficial for the child to see the parent-teacher team working hard to help her be successful in school!

Wondering what’s going on inside the head of the teacher preparing for your conference? Go ahead: Ask your teacher what his purpose is in hosting the meeting. The answer (and the walk that should back up his talk), will help you develop the important parent-teacher relationship that is necessary for the best teaching and learning to occur.


Tweets from the Teachers’ Perspectives

“No one knows our students better than parents. They are our best resource!”


“Build relations and open lines of communication.”


“My best PT [parent-teacher] meetings were held at racetracks and pubs”


“Remember, it's about trust and perception of value. U will have to rebuild that which has been torn down b4 u”


“It also is a time for the first f2f [face-to-face] meeting and sets the stage for follow up conversations”


“Social media is a game-changer and something that should allow us to change when/how these types of meetings occur”


“PT [parent-teacher] conference went well when [the parent] looks @ u & genuinely says, ‘You truly know my child.’ Trust/respect gained 4 both P [parent]  & T [teacher]”


“For some parents it is the only contact they have with schools”


“They [conferences] are not long enough for the students that need the most help”


“Beauty of student-led [conferences] is the level of accountability on the students. Makes them take some more responsibility for their learning”


“Build conferences to include information that parents desire”


“For some of your parents, conference day might be the only day you see them all year. Make it count”


“I love to make a call [to parents] on the first day of school...blows them away!!!”


“[Be] careful not to have too many teachers in room so parent feels overmatched—[should] only [be the] necessary teammates to help provide resources/support”


“I believe Ps [parents] want to know u r helping their ‘gifts’ become lifelong learners & citizens while they are away all day. And [that they’re] having fun!”


During the #PTchat, participants shared exchanges about ways to help schools use technology to schedule conferences and provide structure for student-led conferences. Information and links about the research that fuels these efforts was also shared!

Resources, Research, and Tools To Use/Pass Along

 “Jerry Blumengarten’s ‘Parent-Teacher Conference Pages’ tinyurl.com/4rvh22y”


“Larry Ferlazzo’s ‘The Best Resources On Parent/Teacher Conferences’ bit.ly/rWL11T”


“I use a student-completed form that shows me, and parents, where [the student] believes he is performing at, and [what he thinks are his] strengths/weaknesses. Great tool!”


“My student-led conferences have a set script to assure all topics covered. [Each conference] includes samples of [the student’s] work”


“Research suggests that parent engagement in conferences diminishes over time due to lack of meaningful and relevant info”


“’Initial Research on Student Led Conferencing’  tinyurl.com/7pzp6b6”


“[Here is my] student-led [conference] form bit.ly/AcBUbx”


“’Sign Up Genius’ works well for events; [it’s] easy to use! bit.ly/5XGYZ9”


“’@Volunteerspot’ has a tool for PT [parent-teacher] conference signup https://www.volunteerspot.com”


“Building relationships improves attendance and content of conference”


“‘Google [Calendar has] Appointment Slots’ for your parent-teacher conferences bit.ly/zQZIVh”


“Another example of a Google Doc used for parent-teacher conferences here: bit.ly/z8UcGT”


“Wondering if we could tap into parents’ strength(s) and invite them back as guest(s), volunteer(s), etc.”?


“Parents want to know that you care about their child and that [she is] going to be happy learning in your class!”


“Leave the conference with a ‘next step plan’ that will provide opportunity for further contact between parents and teacher”


“[Use] the entire #PTchat [archive] on Maximizing Parent-Teacher Conferences at https://sfy.co/dk6”


“Interested in further PT [parent-teacher] perspectives? All #PTchats have been chronologically archived at: https://efacetoday.blogspot.com/p/eface-chats.html”


 Joe Mazza is the principal of Knapp Elementary School in suburban Philadelphia, PA. He is a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is studying technology’s impact on home-school partnerships. Follow Mazza on Twitter @Joe_Mazza and participate in the weekly, hour-long Twitter gatherings he holds via #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST. Mazza also blogs at eFACE Today, where he posts innovative family engagement ideas for schools.



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The Most Important Question You Should Ask Your Child’s Teacher, Right Now!

In the beginning of May, I highly recommend that all parents ask their child’s teacher a very important question: “Is my child on grade level?” If the answer is no, there is still enough time left in the school year to take action.

Many parents ask, “What can I do to help him get to where he needs to be?”  Here are five easy tasks to help your child finish kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade on grade-level, and ready for advancement:


1. Make reading, every night, a priority. Ask her teacher for some grade-level appropriate books that could be borrowed from the classroom or school library. Or, once you know the correct level, get books from your local public library.  Pick a time each evening to read together, for at least fifteen minutes.


2. Start a vocabulary “piggy bank.” When an unfamiliar word is encountered in a story, write the word in a notebook. Next to the word help your child write a simple definition. Once a week read the new words and definitions to “count” how the bank is growing.


3. Write stories. Have your child draw a picture and write a simple story about it. Connect the pictures and stories to events in your family. Visiting relatives, going to the zoo, running errands on the weekends are good subjects for stories.  They help children make a personal connection to their writing. Keep the stories in binder for easy reference.


4. Practice math counting, backwards. Have your kindergarten child count forward and backward from 1-50; have your 1st grader count backwards from 1-100; and have your 2nd grader count backwards from 1-200. Confidently counting forward and backward is important because it makes simple addition and subtraction easier.


5. Connect to 10. Connecting to “10” helps a child know math facts more efficiently. Most children can easily count by 10’s, starting on 10 for 10, 20, 30. But practicing “off the decade” by tens is immensely helpful. Start at 3, for example, and add 10, for 3, 13, 23, 33. Do this type of counting both forward and backward.


These last few weeks of school are a very important time in a young child’s educational development. This can be the time of year when things start to “click.” With a little help, your child can finish the school year confidently and securely on grade-level.


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5 Ways to Handle A Drop In Your Child’s Grades

SchoolFamily.com's guest blogger this week is Neil McNerney, M.Ed., LPC , author of Homework—A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!


You know the look. It’s the look your kid gives when he comes home from school and you ask him for the report card. Before you even look at it, you have a pretty good idea of the grades. Excuses might follow, or possibly blaming the teacher.


For many of us, dealing with report cards causes lots of stress. If the news is not good, especially if there is a drop in the grades, it tends to be a pretty rough night.


As a family counselor, I view this as a leadership opportunity. Leading our kids during successful times is pretty easy. Leading them when things are rough takes much more thought.


Here are 5 things you can do to handle the report card situation to increase achievement and decrease frustration:


1. Avoid the “D” word. Telling our kids that we are disappointed is sometimes effective, but with grades, it tends to de-motivate. Instead, ask #2:


2. Ask “How do you feel about these grades?” Asking how she feels refocuses the issue on her instead of you. Take your time with this question. Her answer might be “I don’t know.” Stay silent for a while. Even if she isn’t answering, she is still thinking about it. But be careful of #3:


3. Don’t take the bait. Some kids will answer with things like: “I don’t care,” or “A ‘C’ is average. What’s the big deal?” or “You expect me to be perfect!” Ignore these statements. Your kid is trying to get you to react and change the subject.


4.  Ask “What’s your plan?” Ask him what he plans on doing about this. If the answer is “I don’t know,” then say, “One of us will be making a plan. I think your plan might be better than mine.”


5. Don’t punish right away. In fact, consider not punishing. Most punishments we give at the spur of the moment tend to be too severe and don’t work very well. And punishment often decreases motivation instead of increasing it.


Rewards work much better than punishments when it comes to schoolwork, and most parenting experts agree that rewards are the better choice to increase a good behavior.


But parents often tell me it doesn’t seem right to reward minimal expectations, and I agree. Sometimes it’s all about how we phrase something.


“No video games until homework is done,” sounds more like a punishment and will be de-motivating. Consider a small change: “You can play video games after you have shown me your completed work.” This turns it into a reward.


Think about those things that your kid already gets without any work. Now think about making them earn those things instead of just getting them.



 Neil McNerney, M.Ed., LPC is a licensed counselor, university faculty member, speaker, and parenting expert, and travels internationally training parents and professionals. He is author of Homework—A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!, available at www.reducehomeworkstress.com.  For more information, visit www.neilmcnerney.com.

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6 Questions for a Successful Parent Teacher Conference

National standards have set the bar for academic achievement, which means that today it is clear what a student should have achieved by certain points in the school year.

Parent teacher conferences are a terrific opportunity for parents to get an accurate picture of their child’s academic achievement and how he is functioning in the classroom. The key to a successful parent teacher conference is to maximize the exchange of information, in a limited amount of time.

Here are 6 important questions for parents to ask at conferences for students in kindergarten, and 1st and 2nd grade:


  • At this point in the school year, what is the expected reading level?  Is my child on level?


  • Are my child’s math skills meeting the standards?


  • What can I do, as a parent, to enhance my child’s academic progress in reading and math?


  • How does my child interact socially with classmates? Does this behavior affect his/her academics?


  • What do you see as my child’s strengths?


  • What is the preferred way to communicate?  (Email, phone calls, notes, etc., and what is a typical response time?)



Parents should also remember to:


  • Bring a notebook and take notes, so that you can remember what was discussed and any important suggestions made by the teacher.


  • Let the teacher know of any changes at home that could affect academics, such as the arrival of a new baby, a job loss, etc.


Finally, remember that you and your child’s teacher want the same thing—a successful and happy school year for your child!


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Should A School Limit Parental Access to Teachers? No Way!

File this under the category of: What the heck were they thinking?

Last week, education officials at an elementary school in Seattle, WA, sent a letter home to parents of children at the school, advising them of a new limit imposed on emails sent to teachers.

Educators at Brookside Elementary School, located in the Shoreline School District, which is north of Seattle, informed parents that effective immediately they could send one email per week to their child’s teacher. In addition, the email was to contain “one paragraph,” and the topic was limited to “important issues,” according to a report published on nwcn.com, the website of KING 5 TV, Northwest Cable News in Seattle.

As you might imagine, the reaction from parents was angry and swift, with many contacting the TV station to vent their fury.

In their defense, school officials explained that with full classrooms, teachers were apparently feeling overwhelmed by the numerous emails they were receiving each week from parents—sometimes the same parents, over and over.

Regardless, wouldn’t you be outraged if you received a similar letter from education officials at your child’s school?

Last week, I emailed one of my children’s teachers to discuss my child’s progress in a particular class. The teacher emailed me back, and offered time for a phone conference. It took a few more days before it happened—the Thanksgiving break and all—but we finally connected. He answered my questions, offered some guidance, and together we developed a home-school action plan to get my child back on track in the class.

Imagine, however, if that was my one allotted email—or phone call—to that teacher last week? I’d be as outraged as the parents at the Brookside School. Why is it that education officials often seem as though teachers should have more rights than parents? And act as though they’re exempted from the basic rules of business etiquette? Imagine if I told SchoolFamily.com readers that they were only allowed to email the editor (that’s me) once a week because I’m so busy. It’d be an outrageous move and I’d deserve—and expect—a backlash.

If there were parents—or a parent—in that or any other school district who were inundating a specific teacher with numerous emails per day, then school officials should have facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the parent(s) and the teacher. At that time, the educators could have politely but firmly advised the parent that the teacher could not be expected to respond to numerous emails per day from the same parent.

But to set a Draconian policy that restricts all parents wanting to email their child’s teacher? That’s outrageous in my book.

Do you agree? Let me know by commenting here.

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Establishing Communication With Your Child's Teacher

A teacherWill my daughter know how to buy her lunch? What if my son’s not reading yet? Will my shy child develop friends in the class?

Understandably, parents have questions and concerns when their young child starts school. Teachers are well aware of this, because often we are parents too.

The most important thing for parents to remember is that your child’s teacher is your biggest ally! Teachers want what you want for your child...to learn, grow, and be successful in school.

Parents ask, "What is the best way to communicate with my child’s teacher?"

Usually, the teacher will offer information about communication at a school open house. These meetings often occur early in the school year. Ask, if you don’t get a specific directive.

The teacher might prefer:

  • Email
  • Telephone conversations
  • Quick face-to-face meetings at school drop-off or pick-ups
  • Written notes
  • Scheduled conferences

Get involved:

  • Join the PTO
  • Volunteer to help in the class , if possible
  • Volunteer to help with projects you can do from home
  • Support all school rules

The start of a new school year is an exciting adventure for both students and parents. Think of the teacher as your professional guide on this wonderful adventure!

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Making the Most of Parent Teacher Conferences

How does my child get along with other children? Is my son getting better at following verbal instructions for in-class assignments? My daughter aces her spelling tests, then turns around and mis-spells the words the next day -- is that normal?  Parent teacher conferences are approaching and the questions are starting to percolate. The weeks leading up to parent teacher conferences make for very active minds and often sleepless nights, don’t they? And as our kids get older, the conferences feel more like speed dating than parent teacher conferences (we get 5 minutes per teacher at our junior high). For most parents, making parent teacher conferences as productive as possible is a big priority. On our site we have a wonderful print out of parent teacher conference questions. They are a huge help, but are they enough?

Lately, I have been wondering if the structure of the old fashioned parent teacher conference should be re-visited. How can parents walk away with a good sense of their child’s school experience and still be respectful of a teacher’s time? 

What would your ideal parent-teacher conference be like? Do you have constructive ideas of ways to change or improve the current system? I’d love to hear from both teachers and parents. Is your school doing anything different from when you were a student? Is anyone’s school tapping into technology to enhance ongoing communication, so you feel less desperate for your parent teacher conferences? Let’s hear your thoughts.


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Forming a Parent-Teacher Partnership to Help a Struggling Child

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.
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Do Parent-Teacher Conferences Make you Nervous?

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose oldest child is in kindergarten.  She was telling me that she just sent in the form for her daughter's parent-teacher conference and that she was nervous -- despite the fact her child is doing great. Nervous? I didn't get it. She said that it dredged up her school days. Said that she used get nervous, despite the fact she was a good student, when her parents went to a conference about her. Funny how these feelings can carry over. 

I have always loved going to my kids' parent-teacher conferences, whether I received good news or not. For me, it's a chance to connect with my child's teacher and get a better sense of what's going on at school (fill in all the gaps of what my kids are not telling me)! Right before conferences, I always sit down with my kids and ask them how they think things are going at school, what they like most and least, what they are most proud of, and if there's anything they'd like me to ask the teacher.

Regardless of whether a parent-teacher conferences make you anxious, or how your child is doing in school, it's good to go in with a list of questions. Our Print and Use Tools section has great set of printable questions to ask your teacher.  Also found this article about how to talk to your teacher about your child's progress helpful.  

So do you get a twinge of the back-to-school nerves at parent-teacher conference time? What do you like most/least about the conferences?

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Payoff for Joining a PTO or PTA?

What's your perception of your school's PTO or PTA group? Do you think it's friendly and hardworking... or cliquey and unwelcoming? If you said the latter, you are not alone.

Connecticut mom, Monica, felt that way about the PTA at her kids' school. In her recent blog post, "To PTA or not PTA" she talks about her shifting perspective of her parent group and the choices she made. She could have been turned off by a seemingly cliquey group and opted to do nothing. Instead, she got involved despite her perception.The quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world", (Ghandi) comes to mind.

Monica started off by volunteering for small things and eventually became the PTA president.

So, was she sucked in? Nope.Somewhere along the way, she realized all the amazing benefits that come along with being involved in your school's parent group.A stronger connection to the school, and higher achieving kids top a long list of reasons to volunteer.

Still not convinced that you should send in that PTO or PTA volunteer form? Then read One Last Dance by Sharron Kahn Luttrell -- a  must-read for any parent who has ever thought about volunteering at school.


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"Tips for Building a Great Parent-Teacher Relationship"

A good “Parent-Teacher” relationship is an integral part of your child’s school success.

Parents are often unsure of how to approach their child’s teacher. Teachers welcome input and help from parents, but the number of students in their class can limit the time individually spent with each parent.

Here are some tips for successfully working with your child’s teacher to ensure a terrific school year:

  • Ask the teacher how he or she likes to be contacted. (By a written note, phone call, email, etc.)
  • Volunteer in the classroom (Whatever time you can give will be greatly appreciated!)
  • Join the PTO. This lets you learn more about how the school functions, and presents opportunities to interact with other parents.
  • Support school rules.
  • Attend all scheduled parent conferences.
  • Initiate a parent conference, at any time, if there is a specific problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Don’t go over the teacher’s head! Always discuss any issues or problems concerning your child with your child’s teacher first. Give the teacher every opportunity to solve the problem.
  • Be aware that the teacher has many resources available to help guide your child through difficult situations.
  • Keep expectations realistic.
  • Remember that starting school is a magical time in your child’s life. Know that you and your child’s teacher have the same goal in mind. You both want your child to have a successful school year.

A good start in school will put your child on a path to be a life-long learner!

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Should we get time off for parent involvement at school?

This Miami Herald brings up some really interesting issues around school involvement and family policies fr our businesses. I'm conflicted.  I'm a huuuuge involvement fan and the love the thought of more parents at school for confeneces and meetings and volunteering. On the other hand -- as a small business owner -- I'm often cautious about more and more specific legislating about how we have to run the business.

 Personally, I think of school volunteering time as personal time.  It all depends on what the employee prioritizes.  I absolutely think that conferences and volunteering should be perfectly OK uses of personal time at work, and I believe that workplaces should be more flexible with personal time (I think it actually adds to the bottom line, frankly).  But one employee's volunteering for the Cancer Walkathon and another's volunteering at the school play are equivalent in my eyes.  In my experience when the government gets involved in legislating these things they balloon well past the intent.

I suppose I would favor a regulation that would allow time for parent-teacher conference attendance.  That's more specific and less flexible time-wise than involvement in general. Maybe twice a year.  And how about a standard form that the teacher would sign saying you were there?  That too much? 

What's your experience with this?  Are you able to get to school when you want to?  How about when you need to? Do we need a law on this?

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Parent-Teacher Conference Schedule Slots

I always find "The Juggle" blog from the Wall Street Journal (yup -- the WSJ) to be thought-provoking and timely, especially this post about which parents should get the good parent-teacher conference slots? The writer's good questions have created quite a discussion around whether after-work time slots should reserved for working moms and dads (and conversely, should stay-at-home parents be required to take daytime slots?).

Why do I see this becoming the next great school auction item? Can you imagine the bidding wars for that coveted 6 PM slot? Heck, I'm sensing a solution for the school funding crisis, too. Bids for the nice 4th grade teacher? Bids for the late bus stop (so whole family can wake up later)? Bids for the late lunch (so "lunch" isn't at 9:40 AM)? Hmmmm -- going to have to work on this one. :-)

Meantime, would love to hear your thoughts on conference schedules. How does it work at your school? Does it work effectively at your school? Any good stories of conference angst and agita?

And, of course, we have our own parent-teacher resources on the schoolfamily site, too.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016