Parent-teacher relationships are most effective when participants have frequent and open communication with each other and demonstrate mutual respect for each other’s role in a child’s life. When families are positively involved in their child’s education, the child will flourish. Teachers prepare for conferences by thinking about each child’s interests and progress. Here are some ways parents can prepare so they too can be active participants in parent-teacher conferences.
Be willing and ready to share information about your child and family. Families are the most important influence in a child’s life. You know your child better than anyone else and have valuable insights to share with the teacher. Advocate for your child. Share things about your child’s life at home—personality traits, challenges, habits, friends, hobbies, and talents. Focus on the things you believe the teacher needs to know. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing with your child? How do siblings relate to their brother/sister and vice versa? What kind of discipline do you use? What are your dreams for your child? What are your concerns?
Stay focused on your child. In our childhood, some of us might have been shy students who avoided the teacher’s gaze. Others were very active and seemed to always need the teacher’s help to stay on task. It is natural for our ideas about teachers and their role to be shaped by our own school experiences Think about and then put aside your past experiences as a student. Stay focused on your child and his or her unique temperament, individual needs, and special interests. .
Attend every parent-teacher conference. If your work schedule makes it difficult to meet during regular hours, make this clear to the teacher and try to set up a meeting time that is good for both of you. If you can’t visit in person, schedule a telephone call to discuss your child’s progress. Whether in person or by phone, use the conference as a time to exchange information with the teacher and discuss ways to work together to enhance your child’s education.
Arrive on time. Teachers usually have a tight schedule for conferences—typically 20 minutes per child and family. If you would like additional time to talk, ask for it ahead of time so you and the teacher will have plenty of time to discuss your ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Be considerate of other parents whose conferences will take place after yours. Remember that the teacher needs a few minutes between conferences to record the information shared and to prepare for the next parent.
Remember, children can hear and remember what is said. Young children often get mixed messages when they hear adults talking about them, no matter how positive the conversation may be. It’s best to arrange for a caregiver for your child or invite a family member to occupy him or her during the conference. If this is not possible, bring a favorite toy or activity to keep the child busy in another part of the room. Unless a child is expressly invited to take part, the conference is a time for you and the teacher to discuss your child.
Listen with an open mind. Try to concentrate on what the teacher is saying instead of what you are going to say next. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Speak up if you disagree with a strategy or don’t understand how it will support your child’s development and learning. Explain the reasons for your views and voice your concerns, but be open to suggestions. Stay on the subject: your child’s progress.
Be prepared. You might think about or write down one or two questions to ask the teacher. It’s a good idea to ask the most important question first, in case time runs out. Remember, while teachers have specialized education, they don’t have answers for everything. Teaching just isn’t that simple.
Keep the conversation focused on what can be done for your child. When there are problems, both teachers and parents need to stay calm and work together for the best interest of the child.
Stay involved. Try to visit the center or school frequently, not just for conferences and Back to School Night. Ask the teacher to suggest activities you can do at home to reinforce your child’s learning. Look for opportunities to engage yourself in your child’s education.
Source: Adapted from H. Seplocha, 2004, "Partnerships for Learning: Conferencing with Families,” Family Ties, Young Children 59 (5): 96–99.
© National Association for the Education of Young Children — Promoting excellence in early childhood education