Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Understanding Parent/Teacher Conferences

You know the drill.  Sign up for a time slot.  Put it on your calendar.  Set aside a 15 minute period of time to have someone tell you about someone you know better than anyone else--your child.  I mean you live with this person.  You care for this person.  And you sincerely doubt that you will hear anything that you don't already know.  And if you do, you are praying that it is only good news.

Parent/Teacher Conferences have been spoofed on television sit coms because they are awkward and anxiety provoking and can be quite emotional.  It feels vulnerable to be discussing someone you love so very much.  And you don't always feel comfortable with the person doing the "discussing".    After all,  you only know the teacher through the lens of your child unless you have been able to have other experiences in the classroom as a volunteer or have had the teacher teach one of your other children.
So how should a parent make the most of these annual events?  Here are my tips as a mother of four and a teacher:

1.  Come Prepared:  Think about any questions or concerns you would like to voice and write them down, so you don't get caught off guard and completely forget what you might have wanted to ask.

2.  Teamwork:  If possible, have both parents attend the conference.  This allows for more discussion and offers more collaboration for all parties involved.  I realize this might not always be possible, but it is a great option if it can be achieved.

3.  Defensiveness is Deafening:  If the teacher raises an issue, a parent's first reaction is to get defensive.  The problem with this is that if you are on the defensive you are shutting down your ability to listen and problem solve which doesn't help your child.  Put your emotions aside and concentrate on learning what can be done to help your child succeed.

4.  Do Your Homework:  Go home and think about what issues were raised by the teacher.  Are there things that you could do to support the growth and success of your child that are not currently doing?  Come up with a plan to solve the issue in a mature and analytical way.  You may need to ask for another conference, or talk to your child about solving the problem.  In any case, you want your child to learn and grow from the experience, and see you behaving as a mature and capable problem solver.

5.  Never Give Up:  There will be times in your child's school years where you will have to advocate for them.  Don't be shy about communicating with the school.  Teachers, principals, social workers, and counselors are in these professions because they care about children.  If you calmly persevere on behalf of your child in a professional manner, these professionals will often times go above and beyond to support your child's education and well being.

6.  Stay Positive:  Between the time they start preschool and graduate from high school, your child will have many teachers and you will have many conferences.  Education is about learning to thrive in the real world, and so teaching your children how to deal with all different kinds of teachers-each with their own quirks and personalities, is an education in itself.  Try at all times to stay positive.  Because this is the most important life lesson of all.

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