Successful Parent-Teacher Communication

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October 25, 2010 by middleearthnj

Schools tend to not require parent-teacher conferences past the elementary school grades. As a result, parents and teachers of tweens and teens often only meet if there is a problem, either in behavior or academics. However, the lack of parent-teacher conferences is a missed opportunity. Conferences are the time to learn more about your child’s learning style, relationship with others, what he’ll be learning and even about the teacher’s personality and teaching style. In addition, since parents and teachers know different aspects of a child’s personality, they must work together to solve problems.

How to Keep Communication Lines Open

It’s hard to know how to maintain a good level of communication with your child’s teacher. The first thing to remember is that you should never feel as though you’re being a nuisance. Whether you have concerns or questions, it is always acceptable to contact your child’s teacher. And don’t feel like you need to wait until a designated parent-teacher conference or until there’s a problem to touch base with the teacher. Even if you simply want to introduce yourself or say thank you, teachers welcome parental involvement.

That said, there are definitely preferred ways to reach the teacher. Do not expect to call the teacher during school hours and be put through to her. It’s best to ask the teacher the way she prefers to be contacted, or let her know what is a good way to get in touch with you.  If you leave a phone message for the teacher, be sure to identify whose parent you are, a general explanation of why you are calling, and that you would like to be called back. If you send a note in to the teacher, put it in a sealed envelope. Any notes not sealed will inevitably be read by your son or daughter. Email may be the best form of initial contact with your child’s teacher. The teacher can quickly answer it at her convenience, it offers a lot of privacy, eliminates phone tag, and can serve as documentation of the conversation. Do not hesitate to ask for a conference, but do let the teacher know what you would like to cover and approximately how long you think it will take.

Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

Be positive

It’s important to go into any meeting with a positive attitude. Stay open-minded – jumping to conclusions or asking accusatory questions will only make the teacher defensive. For example, ask the teacher why your son is having trouble in science, rather than tell her she isn’t teaching your son the right way. If you’re concerned about your child’s interactions with other children, it’s important not to assume the teacher isn’t doing anything to address the concern. Try to listen and respond respectfully throughout the meeting. Also ask your child’s teacher about her goals for the class – this is a positive discussion that can help you learn a lot about your child’s classroom experience.

Address Concerns

A parent-teacher conference is absolutely the moment to bring up any concerns you have about your child’s education or attitude toward learning. For example, if your daughter no longer wants to go to school in the mornings, ask if there are any social problems at school such as bullying. If your son’s grades are falling, ask the teacher’s opinion as to why that might be happening. This is your chance to share information with each other. Write down your questions for the teacher in advance and bring a pen and paper to write down the answers, so that you don’t forget.  If you have issues that will take some time to address, be sure to ask for extra time when you schedule the meeting. Finally, if there are any personal issues that are relevant, the conference is an ideal setting in which to discuss them. For example, if your living circumstances have changed or your child is taking a new medication, the teacher should know because it can affect your child’s learning.

Focus On Your Child’s Needs

Another purpose of a parent-teacher conference is to assess your child’s progress, assess his needs, and develop a strategy for learning success. Ask your child’s teacher to specify your child’s strengths and weaknesses and how they factor into his learning experience. Ask for advice on helping your tween overcome learning obstacles. Be sure to contribute information about your child that his teacher may not know. For example, if your child learns best through tactile methods, share that information so that his teacher may consider that when developing teaching plans. Advocate for your child. His teacher may spend six hours a day with him and know him within the school setting, but you’re with him the rest of the time and know him in a very different light. If there is something he needs or if something isn’t going well, make yourself heard.

Seek Your Child’s Input

Your tween or teen may have a question or two for his teacher that he’d like you to ask. Sometimes your children can bring up an important point or two that wouldn’t occur to you. Being involved can also help ease any anxiety your child may have when they know adults are talking about them.

When Parents and Teachers Don’t Mix

Ask an administrator to join your meeting if you and the teacher are having problems getting along. Sometimes you may need a neutral party to ensure that information is shared about your child in a positive way.

More Resources

About.com’s Parenting Blog offers a great list of questions you can ask at a parent teacher conference: http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/parent_teacher_conference_questions_to_ask.htm?nl=1

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