Parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner. For the most part, the conferences are positive, encouraging, and effective meetings of two parties with goals that align. However, I do know that many of my fellow teachers see the conferences as anxiety inducing and uncomfortable.
Part of this anxiety, of course, comes from the fear of the “Teacher Blind-Side” where the parents prepare an elaborate and impassioned accusation to level against an unsuspecting teacher during a meeting meant to encourage collaboration.
This situation typically results only in a teacher feeling unfairly attacked for some policy or decision. Sadly, the only teachers who do well in these situations are the ones who can:
(A) maintain a clear head to defend themselves in the face of a surprise attack or
(B) actually enjoy confrontation and rise to hostility of the argument.
In either case, the focus of the conference has shifted off the investment of both parties in the success and training of the student). Needless to say, this type of attack is not an effective way to produce successful collaboration.
Please consider a couple of suggestions when planning for your next conference with your child’s teacher.
1. BE FRIENDLY
It is inevitable that through the course of a school year, there will be at least one instance when parents will disagree with some decision made by their child’s teacher. It is much easier for parents to have their concerns addressed effectively if they can contribute to the pleasant nature of the parent-teacher relationship on a regular basis.
Generally speaking, teachers are suckers for compliments, and we love to hear about how we are making a positive influence on your child. A smile is always welcome, and if you see us, please say “Hello”. Most importantly, say positive things about us to your kids; your words are very influential.
When it is time to address a difficult situation, start the conversation on a positive note, such as how your child is really growing this year, or how they are enjoying the music played in the classroom. This validation of our efforts establishes a foundation of amiability from which we can constructively discuss important and sometimes challenging topics or situations.
2. KNOW EXCELLENT TEACHERS CARE
Realize that excellent teachers will always have your child’s best interests in mind. It is important to note that most teachers have chosen to become experts on the education of children; we can be great partners in achieving a parent’s goal to provide the best educational experience for the student.
It's true, teachers are not always right, and we do make mistakes, but most of us are pursuing this career because our desire is to help students develop into wonderful adults. It is also true that our perspective on your child is limited to the time we have them in class and we will not understand every aspect of your child the way you will. However, after a couple of months, we will have a pretty good idea about what kind of student they are, and we will be able to apply our expertise to best help your child.
3. BE CONFIDENT: YOU'RE THE PARENT
You don’t need to take a defensive (or offensive) position to protect your right to make decisions about the education of your child. There are many options today concerning the best education based on your values and choices. Teachers (and coaches, youth pastors, scout leaders, etc.) can be wonderful and vital influences on a child, but ultimately, these kids are your children. The raising of the child is the parent’s responsibility. The teacher’s role is to partner and support the parents. It seems that in recent years, this line between teacher and parent has become blurred, but make no mistake, parents are the ultimate authority in a child’s life.
4. GIVE THE TEACHER A HEADS-UP
We understand that parents have concerns and we teachers are here to help with those concerns. We just need the time to digest the feedback we receive and think about the best solution to present.
The conference time is typically short and usually planned out with an agenda. If the concerns are brought to this meeting, with the expectation of a resolution within that small window of time, this could be disappointing and frustrating for parents.
If there is a conference coming up, and you have something you want to discuss, simply send a friendly email previous to the meeting to let us know. This way, the teacher can prepare and add necessary points to the agenda, ensuring a productive meeting for both parties.
5. COMMUNICATE & LISTEN CLEARLY
It is extremely important that your needs are communicated clearly and also that your listening is effective. Please ask questions throughout the conference to ensure clarity. If you are unsure of the reasoning behind recommendations, again, just ask.
Preparing notes previous to the conference is a great way to stay on track. Taking notes during the conference is validation you are listening to us and it’s a great tool to have later for reference. Communication is a two-way street!
I hope some of these suggestions will be helpful for your next parent-teacher conference. I applaud you for future constructive and successful conferences in the years to come. In closing, I will offer one last bonus tip in two simple words: “Gift Cards.” :)