The best question I’ve asked at a parent-teacher conference

By Afrika Afeni Mills, MEd

The best question I ever asked at a parent-teacher conference, daughter standing in front of her house

My parents were always involved in my learning at school. In fact, my mom recently shared many of my old report cards showing comments from my parents each quarter. 

There’s one occasion I remember from sixth grade. My parents knew that test scores determined my grade in biology class. Based on my test score averages, they were expecting my grade to be a 90%. But I was a chatty student, so my parents also expected a “needs improvement” in conduct, a separate score from my grade. 

When my report card showed an 85% in biology and a “needs improvement” in conduct, my mom wanted to talk with my teacher. From her perspective, my conduct and academic scores were two different things. My mom went to parent-teacher conference night to understand my teacher’s reasons for my lower academic score.

This example stayed in my mind when I became a parent. Like my parents, I was also very involved in my children’s learning experiences. And like my mom, I learned why it’s important to ask questions. 

When my daughter was in fifth grade, her reading grade was lower than my husband and I expected. The grade surprised us because she was an inquisitive and engaged learner who had been reading since she was 3 years old. When we went to our daughter’s conference night, we shared our concerns with her teacher. 

The question we asked the teacher

We asked, “Can you show us examples of what you’re noticing in our daughter’s reading?”

We didn’t ask this question to be confrontational. My husband and I saw ourselves as partners with our children and their teachers. We asked the question to help us understand what was happening. 

“Can you show us examples of what you’re noticing in our daughter’s reading?”

Unfortunately, our daughter’s teacher didn’t have any work samples prepared to show us what she was noticing. The school district’s reading program used a lot of grammar and spelling assessments. Our daughter had fewer chances to show her engagement and understanding. 

Why asking that question helped

Still, our question — and the conversation — helped us all come to an important realization. Our daughter needed different assessments to give us a clear picture of who she was as a reader. 

Our question also lay the foundation for more satisfying learning experiences. It started a partnership between us, my daughter, and her teacher. And with this partnership approach in place, there was so much our daughter was able to accomplish. 

Our daughter graduated in 2020 after a high school program of advanced and AP classes. Throughout the pandemic, she navigated remote and hybrid college learning experiences and has been on the dean’s list each year. She’s now a thriving junior in college, studying psychology. 


Wondering what questions to ask at your next parent-teacher conference? This list of questions can help you get started.   

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    About the author

    About the author

    Afrika Afeni Mills, MEd helps educators develop and sustain student-centered learning experiences that are diverse, inclusive, and equitable.