Updated: Jun 29, 2022
Last school year, many of us parents and caregivers were up close and personal with our children, doing some level of virtual or remote learning facilitation. Though that experience was...taxing (to put it mildly), we now have greater insights into our children as learners. And we have a tremendous opportunity to use what we’ve learned to make this year’s parent-teacher conferences better and more effective than ever.
Truth be told (and there’s educational research to boot), parent-teacher
conferences can be hollow and ceremonial occasions. I’ve been on both sides of conferences where educators and parents only exchange basic superficial information that could have been expressed in a note or email. But, I’ve also been a part of effective conferences where time is spent building rapport and family members and educators exchange information and ideas relevant for furthering a child in their areas of strengths and meaningfully addressing learning opportunities. In effective conferences both educators and families show up as partners, ready to work collaboratively to nurture a child and their learning.
It only takes a few minutes to make the first step to engage as a partner (as opposed to maybe a consumer or observer), and have your most effective conference ever. Here's where you start.
Engaging as a partner begins with your mindset. Start by reminding yourself that you are an expert on your child. Your insights and questions are invaluable to your child’s teacher. One component of a teacher’s job is to combine your insights and your family’s knowledge with their content knowledge and pedagogical expertise to enhance your child’s learning. So, know that you have a lot to add, even if you’re just sharing that you have some of the same questions as the teacher.
Before conferences, take some time to reflect on your family and your child. Bring to mind or note a couple of details, observations and questions that you can share with your child’s teacher. You might think about:
Meaningful family and community practices. (Background knowledge is critical to your child’s learning; the more connections your teacher can make between classroom learning and what your child already knows/is exposed to, the better!)
Expertise that your family has that may be helpful to your child’s teacher.
Your favorite things about your child.
Areas of struggle and frustration for your child.
Highlights of their school experience so far.
Reasons you’re frustrated or have concerns about your child’s learning.
Your vision/goals for your child.
Your child’s vision/fears/excitement.
What you want your role to be/ how often you’d like to be in touch.
How you’d like to help the teacher/your child’s class.
Five minutes of reflection will help you feel more prepared to partner. Rather than attending a conference to hear a report, you will go ready to exchange ideas and information with your child's teacher to meaningfully inform the next steps in your child’s education.