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Ask an Expert: Making the most of a teacher conference.

EdNews Parent expert R. Kim Herrell responds:

Q. How can I, as a parent, make the most of parent/student/teacher conferences?

A. When I began teaching, three decades ago, parent-teacher conferences, more often than not, began with a sincere question: “Is my child behaving?” Over the years, the most common question had shifted to, “Does my child have an ‘A’?”

I don’t think it is a question of entitlement. I think our society, some 20 or more years ago, made a shift from being concerned about behavior to being concerned about success. I happen to think both are important. Conferencing is a place to start.

I meet regularly with an education think-tank. Quite frankly, as parents and/or educators, conferences make many of us nervous. We recently spent some intense discussion focused on this question. Here are some of our thoughts.

First of all, please go to conferences. If you want your child to be interested in school, please show interest in your child’s school experience. Go to conferences every time, but especially attend the last conference at a school and the first conference at the new school. These are the transition conferences. It will help you understand the sometimes difficult shift your child may experience when changing schools and levels.

Conferences have changed in how they look, also. It used to be the parent(s) with the teacher (notice, without the student) on a discovery mission through the grade book to find out how the student was “doing” in class. Now, in many school districts, the parents have access to that information on-line.

Come sit with your teacher and your child, please, and learn about how your child learns and what they are doing in the classroom environment. Listen to your child talk about the joys and challenges of learning that particular subject. Don’t look at individual grades, but look at the trends in your child’s learning. Hear what the teacher has planned as far as outcomes in the class, and how every student can contribute to the learning happening in the entire class. All of this will give you talking points for further conversations with your child. Continuing the conversation at home keeps a spotlight on the importance of learning.

Conferences are not discovery of grade and assignment missions anymore, nor are they complaint/conflict sessions. If you feel the teacher isn’t answering your questions or has a conflict with your child, and you have talked to the teacher with no results, then you could/should schedule a meeting with the teacher and an administrator to work on solutions to a defined problem. Don’t expect the “moon,” but a common goal is not unreasonable.

I reiterate: Please go to conferences. Support your child. Please, also, support your child’s teacher and school. Everyone is pretty nervous in these days of cut and stretched dollars. Come with an open hand and open ears and you will find the same. A child’s teacher will celebrate your child’s success and behavior with you. Continue that celebration and conversation about education at home. Together, we are the change education needs.

For another take on getting the most out of a parent-teacher conference, read this advice from EdNews Parent expert Karla Scornavacco.

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