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Acing Your Conference


Q. How can I get the most out of my upcoming parent-teacher conference?


Prepare for it well in advance by making a good first impression. Most parents are invisible most of the school year, but if you want to show the teacher respect, and shine the spotlight on your child as one with good support at home, you need to build a relationship with that teacher. So in a way, an effective parent-teacher conference begins with what you do from the very start of the school year.


Meet the teacher as early in the school year as you can. Don't wait for the Open House, Curriculum Night or your parent-teacher conference to introduce yourself. Schedule an appointment, drop by on an "inservice" day, or stop in before or after school. Keep your visit really short. Tell the teacher you would welcome phone calls, emails and notes sent home. And make sure and reply or respond to any communications you do get from the teacher.


In the alternative, a quick phone call in the first couple of weeks of school can be a good bridge-builder and time saver, too. Try to include a sincere compliment; teachers are starved for praise, but they mostly hear NOTHING from most parents, or have contact only when there's a problem.


When the formal conference is scheduled, then, you can use the time much more efficiently, rather than starting off the conversation as two strangers.


Be sure to conference with your child first. What's going well? What's not? What is the teacher likely to say? What are the everyday problems - tardiness? Talking out of turn? Not finishing tests? Is anything or anybody bothering your child? What or who is helping, or not? What suggestions might work?


For the conference itself: first, be smart and be on time, don't bring in food or drink, and have good breath! For the record: no alcohol on your breath!


Second, be sure to leave on time. If you aren't finished, offer to continue on the phone or by email. That shows respect for the teacher's schedule and the other parents.


Come prepared to briefly go over the teacher's agenda, but also have your own agenda to talk about. Use the "Rule of Three." Come up with three issues and stick to them. Examples: Why is our child struggling in (weakest subject)? Is our child getting along well with others? What can we do at home to help our child become a better reader?


Avoid tangents. Stay focused!


Be sure to share significant changes in your home - a family death, a divorce, an elite sports team, or maybe you decided to "divorce" your TV (!). Clue the teacher in on anything that may be affecting your child's progress.


At a bare minimum, you should leave the conference knowing at what grade level your child functions in math and reading. So if the teacher doesn't offer that information, ask it.


Both mom and dad should attend, or bring a grandparent or an adult friend for an extra set of ears.


Single moms: bring a male, either your dad or your brother or a neighbor. There's just something about having a man present at conferences that helps.


You can bring your child if you feel it's important that the conference include him or her. But don't bring your child if you want honest input in the style of a performance evaluation between adults.


Don't ever argue! If the teacher says something that's very negative, flat out wrong or that makes you mad, be meek. Say, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Let's talk about that some more at a separate meeting." Offer to schedule a meeting with a third party, such as the school counselor or the principal, to continue the conversation when you've had a chance to calm down and collect the facts.


Look the teacher in the eye a lot. Smile. Nod your head. Lean toward him or her. Follow up with a thank-you note and any additional information or feedback the teacher has requested.


Bottom line: go by the Golden Rule. Treat the teacher the way you'd like to be treated: with respect, as an equal, as a helper in the process of making your child's education the best it can be, and as someone worth listening to and learning from. Make the teacher your friend . . . because when it comes to helping your child, that's exactly what the teacher is.


Homework: You might want to use this worksheet to bring to your conference and for follow-up:


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 18 2008


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