Counseling Expert Offers 10 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

by September 28, 2009

Donna-Henderson-Wake-Forest-University“A good attitude and a spirit of cooperation are the keys to successful parent-teacher conferences,” says Donna Henderson, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University. “Go in expecting success,” says Henderson, who has 12 years experience as a teacher and school counselor. “Go in with an attitude of collaboration and a mindset that everybody is working toward the same goal.”

Henderson offers the following 10 tips for parents of students from elementary to high school on how they can make the most of parent-teacher conferences.

1. Start off on the right foot by asking teachers what excites them about teaching a particular age group or subject. Providing an opportunity for teachers to share some of their enthusiasm for what they do sets a positive tone for the discussion.

2. Parents should keep their children involved by asking them what they would like discussed with a teacher and then providing feedback after the conference. Ultimately, the child must assume responsibility for learning, while adults assume the responsibility for creating and enhancing those opportunities.

3. Parents should listen carefully to the teacher’s concerns to clearly understand them. A good teacher will talk about the child’s strengths and weaknesses and suggest ways to meet learning goals.

4. Ask the teacher, “What are some of the things I can do with my child that would make this subject come alive?” This can lead to some concrete examples of activities like planting a garden or visiting a museum that may reinforce classroom lessons.

5. If parents are apprehensive about meeting with a teacher to address a problem, they should turn to the school’s counseling office for help. Often school counselors will meet with parents before a scheduled conference to help set goals for the meeting with the teacher. Or, the counselor can attend the conference to facilitate the discussion between parents and teachers.

6. Remember, the focus should remain on your child’s success, not on arguing with the teacher. Using negotiation, listening and good people skills work better than yelling or being snide and disrespectful. Teachers deserve the respect given other professionals.

7. Clarify what the teacher expects from the child and from you before concluding the conference. If there needs to be continuing contact beyond the initial meeting, parents and teachers should establish a clear plan for doing that.

8. Parents should not commit to something they cannot do. For example, if a teacher suggests parents help their child with math assignments and they don’t have the skills to do that, they should ask what other resources are available to help the child.

9. The parent-teacher conference is only one way to connect with teachers. Look for other opportunities during the school year to build a good relationship.

10. Most importantly, give teachers an opportunity to share their knowledge about how to help children learn.

“Research has consistently shown that parent involvement contributes to school success,” says Henderson, co-author of the “Handbook of School Counseling.” “Two people working together who have the best interest of the child in mind lead to better outcomes for students.”

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