Our kids have likely overcome their jitters associated with starting a new school year. Yet, a nerve-racking back-to-school component for parents is just on the horizon – the first parent-teacher conference. It’s natural to be a bit apprehensive as you enter this discussion. It can be awkward. You might wonder where to start? What do I ask? What if the teacher says my child isn’t hitting the mark? Will they be critical of my child? Will I agree with their assessments?
Each academic year is a stepping-stone in your child’s growth and development. The parent-teacher conference is a critically important tool for parents to support their child in getting the most out of the school year. To help increase the chances for cognitive and social/emotional development specifically appropriate to your child, below I outline six concepts I encourage parents to embrace as they enter this important discussion.
Seize the opportunity!
Some of the biggest causes of anxiety before your parent-teacher conference are fear of being presented with surprising new issues related to your child’s performance. We dedicate so much of ourselves to our children; any negative feedback about them can feel very personal. But entering the discussion with this mindset has the potential to send you down an unproductive path. Instead, seize the conference as the opportunity that it is!
Prepare to partner
As you prepare for the meeting, consider how you will approach your child’s teacher. Don’t walk in with your guard up. Doing so automatically puts the teacher in the position of adversary. Enter the discussion with an open mind and the intention to identify the prospects that exist for your child to grow.
Be open to criticism
You are the captain of the ship guiding your child’s overall growth and development. Think of your child’s teacher similar to the way you think about your child’s sports coach, music instructor or pediatrician. These professionals observe and see your child through an expert lens to advise you. They see things you might not and their insights can serve as helpful perspective. Be receptive to their observations and ideas, even when they are negative, and call for the same in return. Their different skills and expertise can be an invaluable help to you as you fulfill your vision and goals for your child’s development.
Also, keep in mind that if you do not receive criticism about your child, then you actually might have a problem. No criticism could indicate that your child is not being challenged.
Know your audience
As a general rule, you can be confident going into a conference that you have an ally in your child’s teacher. Today’s teachers face mounting pressure as they are held accountable for their students’ performance through testing. They work against data – hard numbers – that represent where their students are performing and where they need to be performing by the end of the school year. The teacher is responsible for bridging that gap for their students.
Teachers know they will be more successful if they involve the parents in the process. You are an extension for their efforts as they are for yours. Your reinforcement at home of what they are teaching at school will generate better results for your child, their classroom, them personally and the school as a whole.
Complete two tasks for the actual conference
The first conference of the year sets the course for success for your child’s school year. You want to leave the conference with mutual agreement on the following:
· Performance goals – both cognitive and social/emotional – specific to your child for the academic year.
· A plan for ongoing communication in the event that you need to communicate with one another between conferences. Is email best? Phone calls?
Involve your child
In closing, I would be remiss not to mention one important step to the success of your parent-teacher conference – involving your child. Soon after your meeting with the teacher, sit down and share some of the feedback you received. Probe a bit to understand what might be driving their performance. If the feedback was negative, ask what is going on to better understand your child’s challenge and work together to develop a plan to overcome it. If the feedback is positive, probe to better understand the driver of the behavior to it can be praised and replicated elsewhere.
Wishing you a happy and productive school year, captain!