Preparing for a Productive Parent-Teacher Conference

  • When the time comes for a parent-teacher conference, the proper preparation can help parents get much more out of the meeting and better understand what they can do to help their child succeed. Careful preparation will also help parents set the stage for an ongoing relationship with the teacher. 

    Getting a Good Start

    Parents should try to establish a positive relationship with the teacher. One way to do this is to comment on something that reflects well upon the teacher. For example, thank the teacher for having made thoughtful notes on your child’s homework or for the special attention in helping your child learn to multiply.

    Often, at parent-teacher conferences, teachers will give parents examples of the student’s work and possibly a report card. This is an excellent time to have a conversation about teaching methods and how student progress is measured. Are students assessed through tests? Portfolios? Class participation? Projects? Parents may also ask the teacher to help them understand school policies.

    How is My Child Doing?

    Since the parent-teacher conference is usually about 20 minutes, parents should plan to cover only a few topics. When putting together a list of questions, you might want to ask the most important ones first.

    Here are some questions you might want to ask about your child:

    • What is my child like during the day? Does he or she participate in class discussions and activities?
    • What subjects is my child doing well in? What subjects is my child struggling with? How will the school support her/him over the next term so that s/he is at grade level in those subjects? What are some things that I can do at home to help him/her improve in the areas that need work?
    • What are the standards for my child’s grade level? Can you show me a piece of work that reflects the highest standard?
    • How does my child interact with other children and adults? 
    • How much help should I provide on homework assignments? 
    • Is my child in different classes or groups for other subjects? How are these groups determined?
    • Is my child trying as hard as he or she can?

    Including the Student

    A growing number of middle schools and high schools are finding that including students in parent-teacher conferences gives the student a greater sense of responsibility for his or her learning. Students will often discuss portfolios during the conference—a collection of student work that shows the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more subjects. The student describes to the parents and teacher what is good about the work, what he or she learned, and where improvements can be made.

    If the student is not participating in the conference, parents may ask their child beforehand if they have any concerns about school. Also, parents may wish to ask the child what his or her strengths and weaknesses are and what some favorite and least favorite subjects are. It will save time during the conference if parents have already discussed books, classes, and schedules with their children.

    Parents may consider telling teachers about any significant changes that have taken place in the child’s life (such as the death of a pet, a grandparent who is ill, parents who are divorcing, or a family move), or important activities in which the child is involved (such as sports, scouts, community service, or an after-school job). 

    Addressing Problems 

    Parent-teacher conferences are a good time to discuss any academic or behavioral challenges—a child might be having at school.  When problems arise, parents will want to:

    • Avoid angry or apologetic reactions. Instead, ask for examples. 
    • Ask what is being done about the problem and what strategies seem to help at school. 
    • Develop an action plan that may include steps that parents can take at home and steps the teacher will take when the problem comes up at school. 
    • Schedule a follow-up conference and decide on the best way to stay in touch (phone, email, or letters sent to the home).

    Following Up 

    When discussing the conference with the child afterward, stress the good things covered and be direct about identified problems. If appropriate, explain to the child any action plans that were arranged.

    A good way to promote a continuing relationship with the teacher is to say “thank you” with a note, email, or telephone call. Keeping in touch with the teacher, even when things are going well, can help the child do better in school. When a child knows parents and teachers regularly work together, the child will see that education is a high priority requiring commitment and effort.

    — by Ted Villaire
    (edited by Boston Public Schools)

    Reprinted with permission from the National PTA,