This week I’m heading to my childs’ school for report card pick up and that education staple, the parent teacher conference. I’m ready for this dance because I have been talking to the teachers, advocating for my child and nipping problems in the bud, all quarter long. If you suspect there is a problem in your childs’ class and you are waiting until the parent teacher conference to address it with the teacher then you are late to the party. When asking for help or information success is not just about how you ask, but it is also about when you ask. Parent teacher conference day is a mad house. In general things are always running late. It’s populated with human beings so it is inherently flawed. Emotions run the gamut from parents being elated, disappointed, angry, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, thrilled and more. In most instances a teacher has 10 minutes with each family and less than 60 seconds to switch gears from one student record to another. At some schools a gaggle of teachers are crowded, along with anxious parents and cranky siblings, into a gymnasium or cafeteria. The pitch of the room can rise higher than the decibel achieved by a gathering of students at a pep rally. You choose that moment to advocate for your child seeking an explanation, or counsel, or worse yet, a reversal of a charge? Not your best play. But don’t worry, just because you are late doesn’t mean you are too late. There are plenty of things you can do to have a successful parent teacher conference, advocating on behalf of your child. Even if you aren’t able to fully address a pre-existing issue to its’ fullest you can still lay a foundation for future conversations and an open pathways for productive communication.
1. First Account
Have a few conversations with your child about the teacher. I trust you have been regularly asking your child about their day after school, but as most of us parents know, those ties of inquiries are often met with single word answers like “fine”, “okay”, “boring”, “fun”. That’s why I encourage you to have a conversation or two with your kids prior to the conference so that you can peel away at the layers of the onion that is your childs’ personal experience in the class. Try to stay away from yes/no questions. You are looking for insight. Be transparent. Let your child know your intentions. Encourage them to be your partner. You are their advocate, but you can’t truly be an effective one without their communicative cooperation.
If you are unfamiliar with this teacher and their style I encourage you to ask around before the conference. Consult with parents from the upper grades. I suggest Googling them too. It’s always a good strategy to know who you are dealing with. Ten minutes isn’t enough time to evaluate a personality, learn about how your child is doing, and address all of your questions, concerns and requests. Why not eliminate one task simply by doing a little background before hand? Simple enough.
3. Course Curriculum
At the beginning of the year the teacher sent home, or gave you on Parents’ Night, a letter or printout detailing their objectives for the school year, their discipline and grading policies, and maybe even a hint about their teaching style. If you are lucky it was an email that you can search for if you didn’t file the hard copy in a folder that you can find amongst all of the other school memorandums you have gotten since then. The search is worth the extra time and effort. This is a very important sheet. It is your road map to results.
4. School Handbook
If you have an issue with a disciplinary action you would do best to review in detail the school code of conduct handbook prior to your conference. I recommend making a few copies of relevant pages that support your argument or position. It’s always best if you can use a schools’ own words in support of your request.
5. Notepad and Pen
Seems crazy to have to say this, but in the age of digital communication many of us don’t carry paper and writing utensils with us. Considering the brief amount of time you will have with your childs’ teacher you are going to want to take notes. That way you can review your conversation with the aid of these prompts should you need to follow up in search of a resolution or additional assistance. Whenever possible you want to have a written record of your exchanges.
6. Your Questions In Writing
Speaking of prompts, it is a great idea to have your questions written out so that you do not forget to inquire about any important points or issues. It’s very easy to get absorbed in conversation about one issue and completely forget to ask your other questions or raise your other points. I know you are smart and you feel strongly that you won’t forget anything, but your prompts won’t take more than a few minutes to jot down and could potentially save you the trouble of having to schedule a future meeting that would require even more of your time. I ask encourage you to leave room in between the questions for you to jot down the teachers’ response. Not only will this give you documentation of the exchange, the process of taking the notes will help to give you space from the emotions that might stir up in you as a result of their response.
7. Your Patience
Everyone has skin in the game, which means everyone in the room has a reason to be on the defense and the offense. The best way to move forward is to do things that take you emotionally back from the conversation so you can accomplish your goals. As a parent it is essential that you remain as non-emotional as possible to break even let alone win. Most administrations prompt teachers to be defensive and see the parent as the enemy, not a fellow team member. Playing into that many parents go into a conference and unconsciously become a kid again, sullen or defensive. As a parent you have to embrace the fact that this is an adult situation. Don’t let a teacher belittle you. That’s part of the psychology of having you sit in the student chair. Don’t take that sitting down, literally. Shake things up. Teachers lay out the playing field at a conference. If you come in and throw their game plan off they can’t improvise. You throw them off their script, obstructing the balance of power. Sit on their desk if they don’t have a grown up chair. No matter what they say you never raise your voice. You never give them the ammunition to label you the “angry parent”. The minute you raise your voice they can start another script. Stay modulated with open body language, and you will stay in control.
8. Your Goals
When time is tight brevity is king. When negotiating knowing your threshold is queen. Having a clear sense about what you want, what your “ask” is, will go a long way towards achieving a successful parent teacher conference. I’m a firm believer in never gouging a meeting asking for something that isn’t possible so I encourage you to research your ask before you commit to it. Determine what is within the capability of the teacher and the school. Know your rights and the parameters of your teachers authority then no one can ever accuse you of being unreasonable. Well, at least they can’t do so and be correct.
9. Not Your Children
Given the short time of this event I encourage you to leave your student and especially your other children at home or in the hall under the care of a friend. I am a firm believer in the benefit meetings with parent teacher and student so that your child can experience your advocacy first hand. However, as I said earlier, the parent teacher conference is nothing more than a stays hearing. You need down and dirty, nitty gritty in those ten precious minutes, adult to adult.
Even if you don’t have a pre-existing issue on deck for your parent teacher conference go to every meeting prepared for a fight even if you don’t expect there to be one. You are always at the school in service of your childs’ best interests, and bettering their education. If your child is doing well don’t get caught up in the warmth of a cushy parent teacher conference. A Parent-Teacher conference isn’t a coffee date, it is your job. Don’t get off focus or off topic. You are always in search of information, ideas and goal achieving plans of action. Keep a notebook for each teacher so should there be a problem down the line you have a written record of past exchanges to refute any inaccurate claims. If something comes up in June you can go back and look at notes from earlier in the year. Keep in mind, the goal is to meet with teachers once a semester outside of teacher conferences to keep communication flowing. The more involved, visibly present and communicative you are now to be can go a long way towards insulating your child from nonsense during the year.
If you enjoyed this post read other Miss Lori articles about Education: What is Wrong With Chicago Public Schools and Why Education Should Be a Right, 7 Ways To Get Kids Caught Up After an Illness, Chicago Public School Student Fights To Be Strong, and Top 10 Things Miss Lori Packs In Her Kids’ Backpacks For School. You can also read quotes from Miss Lori in articles on CNN.com/Living.
Miss Lori can be found at MissLori.TV, Wearetherealdeal.com, TheChicagoMoms.com and now on BABBLE.com with her new blog SMILING On With Miss Lori. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, TOUT and LinkedIn.