Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this and jot yourself a few notes.
By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.
Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.
Go prepared – Good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.
Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.
Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.
Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. Still good to consider where there is overlap.
Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).
Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more or move forward together.
Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.
If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.
Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.
Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.
Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.
If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request a later way to touch base with teachers.
Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).
Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.
Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.
Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.
Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.
Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.
Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.
Bring extra paper and pencils – Nice to have on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.
Bring tissues – Someone may cry.
Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.
Take a few notes throughout the conference time – The teacher taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.
Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.
Speak plainly – Best to avoid any educational jargon.
Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.
Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.
Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say “We are working on John using gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.
Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation so it’s not a one-sided listing.
Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it or might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.
Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making or guessing at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.
If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.
Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.
End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive. All the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.
Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions or a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.
Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.
Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.
If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.