By Dana Harris


Parent-Teacher Conferences are just around the corner.  It is easy to think about conferences as stressful and exhausting, but what’s most important is that effective communication is essential for building positive school-family partnerships.  In fact, it constitutes the foundation for all forms of family involvement in education.  It raises your child’s chances of doing well while giving you an insider’s view of life at school. When your child leaves for school each day, you probably see your primary role as getting your child to school well-groomed, well-fed and on time. That’s great!  However, if you’re leaving education solely to the school, you are overlooking the most critical role you can play. Your involvement in your child’s school experience could mean the difference between success and failure for your child. According to the latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics, eighty-one percent of parents surveyed said they attend parent-teacher conferences, but teachers said only 57 percent of parents affirm that statistic.  Parents have more influence on a child’s academic success than teachers do.  No matter how excellent the school program, parents remain the primary educators of their children. What your child “knows” about school has more to do with the example you set.  If you show an active interest in school, your child “learns” that school is important. This could be the most important lesson of your child’s school career.

The parent-teacher relationship is extremely powerful for student success. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but throughout life. Studies show that the involvement of parents and families in the schooling of their children makes a significant difference. Regardless of income or background, students with parents who are involved in their academic careers are more likely to earn high grades, perform higher on standardized tests, enroll in higher-level programs and achieve more during their school-age years. These students also maintain regular attendance, show improved behavior, adapt well to school and demonstrate better social skills.

Teachers carry a lot of responsibility when it comes to the classroom.  Not only are they managing the learning environment, but they’re also in charge of the well-being of each child in their care. Knowing that someone at the school is looking beyond the standards, grading and checklists to see each child as an individual goes a long way in building rapport and credibility between the two most important partners in education:  home and school.  In an environment where a variety of individuals needs to work together to support one another and learn from one another, it’s of utmost importance to ensure that everyone can be heard, and everyone takes the time to listen.  Read on to discover a few noteworthy suggestions as you prepare for the upcoming spring parent-teacher conference at your child’s school.

Be on time.  Get off on the right start. Come to the conference on time. Try to keep in mind you are not the only parent the teacher is meeting with, so do your best to respect the allotted time. There is probably a generated conference schedule with designated times for teachers to meet with parents throughout the day.  Therefore, being prompt is crucial!

Be prepared.  Part of being prepared is being familiar with your school’s/school district’s protocols, progress reports, report cards, grading policies and other student assessment tools. Report cards or progress reports can be a springboard for discussion and help guide you through the meeting.  Make sure you know how the standardized testing data will be used to customize or differentiate instruction for students. You may also want to look at the academic benchmarks or expectations for your child’s grade level. Time is of the essence and having your primary concerns addressed by your child’s teacher will allow you to leave feeling relaxed and satisfied with the session.

Take notes.  Bring either paper and pen, a laptop or other device. Know your child’s strengths, weakness and preferences.  Decide whether you’ll discuss or share any personal issues, and if so, how you will do it. Ask to see classwork and homework samples, tests and quizzes, and standardized testing results. It’s common for parents to think they’ll remember everything. Taking notes will be particularly helpful if a parent is nervous or pressed for time and worried about absorbing everything.

Leave your baggage in the parking lot.  Personal history can get in the way– a parent can have residual fear of authority or harbor unpleasant memories of school. Things that might get in the way include the kind of student the parent was and if the parent was disciplined at school. Most importantly, relax and be yourself. Remember that you and the teacher both want the same thing:  the very best for your child.

Bring specific questions.  Keep an open mind.  It helps to write down your thoughts to ensure that you cover everything you’d like to discuss.  Because time is limited, before you go into the meeting, prioritize what is on top of your list to address with the teacher.

Be Respectful. Let the teacher know you value his/her time and treat them with respect.  Most teachers are in back-to-back meetings during conference days.  Each family has different concerns and questions for the teacher which makes it a long day.  Always, thank the teacher for bringing up a problem and discussing ways in which you can solve it together.

Communication moving forward.  Summarize the main points of the discussion to confirm details and any next steps. Ask about the teacher’s preferred method of communication: phone calls, e-mails or continued meetings. Although e-mail is a popular choice, use it with caution— information and tone of voice can be misconstrued, and e-mails may accidentally get lost in the junk mail folder. Be available for further discussions and stay an active participant in your child’s academic achievement.

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true with the collaborative relationship of families and teachers. Proactive parents are generally better in touch with what their child is learning in school and feel better connected to the staff and the environment.  The teacher is an expert in education. You are the expert of your child. When parents and teachers are in sync regarding what learners need and the next steps, student progress is inevitable. By working together, there is little they can’t do!  When parents and teachers are on the same team, children are set up for great success!

This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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