Updated Friday, October 6, 2017
After the first grading period of the school year many parents are invited to attend conferences with their children’s teachers. Some decline the opportunity. Those that attend may not prepare for it.
We can build a connection between school and home (or break it). We can build rapport (or animosity). Everyone involved can come closer to understanding the root causes for academic, behavior, or social difficulties and breakdowns (or we can allow them to get worse).
So how can we build a connection, rapport, and understanding? How do we prevent disenfranchisement, animosity, and disempowerment? By preparing. If we are prepared, we can increase our teachers’ awareness and address difficulties, so our children can get the most out of school.
If you did not write a Parent Letter to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year, read my blog article, “Back-to-School Tips for Parents” It contains a sample letter you can refer to.
Here’s the basic format of a Parent Letter:
Writing a Parent Letter to your child’s teacher at the beginning of every year will help you gain insight on how your child’s needs may be evolving (or not). They will help you rehearse future conversations with your child’s teacher, so when you meet with them, you will be more succinct. This will give your future conversations and conferences focus, so they will be more productive.
If your child is struggling in school, you can use the following set of questions that can help parents and/or teachers identify obstacles preventing success (Hunter, 2015):
What do you feel are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
Describe his or her biggest challenges (e.g. daily work, homework, test-taking). Describe what the problem looks like to you.
What do you attribute his or her low grade to? What difficulties or breakdowns have you observed that contribute? (e.g. test anxiety, distracted by __, failing to turn in homework, reluctance, avoids assignments or activities)
What do you think could be the root cause of his or her difficulties? If the teacher gives you a vague or unsatisfactory answer, be ready to ask the question in a different way. For example, you could ask:
Why is he or she anxious with testing/reading/writing/math? Or why do think he or she is distracted? Why do you think he or she is not applying him or herself? When is he or she losing focus most frequently? (During instruction, tests, independent assignments? “All the time” is not a valid response.) These kinds of questions get the parent and teacher closer to understanding the root cause(s) of academic, behavioral, or social challenges.
How do you think I can address that as a parent? How will you as a teacher?
Does the school offer screening, tutoring, mentoring, or counseling services?
During your conferences, always take notes. If you should disagree, have the courage to speak up and do it respectfully and with tact. I promise, you will be more effective if (1) you do not get emotional and (2) you speak matter-of-factly. Advocate for what you know to be true. However, save your strong reactions until you have had time to process the information and can respond with logic and grace.
If you have already attended your parent-teacher conference, you can refer to this for your next meeting. Or, if you weren’t able to make it, don’t hesitate to email or phone your teacher and schedule one.
The more information parents and teachers have, the more successful our children will be.