Learning curve: parent-teacher conferences

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 10:04am

Most schools have a second parent-teacher conference in the spring term to monitor students’ academic and personal work and facilitate improvement. The questions: What progress is the student making on goals set at the start of the year? What more can be done to ensure he or she will complete the year successfully?

As an educator and parent, I have been on both sides of the conference table. Successful sessions require having an attitude of being in it together. Constructive communication between parents and teachers is crucial for students’ growth and learning. It is important parents prepare for them because their involvement is critical to success for both students and schools.

For example, one parent alerted me to her daughter’s wish to change lab partner because he would tell her what to do during each practical. That led me to pay closer attention to this duo’s dynamics – and the realisation that the student was right. Separating the lab partners was necessary because one was quietly taking charge in a way that allowed little collaboration.

So, conference preparation means being familiar not just with the children’s performance in each subject, but also speaking to them about which topics they are finding difficult and even seemingly innocuous things such as lab partners.

It’s important to keep an open mind. Several years ago, I suspended a student from practical work for a week because he refused to follow guidelines on lab safety. He has since graduated, but his mother has never accepted that this punitive measure, though harsh, was necessary to instil discipline and was not personal.

Hostility towards a teacher and seeking to allocate blame serves little purpose.

If there is concern regarding a child’s performance in a subject, try to identify reasons for this. Is it due to a lack of aptitude, inadequate application or poor work habits?

Make sure you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses before you leave the conference
Laurie Curtis, Kansas State University

I can’t recall the number of times parents have come to me saying their child’s performance is very poor and “what are you going to do about it?”

The better question to ask would be: what are we going to do about it? Discuss strategies parents and teachers can use to help the child. Write out common goals and deadlines, and remember to be realistic.

Laurie Curtis, an assistant professor in the college of education at Kansas State University, offered this tip on making the most of parent-teacher meetings:

“Make sure, as a parent, that you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses before you leave the conference. This should be something that the teacher is demonstrating by sharing work samples; but if not, make sure you ask so you know exactly what you could be working on at home.”

To that, I would add: ask for follow-up conversation and e-mails.

Stay on track. Keep the conversation focused on your child – not your childhood, the teacher’s workload or views on the curriculum.

Avoid discussing another child at the same school. He or she will have his or her own scheduled conference.

Try to meet all the teachers. I tend to see the parents whose children are excelling more regularly than parents of poor performers or students with behavioural issues. This may be due to embarrassment, but there is no need for it. We’re all in this together.

Often parents tell teachers: “My child does not listen to us. It would be better coming from you.” While schools often go the extra mile when there is a breakdown in communication between student and parent, the responsibilities of parenting cannot be confused with the role that teachers play in a student’s life.

Expectations are high of teachers and of schools, How successfully we discuss meeting students needs is the ultimate barometer for a successful parent-teacher conference.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School