Shallegra Moye wants to learn everything about her kids’ education when she heads to their school for a parent-teacher conference. Nothing is off limits.
She scopes out security at the front door, then meets everyone from the secretary to the principal. She takes it all in. This is where her children spend eight hours of their day. She wants to know firsthand what that day is like.
“This is my opportunity to get to see the people that I have entrusted my precious jewels to,” says Shallegra, a mom of two. “I communicate what my hopes and goals are for my student and ensure that your goals as a teacher align with mine.”
Parent-teacher conferences can be a little intimidating. But there are strategies you can follow before, during and after those meetings to ensure you get the most out of the experience for you and your child, says Amie Matson, director of family and youth engagement for A+ Schools.
A+ Schools offers a variety of ways to make parent-teacher conferences more productive. The organization recently teamed with teachers and parents to share insights and guidance. Here is the feedback on how to make the most of your time.
Before you head to a parent-teacher conference, you should prepare, Matson says.
Make a list of the topics you want to discuss and number them based on importance. Include your kids in your preparation. Ask them how they feel about school and what they want you to talk about with their teachers.
Your questions shouldn’t only address academics, Matson says. Consider “the whole child.” Ask how your kids are making friends or what activities they enjoy.
If you’re coming in with questions, that shows the teacher you’re already involved, says Nicole Freyer, a special education teacher at Arsenal PreK-5. Teachers like that.
Matson suggests these questions to get you started:
- What are my child’s strongest and weakest subjects?
- What are my child’s works habits?
- Does my child hand in homework on time?
- Does my child participate in class?
- Does my child seem engaged at school?
- How does my child get along with classmates?
If you’re nervous, it’s OK to take a friend or family member who will offer you support, Matson says.
“You don’t have to go in there alone,” she says. “Bring someone with you if that makes you feel more confident.”
Be on time, too, because there’s likely a long line of people waiting to meet with the teacher.
During the conference, take notes. If you don’t understand certain points, ask the teacher to explain it.
“You as parents and caregivers have the right to own the space as well,” Matson says.
Always let the teacher know if there’s something you want to discuss. If something stressful is happening in your child’s life, for example, tell their teachers so they understand your child’s behavior.
If there’s an approach that has worked for your child in the past, tell their teacher so they can do the same, says Perry High School English teacher Derek Long. Advocate for your child.
“You know your child way better than I do,” Long says.
- Ask what you can do at home to help with your child’s education. Get passwords and information for technology programs so you can help your kids work on assignments at home.
- Offer to help the teacher or school. As a volunteer, you are in the school more often, seeing teachers and learning more about your child’s education.
- Don’t let your personal experience at school – whether you loved it or hated it – cloud your judgment, Long says. Your child might have a totally different experience.
- Working with the teacher shows your child that you two are a unified front. Before you leave, exchange information and craft a plan for how you’re going to follow-up via text, email or telephone, says Brice Hostutler, an emotional support teacher at Perry High School.
- And leave with a thank-you.
Once the conference is over, keep the conversation going.
Talk about the meeting with your child. Share both the positive and negative points of the discussion, Matson says.
Follow-up with the teacher in the weeks ahead.
Most importantly, remember: Just showing up matters.
“There are no stupid questions,” Freyer says. “You’re your child’s biggest advocate. We can’t do this on our own. We need your collaboration.”