A parent-teacher meeting is a wonderful opportunity for teachers, parents and students to share information to enhance learning outcomes. They give you a great opportunity to talk to your child’s teacher about not only their academic progress, but also any specific needs or areas of interest that they have outside of school. This information provides your child’s teacher with a well-rounded picture of who your child is at home, and aids in strengthening the relationship that you and your family have with the school. Meeting your child’s teacher allows you to build a connection and partnership with them, which only benefits your child on their learning journey.
Why you should attend your parent-teacher meeting
The first purpose of the parent-teacher conference is to ensure teachers, parents and students have a shared understanding of expectations for study and homework, and the types of assessment that will be occurring. It gives parents an opportunity to discuss their child’s strengths and weaknesses, any particular interests or concerns, and to enquire how they could best support their child with their learning. Teachers and students can discuss helpful learning behaviours and identify unhelpful ones before they become entrenched as habits.
The second purpose of the parent-teacher meeting is to provide feedback. Positive strategies can be reinforced or, if a student is having difficulty, alternatives or support mechanisms can be discussed. There is also an opportunity to canvass avenues for extension where appropriate. These meetings are useful adjuncts to the formal reports that are sent home and allow further dialogue and feedback as to how a child is progressing with their education and how they can improve.
Getting the most out of your parent-teacher meeting
Whether it be 10 or 15 minutes, whatever you child’s school allocates to parent teacher conferences it is simply never enough. So how you can make sure you are getting the most of your conference when you meet with your child’s teacher this year?
Make sure you are keeping an eye out for the communication from your child’s school about upcoming parent conferences. Booking a parent-teacher meeting for your child can quite often be like booking tickets to the most popular concert in town; a real click frenzy. Once you have made your booking, get organised by finding an opportunity to have a chat with your child what they think might come up in the interview, what information they would like you to ask during the conference.
Take a pen/paper or a device to take notes on. You will be given a large amount of information about your child in a short space of time, especially in a high school context where you will be meeting with multiple teachers as you move like pac-man around the hall that is set up with lines of teachers at tables.
It is best to arrive 5 minutes early so that you have a full meeting and therefore get the most out of it. If you are late though, remember that you will need to cut the meeting short and possibly arrange it for another time. This will ensure other parents won’t be kept waiting.
Key questions to ask at a parent-teacher meeting
Key questions you could ask might vary according to your child’s level, but may include questions around the following areas.
Benchmarks and standards
By the time it is your conference, you may or may not have received some type of reporting or feedback from your child’s teacher which provides information on what standard your child has recently performed at. This could be using language such as ‘at standard’ or using an A-E scale of grading or some other form of grading used at your child’s school. This is a benchmark of your child’s performance at that point in time and it is important to find out how that benchmark was determined for your child.
It’s a good idea for parents to study their child’s report, if received in advance, identify concerns raised and seek to clarify recommendations.
Some key questions you could ask:
- What were my child’s key strengths to achieve to this standard?
- What were my child’s key challenges to achieve to this standard?
- What strategies do you find work best when teaching my child?
Attitude and approach
How your child approaches their learning journey is what every parent wants to hear. Does your child make the most of every learning opportunity that they are exposed to throughout the day? Sometimes in schools this is referred to as your child’s effort or engagement, but what it means is what is your child’s attitude and approach to learning. As a parent you might sometimes wish you were the fly on the wall to see how your child approaches the learning in the classroom.
Some key questions to ask:
- How does my child contribute in the class setting? (Behaviour, Involvement during class tasks etc)
- How does my child work with other students in the class?
- What are your classroom expectations of my child?
- Are there any particular activities or lessons that my child is reluctant to take part in?
Growth, improvement and wellbeing
Your child will be working towards their own personalised learning pathway. The day your child arrived at school in Prep, they started on their own individual personalised starting point and the day they graduate in Year 12 they will have their own individual personalised schooling end point. Your child is unique to all their peers and will walk their own learning journey. As parents you want to guide and support your child that it is the appropriate learning journey for them.
Some key questions you could ask:
- How has my child’s learning improved so far throughout the year?
- What will success look like for my child this year?
- How do you notice when my child is happy in your class?
- How are my child’s social skills progressing?
- Are there any support services that I can access within the school for my child’s needs?
- What suggestions do you have for me to help my child improve/extend their learning?
- What has my child’s biggest success or achievement been this semester?
The parent conference is a point in time snapshot of the learning journey of your child. It is important from both the teacher and parent perspective that a respectful ongoing partnership is established for the year. It takes a village – a team – wanting the best of your child, working together in partnership with your child’s teachers sends a powerful and effective message to your child and consequently achieving best outcomes for them.
Some key questions you could ask:
- What can I be doing at home to support my child with their learning?
- What are your expectations of the learning that my child is doing at home?
- What is the best form of communication for us to stay in contact throughout the year?
If you have considered helping out in the classroom, the meeting is also a great place to find out more about what would be expected of you. Even if there is nothing in particular that you want to talk to the teacher about, by attending you are showing your child that you value their education and are seeking ways in which to support their needs. After all, it’s where they spend the majority of their waking hours…
Key information to share at a parent-teacher conference
- If any changes have occurred in your child’s life, be prepared to let the teacher know. These changes could include health issues, family separations or financial stability; all of which can impact on your child’s learning and well-being.
- If you have a complex range of information to discuss with the teacher, request a double session to ensure you have plenty of talk time.
- If your child has seen a specialist such as a speech pathologist since your last meeting, bring a copy of the relevant information along for the teacher.
Should you take the kids?
If you take your child to the meeting, talk to them beforehand about how you expect them to behave. If you have to bring younger children along, pack some minimal mess snacks and a well-loved game to keep them entertained. If you think that the information that you need to discuss with your child’s teacher should be addressed in private, then you will need to find someone trustworthy to mind your child.
Let them speak for themselves
On the other hand, you may want your child to come along to the parent-teacher meeting and partake in the conversation. If this is the case practice chatting to them about their strengths and areas for improvement so that they feel confident in talking about themselves.
You could also encourage your child to reflect on their semester and to analyse their approach and organisation. Rather than sitting and listening passively to their parents and teachers talk, being involved creates a positive challenge, as students mature, to lead these discussions as a type of workshop in which they direct conversations about their own progress, achievements and areas for improvement.
This approach encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning, and develop an awareness of their academic approach and engagement in learning. The student needs to reflect on their learning journey, identifying the study techniques and attitudes that helped foster academic success as well as identifying and acknowledging current practices and attitudes that are not allowing him/her to achieve to their full potential.
Possible concerns for you and your child
Your child might be worried about what might be said
Ask your child what they think the teacher might tell you about them; if they have any concerns, they can let you know before the meeting. Also, ask your child what their proudest achievement this year has been. Whether it was making new friends or kicking a goal in soccer, they need to know that the conversations between you and their teacher will cover their successes too.
Dealing with negative feedback
Sometimes feedback is not going to be palatable. If a result is disappointing, it is important not to focus solely on the result but to emphasise what has been learned from that disappointment, look at what could have been done differently and examine strategies that need to be put in place to lead to a more successful outcome next semester. It is vital that the student sees a supportive relationship between teacher and parent. If a discussion is starting to become heated, make an alternative time, without the student present, to raise your concerns.
Moving past your own negative experiences
Go into the meeting with an open mind and remember that your own experiences may be a world away from that which your own child is experiencing. If you show an interest in your child’s education the teacher will be far better positioned to work with you in helping your child to have the kind of education and school experience that you want for them. If you still feel uncertain, you can always bring a trusted friend or family member along for support.
Meeting in progress
Be willing to listen to and try out the teacher’s suggestions, and avoid getting defensive or losing your cool. Remember that this is a conversation about how you can best work together to support your child. Ask questions, talk about your child’s needs and raise your concerns respectfully.
Steer clear of questioning the teacher about other children; aside from making the meeting awkward teachers cannot legally provide this information.
End the parent-teacher meeting on a positive note; for example, let the teacher know what you will be doing in order to follow up on any concerns after the meeting.
When the parent-teacher meeting is over
When talking to your child after the parent-teacher meeting, be honest but also keep it positive. Suggest two things that they are doing well, and one area for improvement. If there are quite a few improvements to be made you might make the issue more generic, such as, ‘we would like to help you improve your concentration.’ From this statement you can list a few more specific problems that are occurring.
Renowned psychologist, Dr Andrew Martin, has some clear advice for parents who want to improve or maintain their child’s motivation to achieve. Some of his tips are particularly important in preparation for parent-teacher evenings. Firstly, encourage self-belief. Challenge the negative thinking that turns one poor result into blanket failure. Avoid comparison with others and focus on comparison with previous performance, and strategies for improvement which can be discussed with the teacher. Secondly, encourage persistence. If the road to success appears to go up a mountain, help your child break the journey into smaller chunks that the teacher can help identify. Finally, it is imperative that parents and students are realistic in their expectations in regards to their academic performance. Help your child set clear and achievable goals.
Ask your child to provide their own suggestions on how they could make some improvements; making a success plan in conjunction with your child helps them to feel empowered and in control of their own learning. If you have created a plan with the teacher, discuss this with your child so they know what the expectations are and implement it ASAP, and let any other significant adults in your child’s life know about these changes so that they can support your child in the same way.
Parent Conferences are such a valuable event on the school calendar for both parents/guardians and for teachers. They model to your child that the teacher/parent team is there to support them through their learning, encourage their growth and progress and celebrate their achievements.
Ongoing communication between parents and teachers is vital for student improvement. There is a wealth of evidence that indicates that positive parental involvement leads to improved student outcomes. Make the most of this opportunity with your child/ren to maximise their learning potential.
*This editorial was compiled with contributions from Kate McKenzie, Deputy Head of Teaching and Learning, Grace Lutheran College, Rothwell Campus www.glc.qld.edu.au, and Jane Elliott, Dean of Pastoral Care, Clayfield College www.clayfield.qld.edu.au.
This article was featured in Issue 44 of our printed magazine, published February 2021.