5 Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

Laura McMullen

Parents and high school teachers are not typically people with ample free time. But as the two groups that often influence children and their education the most, parents and teachers need to make time to communicate with each other.

They should form a partnership, says National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president Betsy Landers, because parents and teachers both want their students to succeed. One important way to ensure the child's success is by engaging in effective parent-teacher conferences.

For parents, the most important step is showing up to the conference, which often means taking time off of work. In fact, Maryland legislators are currently working on a bill that would force business owners to give their parent-employees up to four hours of unpaid leave twice each semester to attend parent-teacher conferences.

[Read how students learn better with engaged parents.]

Parents in every state need to "do their homework" before attending the meeting, says Landers, and must know how to make every minute count once it starts. Here are five tips from Landers on how to do just that.

1. Talk to your child: Before attending the conference, Landers recommends first getting the student's input.

"What is it they perceive as an issue; what is it they like best about class; what is it they like least," are potential questions to ask, she says. "Is there anything in particular they want you to [tell] the teacher?"

Children should also be reminded of where their parents stand, says Landers.

"Make sure the child knows that you are their advocate," she notes. "This [conference] in no way means that the parent and teacher are ganging up on the student."

2. Prepare talking points: List topics or questions to discuss about the child's behavior, academics, or anything else, Landers says. And since time is limited for both the parent and teacher, arrange the most important points to be at the beginning of the discussion, Landers recommends, so you're sure to cover them.

3. Give personal insight: At the conference, parents should tell teachers if the student has medical issues or gets bullied, Landers says. Teachers should also be aware of "emotional upheavals" the child may be dealing with, she adds, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.

"You know your child in an entirely different light," says Landers. "Many times, your personal knowledge can be the key to helping [your child] be more successful."

[Read three tips for parents to help their bullied child.]

4. Be open-minded: If parents are sensitive to something the teacher says about the student, Landers recommends, "Don't get angry, [and] don't get defensive. If the teacher presents something, rather than acting immediately, ask questions [and] ask for examples."

Parents and teachers form a partnership, she says, so their relationship should not be adversarial.

5. Leave on a good note: Before heading home, parents should let teachers know the best way to be contacted, Landers suggests.

"The relationship should extend beyond the parent-teacher conference and last throughout the year," Landers notes. "Your child's teacher should understand that they can always come to you with a concern."

And on the parents' way out, "Always, always remember to say thank you," Landers says. "Teachers in this country do quite a bit. Saying thank you really goes a long way."

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