Making the Most of Mid-Year Conferences
Midway through the school you may receive a note from school that you dread to see- a summons to meet with the teacher about your child's progress in school. Your first reaction may be shock or even anger, but don't allow that to ruin what may be a terrific opportunity for you and the teacher to help your child. By preparing for a meeting in advance you'll be prepared to get the most from the time you have to spend one-on-one with your child's teacher.
First, you need to get your emotions under control. Chances are your child is already under a great deal of stress just knowing you have been called into their school. Getting angry at them or the teacher isn't going to help what has already gone wrong in the classroom. Take some time to gather your thoughts before either responding to the teacher's request or confronting your child about their work at school. Remember, your child really does want to succeed, and the teacher has their best interests in mind.
After you have your thoughts organized, you need to plan a meeting time that is acceptable for both you and the teacher, so that you can have plenty of time to discuss the necessary issues and work on a plan to help your child. Having a meeting with only a few minutes available before work may not be enough time to work through the matter thoroughly, especially if there has been difficulty for some time. Even though some conference times at school may be inconvenient, try to make time to attend for at least 30 minutes. It will be time well spent if it gives you new tools to help your child.
In the meeting itself there are several things which should be discussed. In the first few minutes of the meeting make sure the teacher clearly identifies the particular difficulties she or he sees. Ask what interventions have already been tried to solve the problem, and ask what you can do to support their efforts at home. In addition, ask questions about your child's strengths in the classroom. Knowing this information can help you have positive comments about their school progress when speaking with your child at home.
During the meeting, don't be afraid to take notes and ask for clarification of topics which do not seem clear to you. If the teacher discusses a particular learning program or uses terminology that is not clear to you, ask them to explain what they mean. As with any other job, there are many terms frequently used by educators that are not used by most people. Don't be afraid to have them explain what they are saying. By increasing your understanding of their work, teachers are often happy to share what they do with and for your child each day.
Finally, by the end of the meeting, be sure that you and the teacher have agreed to some form of home-school communication system that will allow you to monitor your child's progress. There are many tools available to teachers, from pre-printed forms and progress reports to quick hand-written notes. Another great tool is note writing in students' daily work planners, where they copy their homework each night; this allows teachers to communicate with home and it gives you the opportunity to write back. Whatever method works best for you both, agree on a schedule of communication so that you know when to expect updates. Often time this home-school communication link helps you stay informed and also helps your child to realize you're always on top of their progress at school.
When planning ahead for school conferences the time spent with your child's teacher can be truly informative and can help you better understand your child's educational needs. By knowing what to expect before you walk into the classroom, you help to control the atmosphere of the meeting, being sure that it focuses on using teamwork between your family and the school in order to make things better for your child. With a positive attitude and cooperation from both sides, your child will benefit from your involvement in their classroom and education.
Jennifer Cummings, has a B.A.in psychology, and a M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She has been an elementary teacher in Massachusetts for almost 10 years, serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings. Contact her at A Note from the Teacher .
Parent Meeting FAQ's:
What should I bring to the meeting?
The supplies you need for the meeting are minimal. Personally, try to have a copy of your child's most recent report card and any recent educational testing reports that have been completed (if applicable). You will also want to have a pen and notebook available so that you can note suggestions for home, areas of difficulty, and particular strengths you discuss during the meeting. As with any meeting, writing down as much information is important so you don't forget what you heard when you leave
Who should be present at the meeting?
In a regular classroom situation, the parents and/or guardians should all be present, if possible. If you are a single parent and have a significant partner or other caretaker who can be present, inform the teacher that you will be bringing another person to help you understand all of the issues clearly. The teacher may or may not have another school representative present, such as the principal or guidance counselor, depending on school policy. Remember, everyone at the meeting has the same goal- to help your child succeed.
In certain circumstances there may be reason to involve other parties such as special education teachers, school psychologists, liaisons, or speech therapists, for example. These individuals are generally involved when there is a special needs issue which must be addressed, and specific guidelines for these meetings vary by school and state requirements. If special education concerns apply to your child, contact your local school administrator for details on the meeting.
When should meetings be scheduled?
Meetings are generally scheduled at the convenience of both the teacher and the parents. Unfortunately, some parents' work schedules conflict with teacher availability, even though teachers generally try to accommodate as much as possible, with some districts even offering evening appointments. By working together to find a time that is most convenient for both people, a meeting date can usually be established that causes minimal conflict. However, if you do need to leave work to attend your child's meeting, remember that a little time now can help them be successful for the rest of the year.
Should my child attend the meeting?
Unless the teacher specifically requests their presence, students in elementary and middle grades should generally not attend the first meeting you plan with the classroom teacher. It is often better to create a plan of action with the teacher before outlining the details to the student. In some instances, such as with high school students or if requested by the teacher, your child may be invited to attend the meeting with you. If there is any question about attendance, ask the teacher before the scheduled date.
What questions should I be sure to ask?
There are five important questions you should ask during the course of the meeting. The answers you receive will vary, depending on the nature of the problems being faced, whether educational, social, or behavioral. Be sure to get clear answers that you fully understand before leaving:
- What specific problem(s) is my child having in the classroom?
- What has already been done to address the issue?
- What can be done in the future in the classroom and at home to help my child succeed?
- How will we continue to communicate about our progress with this problem in the coming days/ weeks/ months?
- What are my child's strengths in the classroom this year?
By understanding the answers to these questions you will have a greater appreciation for the teacher's efforts to help your child, and you will also have a better understanding of how your child can be helped in the future.
What do I do if I am unhappy with the results of the meeting?
If there are unanswered questions after you have met with the individual classroom teacher, another meeting can be arranged to further address your concerns. The teacher should continue to be involved, and other personnel such as guidance staff, administrators, or special educators may also be involved to further assist in the process. Specific guidelines are generally outlined by individual schools and districts; contact your local school administrator and your child's teacher for more information