Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

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 – It’s 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.

During

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 also 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. It’s 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 and 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.

After

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 to touch base with teachers moving forward.

For Teachers:

Before

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 – It’s nice to have these on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, it’s best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – For 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 – It’s best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, it can be 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 they’re 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 having John use 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 you 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, it’s 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 note. It’s all the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions, 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 down any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, it’s 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.

 

Parents, Please Assume Positive Intent from Teachers

Child with teacher drawing in playroom

It’s the start of a new school year. This may be your first year of preschool, or your third year at an elementary school. Wherever your child is in their school career, there is always the possibility of your child having difficulty in the classroom or with the program. When this happens, it is often the teacher bringing the issue to the parents’ attention. Unfortunately many parents first response is to kill the messenger. This is an unproductive way to start. It’s better for parents to take a deep breath and realize the teacher is almost always also working with the child’s best interest at heart. The teacher may be wrong, there may be great disagreements about how to move forward, but they are likely coming from a good place. Believe me, I preach this to teachers as well. Parents almost always are working with good intent.

When I taught preschool full-time, we had a three-and-a-half year old that was exhausted and fell asleep the minute he laid down at naptime everyday. By state guidelines, he was not to be given any activity for the first 30 minutes to keep him awake, and was then allowed, if he fell asleep, to sleep the full two hour rest period. This made the parents unhappy because on days he slept the full two hours, he was wide awake at home until 11:00 p.m. despite the consistent 9:00 p.m. tuck-in time. On weekends, he didn’t nap, made it through the day and fell asleep easily at 9:00pm. The teachers weren’t trying to make life harder for this family, they were following the state guidelines. The parents weren’t trying to ruin the teacher’s or their child’s day, they wanted a bit of sanity in the evenings at home. Sure, it’s a difficult situation, and one that didn’t work itself out until the child was in an older classroom with shorter nap requirements, but teachers assuming parents want to exhaust the child and parents assuming teachers are just being rigid wouldn’t help the matter.

When there is a disagreement with teachers or the school, it is also good practice for parents to use their most positive language when speaking about this in front of their children. If they are at all aware of the situation (and they are), it is best for parents to say things like, “we are working this out with your teacher. She is being helpful,” or, “we’ll make a good plan with the school. These things take time,” rather than throwing the teacher or school under the bus. However it works out, your child will likely be with the teacher in some way moving forward, and you want them to keep a positive attitude with that teacher in particular and about school in general in the long run.

Types of Preschools: From Our Panel Discussion

I learned so much at our recent panel discussion on types of preschools, and am excited to share this with you. Each year we invite speakers from a variety of area preschools to speak about their philosophy and the importance of their approach. Each also talks a bit about what happens in the typical day of a child at their school. I’ve included a few highlights as well as contact information from the various programs.

Nature Immersion Preschool – Discovery Woods

Think: education through nature. If you have an appreciation for the outdoors, Discovery Woods provides a perfect environment for children to learn literacy, math, social studies and science through an outdoor curriculum. Their indoor program provides inquiry based learning with teacher-child negotiated projects while their outdoor program encourages a deep study of the local environment. An overall goal is to build early learning habits and dispositions to create a life-long learner.

Laura Champe Mitchell, Parent and Office Coordinator

Vienna, near Wolf trap

www.discoverywoods.org

Play Based Preschool – Country Day School

This school provides a play-based program that nurtures the the whole child and looks at individual progress. Over the preschool years they introduce academics in engaging, play-based ways. There is a strong focus on daily life and social skills. I am partial to Country Day, I enjoyed being a teacher and then a a parent there.

Wendy Jones, Parent Educator

6418 Georgetown Pike in McLean 22101, 703-356-4282

www.countryday.org

Cooperative Preschool – Sleepy Hollow Cooperative Preschool

Sleepy Hollow is a cooperative preschool that has a parent run board and parents working in the classrooms to support the classroom teachers. The focus for two year olds is is to help them find a sense of security in their first experience away from home. The threes and fours enjoy a child-interest driven curriculum. Added benefits of cooperative preschools often include a community of like minded parents and a chance to make lasting friendships as parents spend so much time working together.

Mary DePippo, Parent

7610 Newcastle Drive in Annandale 22003, 703-941-9791

www.sleepyhollowpreschool.com

Montessori Preschool – Brooksfield Montessori

Montessori is known for providing rich work materials that support math, language, practical life and sensorial development during independent time. Children work and meet challenges at their own pace. Brooksfield provides this classic montessori experience and adds imaginative play, creative dance and spanish.

Mary Anne Duffus, Founder

1830 Kirby Road in McLean 22101, 703-356-5437

www.brooksfieldschool.org

Reggio Emilia Preschool – Beverly Hills Church Preschool

In a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool, teachers are trained to watch, listen and learn from children to build the cirriculum around the class interests and strengths. Teachers help children to fully explore and expand on their ideas through a project centered approach. Children are also encouraged to work together to enrich the group and individual learning process. There is also a strong focus on open ended art.

Kelley Organek, Director

3512 Old Dominion Blvd. in Alexandria 22305, 703-549-7441

www.bhcpnet.org

Waldorf Preschool – Potomac Crescent Waldorf School

Waldorf is known for their open-ended all natural materials. They are focused on building a child’s imagination and creativity while laying strong foundation for later academic challenges in the preschool years. The experiential approach builds an intrinsically motivated learner.

Alice Trembour, Teacher and Director

923 South 23rd Street in Arlington 22202

703-486-1309

www.potomaccrescentschool.org

High Scope Preschool – Columbia Baptist Preschool

Columbia Baptist is newly becoming a High Scope program. High Scope strives for hands-on teacher and child initiated activities across five areas including literacy, social and emotional development, physical development, arts and sciences. Teachers observe children across experiences and note their progress through Child Observation Records. The program provides an exciting learning environment to challenge the individual child.

www.columbiabaptist.org in Falls Church

Hosted by – Parenting Playgroups

Our own Preschool Play is a small, play based program open to children two to four years old. Children participate in open play in the preschool classroom, two art projects, a sing-along, movement game, snack and story time each day.

Rene Hackney, PhD.

Falls Church and Alexandria, 703-237-0733 or 703-922-0044

www.parentingplaygroups.com

Five-Year-Old Concerning Behavior at Home and School

Hi Dr. Rene,

Please help, I have a five-year-old boy whose behavior is pretty bad at school. He is spitting and trying to bite other kids! I dont know why he is doing this because he gets a lot of our attention and loving all the time. He is finding it hard to take instructions and discipline at school. We do find it hard to discipline him at home too. I’m at my wits end, and don’t know what to do to help him with it? Please, can you help? I have tried time outs in the naughty chair and taking toys or his laptop away from him. Nothing seems to be working.

Sincerely,

Agnes

Dear Agnes,

There are two main issues to address here. The first is finding a consistent discipline plan at home. The second is to enlist help to best address the behaviors in the classroom. I am going to point you to good resources for both.

You can learn a positive discipline approach by reading, taking live workshops or online classes. Good books include

  • Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
  • The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer and McKay
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
  • Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Bailey
  • Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm and Respectful Boundaries by MacKenzie

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a parenting workshop on positive discipline. In the DC area there are classes through our Parenting Playgroups office (www.parentingplaygroups.com), the Parenting Encouragement Program (PEP at www.pepparent.org) or SCAN (www.scanva.org).

There are also many online services which offer positive discipline workshops. This includes ours at Ask Dr. Rene (www.askdrrene.com), Positive Parenting (http://soullightcreative.com/positiveparenting/) and Positive Parenting Solutions (http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/) among others.

Quite a bit more information is needed to provide a helpful answer about his behavior at school. The first thing I would do is take a parent-teacher conference and ask for as much description of the behaviors as you can and request that the school develops a specific plan to address him. This likely will include an objective observation. I often provide observation services to schools and families in our local area. Request that an objective professional provide classroom observation time and a teacher interview. This could be done by your school’s guidance counselor or school psychologist or a hired, private school psychologist. This person should be able to provide a list of recommendations for what is needed in the classroom. It could be there is a learning concern or social skills difficulties that is impacting classroom behavior. It could be that a fresh pair of eyes can contribute more than the teacher’s current view. Be open to listening to any and all recommendations.

I would be happy to provide more specific answers to the school and home situations if you’d like to send more detailed questions.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Parent Tips from Teachers

This time of year, I provide a lot of teacher trainings at area preschools and grade schools. I have been listening the last two weeks and wanted to share some tips from these teachers for parents as we all start the school year.

  • Know the school’s policies – This means, read the handbook. If you have follow-up questions, please ask. This can often save time and frustration for all. The more everyone knows the plan and is on board the better.
  • Offer to help when you can – If you have some free time, even after school hours, your offer to help is always appreciated and often accepted. There are so many ways teachers can put you to work from cutting art supplies at home, to organizing a craft cabinet, to reading at story time or helping in the lunchroom.
  • Be on time – Teachers often have set activities during the drop-off window. It tends to ease separations if children arrive to the same activity each day. Children who arrive late may also miss valuable information and have a harder time completing morning work.
  • Let teachers know if there are changes at home or other concerns – It can be very helpful for teachers to be aware of changes and stressors like a move, lost job or significant illness in the family. This can help explain changes in behavior or participation. It is also helpful if teachers are made aware of issues such as frequent aggression or learning difficulties.
  • Plan playdates with all the kids in the class at least once (ok, this one is mine) – The idea is to have a bit of time to connect with each classmate at some point during the year.  This can go a long way towards helping your child socially by making everyone a familiar face and someone they can sit with or ask to play.
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