Most parent-teacher conferences only last 10 or 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time to connect with your child’s teacher. But with a little preparation and planning, you can make the most of this time. Here are 10 tips that can help.
Before the Conference
1. Look over schoolwork.
Take some time to look over your child’s homework, essays, reading logs, and other schoolwork. How does it look like your child is doing? Is the homework too easy or too hard? Does your child need help?
Review report cards, too. What are your child’s grades like? You can also look over any emails or newsletter updates the teacher has sent.
2. Talk with your child.
Get a sense from your child about how school is going. What’s most and least enjoyable? Does your child feel unsure about school? Who does your child sit with at lunch? (For more ideas, see this list of questions to ask your child.)
Ask your child if there’s anything you should talk to the teacher about. Mention that every family has a conference, so your child doesn’t worry about what this meeting means.
3. Make a list of questions.
Now that you’ve talked with your child and reviewed schoolwork, make a list of questions. If you’re stumped, use this list of questions to ask teachers.
Think through anything you want to make sure the teacher knows. Are there specific things that helped your child thrive in school in the past? Have there been any big changes in your family or living situation? Are there holidays you’ll be away? Talk with other family members to make sure you cover everything.
Once you have your list, put questions and concerns in order of importance, so you can cover the biggest things first. Use this parent-teacher conference worksheet to get organized.
At the Conference
4. Arrive a few minutes early.
Try to get there a few minutes early so you can find the classroom and not miss any of your time. If you’re early and waiting, check out the hallways where student work is posted to see what the class has been working on.
5. Skip the class overview (unless you need it).
Teachers often begin the conference with some general class information. While this can be helpful, it takes up valuable conference time. If you already know this information, politely say something like: “I’ve been reading your newsletter. If it’s OK with you, can we spend more time on the questions I have about my child?”
6. Stay calm.
It’s important to keep your emotions in check during the conference, even if your child is struggling with something. Taking a few deep breaths can help. Using a respectful tone will also help you and the teacher find solutions together for your child.
At the same time, if you disagree with the teacher, be sure to speak up. If you don’t say something, the teacher may assume you don’t have concerns.
7. Ask the most important questions first.
Remember that you only have a short time. Try to cover your most important questions and concerns first. (Use your list of questions, if you had time to make one.)
But try not to worry if you don’t get to everything. You can still ask for a follow-up meeting with the teacher to discuss anything you couldn’t get to. And if you don’t understand something the teacher says, ask for an explanation.
8. Figure out next steps.
Save a few minutes at the end of the conference for next steps. Depending on what you’ve talked about, here’s what you might suggest:
Staying in touch: “How can we keep talking about this? Could I get weekly feedback for the next month—maybe a quick email on Fridays?”
In-class help: “We talked about giving my child more support in class. What should we look for in the coming weeks to decide if it’s working or not?”
School services: “I’d like to meet with the school to talk about extra reading instruction. What information should we gather before that meeting?”
After the Conference
9. Update your child.
Talk to your child about what happened. It’s important to share anything positive that you and the teacher discussed. But it’s also important not to shy away from problems or challenges. If there are next steps, make sure your child knows what they are.
10. Follow up.
If you and the teacher agreed on next steps, follow up in the next week or so to see how things are working out. It’s useful to have check-ins before the next conference. At each check-in, ask for an update, but also be ready to share what you’ve been doing on any action steps.
Although parent-teacher conferences are short, they’re a good time to learn more about your child’s school experience. For more help, try out a parent-teacher conference survey to build understanding with your child’s teacher.