Parent-teacher partnership can play significant role in child’s education

Many kids dread them, but all parents should embrace them. Parent-teacher conferences can play an integral role in a child’s education. In the following St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Dennis O’Brien, research associate in psychiatry, gives a few tips for successful parent-teacher conferencing.

Family Matters: Prepare for productive parent-teacher conferences

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the O’Fallon, Missouri, Journal on January 19, 2005)

By Dennis O’Brien

An effective parent-teacher partnership can make a significant difference in your child’s education, and the start of a new semester is an ideal time to refocus this partnership.

A parent's well-planned involvement in a child's education can make a big difference.
A parent’s well-planned involvement in a child’s education can make a big difference.

It is important to approach each parent-teacher conference as an opportunity to refine your child’s individual learning plan and to make sure the roles of teacher, student and parents are clear, specific and designed to bring out the best in your child.

Keep in mind teachers have many children demanding their time and attention. A good conference can help a busy teacher focus on what your child needs.

Here are some practical suggestions to make the conference as productive as your child needs it to be:

  • Don’t take school for granted. Talk to your child about his or her experiences on a daily basis.

Asking, “How was your day?” is a good, open-ended conversation starter. However, you also need to ask specific questions about aspects of school, ranging from your child’s social life (“Who did you play with at recess?”) to academics (“What did you learn in science today?”).

Ask what your child likes and doesn’t like about school, and what is and what isn’t challenging. Parents who understand school as their child experiences it are in a much better position to coach, encourage or intervene properly.

  • Discuss your questions and concerns with your spouse a week before the parent-teacher conference.

Identify the information you wish to impart to the teacher. Make notes to remind you of key points to cover during the actual conference.

Review reports and check your files from previous conferences to see if they remind you of important topics you may have missed. Be clear in your own mind about your child’s strengths, weaknesses and appropriate goals.

Identify both challenges and the gains your child seems to be making as a student and as a social person.

Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page prior to the conference.

If your discussion identifies significant differences in your perceptions or in what you would like to see done to help your child improve, try to resolve them.

Even if you cannot agree on everything before meeting, just having your questions and differing perceptions clear will make the conference more productive. If you cannot agree, ask for more input at the conference from the teacher to clarify your perceptions.

  • Be on time, but don’t schedule yourself too tightly. Teachers facing a succession of concerned parents may find it difficult to remain on schedule, and you want to have plenty of time to do a thorough job.
  • Develop a team approach with the teacher.

Listen to the teacher share perceptions before raising your concerns. Identify areas of agreement and ask clarifying questions about others. Paraphrase frequently and summarize periodically to ensure clarity and mutual agreement on key points.

  • Take notes during the conference. Although things seem clear while you are talking about them, good notes will help you remember accurately.
  • Agree to a specific learning plan for your child.

This may be as simple as continuing to do the things that already are working at home and school, or it may involve restructuring homework, creating a special study space at home, arranging for tutorial assistance or making sure a child with a learning disability receives extra time necessary for test-taking.

Part of a good plan — especially if there are any serious issues being addressed — means scheduling a time to meet again to reassess the progress that has been made and the plan itself.

Parents who utilize these simple, common-sense strategies significantly will increase the chances that school will be the successful experience they want for their children.

Dennis O’Brien is a licensed clinical social worker, experienced educator and therapist who writes educational materials for the Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry.

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.