Summer is coming to an end and it’s time to recalibrate, put on our game faces and prepare for the school year! Parent Teacher conferences are the first chance to partner with your child’s teacher and we want to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Alysia Scofield has been teaching for nine years and here she shares some great ideas on how to prepare for your conference to get the most out of the time.
Expectations are a tricky thing. The beginning of the school year brings a fresh start and lots of expectations. Beginning of the year parent teacher conferences are an invaluable time to communicate and get on the same page regarding your child and the school year. As you prepare for this brief time together, the most important thing to remember is that attending a parent teacher conference is really the most important thing. It signals to the teacher, and your child, that you are ready and able to be a partner in your child’s education. The good news is that teachers and school districts have been spending more and more time talking about family engagement and ways that the school can make sure to successfully partner with families. There is more than enough research to show that attending parent teacher conferences and being involved in the school community, even in small ways, is predictive of a child’s success in school.
The second most important thing to remember is to be authentic. There is no script for the way these conferences ‘should’ go. There are plenty of conference questions you can find online that can help you if you are stuck but don’t feel like you need to ask the perfect one. If you want to make a list of questions, make sure they are things to which you really want to know the answers. The goal of the conference is for the teacher to give and get information and for the family to give and get information that is useful to both parties. Don’t ask about the daily schedule in the classroom if what you really want to know is whether the school lunch is any good. You might be curious about child’s reading or other academics and how those subjects are taught, or you might want to know more about how your child is making friends, or if they have stopped chewing the erasers off their pencils. The way to build a healthy relationship with your child’s teacher is by being authentic, not by asking the perfect question.
It is equally important, especially at the beginning of the year, to let the teacher know as much as you can about your child. Don’t forget that you have a wealth of information to offer about how your child operates that might be of use to the teacher. If they don’t sleep well at night, if they have great ideas but are hesitant to share those ideas in a big group, if they get ‘hangry’ at 9:30 in the morning, please share these things. It is great to share what your child loves to do and what they are good at, and while you might feel embarrassed to share things about your child that are not flattering, make sure to share them both. There are few things that a teacher has not heard before and the honesty you show not only helps build a strong parent teacher relationship but also allows for your child’s teacher to get ahead of any issues that might occur. If you have concerns about instruction or other things that are happening at school address them quickly and honestly. If your child is telling you that there is some kid being mean to them, or they hate math, do NOT wait to contact the teacher. As much as teachers like to think we have a bead on all that is happening in our classrooms, there are things that your kids are going to share with you that they won’t share with us. As you might expect, as in any partnership, approaching teachers with respect and kindness, especially when they subject is difficult makes all the difference. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring it up. It just means you should make sure you think of your child’s teacher as a partner and assume their best intent as they do the same for you.
A great way to end the conference is to ask the teacher if there is anything they need. There are usually many ways to support a classroom, even if you are busy and don’t have a lot of financial resources. I had a parent who would sharpen all of the classroom pencils every Friday and send them back in sharpened every Monday morning. This didn’t take much time and cost nothing but was such a blessing to me and the kids.
So as you get ready to begin this school year, remember that you and your child’s teacher are on the same team with different areas of expertise, but the same goal: to see you child grow into the best version of his or herself. Work together by leaning into your teacher for understanding and be sure to share the wealth of knowledge you have as their parent.
Alysia Scofield is married to Todd and has two grown children, Nancy and Abraham. She has taught in the classroom for 9 years and currently teaches kindergarten for DCPS.