The unlikely truth about parent-teacher conferences

If you’re nervous about your child’s parent-teacher conference, it might help to keep in mind the teacher is probably just as nervous as you are.

Tips to Try

For smoother parent-teacher conferences, Pillet-Shore offers the
following tips:

  • Don’t go into the conference thinking you’re the only
    protection or defense for your child.
  • If you have any concern or have spotted trouble, feel free to
    bring it up. Don’t feel like you have to wait for the teacher to
    say it first.
  • Know that constructively articulating criticisms about your own
    child is actually a nice way to put the teacher at ease and help
    the interaction go smoothly. It’s better than going in with your
    fists up.

“Parents would say, ‘I don’t know how to do a conference,'” says Danielle Pillet-Shore, a researcher who spent several years videotaping these conferences. “But the thing that surprised me is teachers feel the same way. They’d say, I was never formally trained in how to do this.”

But while observing these interactions, Pillet-Shore found parents and teachers often instinctively knew how to proceed, just not in the way most people would think.

Most parents start off the conference by criticizing their own child, something that seems at odds with the preconceived idea that parents come in with their fists up ready to defend against the teacher.

“What I found was, this makes sense. By criticizing your own child to the teacher, you’re able to say, ‘I’ve got this knowledge about my own kid. … I’m fair, I’m realistic. I don’t have the halo effect,'” Pillet-Shore says.

What happened next was even more surprising-teachers became the ones to defend the child, by reassuring parents their child was normal and they’re doing a good job with him.

“You get this amazing inversion where the teacher is praising the child and you are criticizing and that’s actually OK,” she says. “What you’ve been able to work out is, we’re on the same side. You see what’s going on with your child and you’re involved, but you’re sending the teacher signals that you’re open to advice and opportunities to work on growth.”

The best thing to take away from Pillet-Shore’s research? “Parents should feel reassured by the knowledge that you’re already very good at this.”

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