Let’s consider specific guidelines to help you communicate effectively with your child’s teacher.
Practice these guidelines, and your child will reap the benefits.
Guideline 1: Identify the purpose for the conference.
Is it to become acquainted? Is it to alleviate your concerns about your child’s attitude towards reading and school? Is it to receive a report card or test scores? Each of these situations is vastly different and requires different preparation.
Guideline 2: Communicate the purpose for the conference.
If you are requesting the conference, immediately tell the teacher the purpose. This helps to alleviate any preconceived ideas the teacher may have about your request to hold a conference.
Guideline 3: Arrange the conference at the teacher’s convenience.
The teacher now has sufficient time to plan and to have the necessary information at the conference. An unplanned conference can turn out to be a waste of time for both teacher and parent and cause feelings of frustration.
Guideline 4: Plan for the conference.
Write out the areas and questions you want the conference to cover. Combine, delete, and clarify these questions; and, finally, prioritize them. By using this process, your most important questions will be answered in a clear, succinct manner. Moreover, the teacher’s responses will likely be clearer and more to the point.
Guideline 5: Restate the purpose of the conference at the onset.
Try to stay on the predetermined topic(s) since your time together is limited.
Guideline 6: Display a positive attitude during the conference.
Be aware that not only what you say reflects your attitude, but also your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. A loud voice may imply dominance. Rigid posture may suggest anger or disapproval. Always listen attentively and show your enthusiasm.
Guideline 7: Remain open and supportive throughout the conference.
Try not to become defensive or antagonistic; otherwise the outcome of the conference may be unfruitful. Strive for cooperation with your child’s teacher. Even if the teacher presents a negative side of your child’s behavior or informs you of other problems, try to remain objective. This can be difficult when it is your child, but he may experience as many or more difficulties if you and the teacher do not try to find a way to work together to solve these problems.
Guideline 8: Make sure suggestions are provided to increase your child’s growth.
If your child is doing well, find out what you can do to ensure continued success and progress. If he/she has difficulties, make sure the teacher goes beyond merely pointing out a problem. The teacher needs to provide ideas for eliminating or reducing the difficulty. Many parents become discouraged or aggravated if a teacher points out problems, but does not provide solutions. Do not allow this situation to occur. If immediate suggestions can not be provided, then a follow-up conference is needed.
Guideline 9: Ask for examples of daily work to better understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
By reviewing your child’s work, you will learn if progress has been made since the last conference. Have any weaknesses become more severe? If improvement has not been made, are other methods or materials an option? Inquire what you can do at home with your child.
Guideline 10: Clarify and summarize each important point as it is discussed.
Thus, both teacher and parent are better able to develop a mutual understanding and agreement. Let’s look at a conference in which a parent does a good job of clarifying and summarizing a major point.
Teacher: Kimberly has difficulties with oral reading. She is not reading smoothly and tends to read in a word-by-word fashion. If Kimberly reads along with a taped version of a book, her oral reading would improve. Can you provide Kimberly with taped versions of books?
Parent: Kimberly is a poor reader. Do you want me to make tapes of books so Kimberly can read along with the tapes?
Teacher: Yes, you can make tapes, but the public and school libraries can also provide you with tapes, cd’s and books. Also, I would like to clarify one point about Kimberly’s reading ability. She has some difficulty with oral reading, but I would not classify her as a poor reader.
Parent: Thank you for the clarification. Kimberly and I will work together on improving oral reading. We will check the school and public libraries for some books and recordings.
If the parent had not summarized and clarified what was heard in this conference, a misconception may have developed. By suggesting that she would record books for Kimberly, the parent was able to find out whether the suggestion was appropriate, as well as learning about alternatives. Notice that this parent summarized the conference at the end. As a result, both parties received the same message.
Guideline 11: Once agreement is reached, discuss the next topic.
During the conference, you may want the teacher to understand certain things about your child, or you may have a special request. Once your point is understood and the teacher has agreed, it is wise not to continue the same discussion. It may present new questions which may reverse your previous agreement. Once a decision is made, it is best to start discussing the next point. You will find the conference to be much more productive.
Guideline 12: Make sure you understand the information the teacher is supplying.
Often teachers use educational jargon, not realizing parents may not understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation or definition. Make sure when the conference ends you have understood all the information reported. If you are unclear or uncertain about any aspect of the conference, your child may not benefit and learning may be hindered. After all, don’t you encourage your child(ren) to ask questions when they do not understand? Simply follow your own advice here.
Guideline 13: Keep conferences short.
Conferences that run more than 40 minutes can be tiresome for both parent and teacher. If you can not accomplish all that has been planned, ask for another conference. By scheduling a future conference, you will have an opportunity to follow up on previous agreements and revise them, if necessary.
Remember, your child will benefit from an amicable, enthusiastic relationship between parent and teacher. One should function as the support system for the other. Afterall, this is one of the most important relationships you have as it relates to your child.