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The Informed Parent

Five Tips To A Successful Parent-Teacher-Student Conference

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on Feb. 21, 2011

With teamwork, there’s no problem that can’t be solved. Some of the best teams in the world have achieved greatness through hard work, shared responsibility, and open communication. Similarly, it’s important to build healthy group dynamics with your child and his teacher(s). Every interaction that you have with your child’s teacher is an opportunity to bridge his learning experiences at home and at school, with peers and with adults. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you work to seal the bond between your child, his teacher, and you.

  1. Remember--it’s a partnership!
    It’s important to remember that your teacher is most likely open and grateful to have a chance to meet with you, the invested parent, on a personal level. However, it is not your teacher’s job to solve all of your problems. In fact, it’s not your job either. This is a case of the “Tripod of Success” (TOS): Teacher-Parent-Child. The TOS is the ultimate “get the job done” kind of tool. If you need to see bad habits change in your child, enlist the TOS to hit the problem from all angles--at home, in privacy, in the classroom, on the playground, you name it! Holding your child accountable in all environments will communicate to the child that there is no wiggle room. Therefore, when you’re conferencing with your teacher remember to ask, “What can I do at home?”
  2. Communicate with a clear message.
    If you are making contact with your teacher via email or phone message, it is incredibly helpful to the teacher if she knows the nature of the meeting. Let her know what concerns or questions you have and be specific. Often, I will be approached by parents who say they need to talk to me, but they haven’t told me what it’s about. Automatically, I am curious and worried about the conference, and I spend more time than I need to racking my brain about issues the child may be having. All of this could be avoided with a little clarification. Also, if your teacher hasn’t already specified, you may want to ask her how long her turn-around time is in regards to phone message and emails. If your teacher doesn’t contact you within 48 hours of your initial contact, you may want to try another form of communication to reach out again. Keep in mind that your teacher is on your team and wants the best for your child as well.
  3. Approach the meeting with an open mind.
    As a parent, you know the ins and outs of your child’s idiosyncrasies. But, unless you are his classroom teacher or school staffer, you may not know the social dynamics that your child exhibits when he’s away from home and your watchful eye. You may not see your child in stressful situations or interacting with peers. Likewise, you may exhibit certain social characteristics at work differently than at home. Be willing to learn about your child from your teacher’s perspective. Remain open to hearing information and learning about habits that your child showcases that you didn’t know before. Take it all in at your own pace. It’s important to hold your child accountable for his actions with and away from you because that helps your child develop his autonomy.
  4. Encourage your child to be an active participant.
    Your child is an integral factor in the TOS model. Needless to say, it’s important to have your child present at the conference if indeed the conference is about the child. Think about it. If you meet without the child, that might tell him that the meeting is private, grown-up, or not concerning him. So, if that’s not the case, invite the child along. Some parents may feel that their child does not have the attention span to be a valued member of a conference at this early age. You must use your discretion for children aged K-3. Whatever age your child is, it still sends a powerful message to him that he is included in the problem-solving process.
  5. Be willing to put work into achieving a solution.
    Whether it be follow-up emails or phone calls, weekly meetings, or student intervention with a professional, don’t walk away without knowing everyone’s next step. It’s always a good idea to take notes at these meetings and share those notes with your teacher to make sure that you are all on the same page. A few times, I have received a follow-up email from a parent summarizing big ideas that we discussed and, of course, restating the next steps. It was so helpful, and I knew exactly where that parent was. Also, don’t be afraid to set up a timeline. Deadlines are very helpful in holding people accountable for promises they make. No one says that all the problems or conflicts must be remedied in one 30-minute conference. Instead, listen and converse with your teacher and child and walk away knowing that a follow-up is in order to make more progress.

In the end, remember the power of TOS. Teachers teach because they have an invested interest in your child’s happiness and growth. Give your child’s teacher the respect, kindness, and patience that you want in return. Your teacher is on your team. As long as you approach these conferences with an attitude of respect, those intentions will be evident and hopefully reciprocated time and time again.

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