A parent-teacher conference is a great opportunity to:
- start or continue ongoing conversations with your child's teacher
- learn how to help your kids do their best in school
- let your child know that what goes on in school will be shared at home
Parent-teacher conferences usually happen once or twice a year at progress reporting periods. They are brief meetings, only lasting about 10-30 minutes. Conferences are typically scheduled 1 to 2 months in advance. Most schools set aside specific dates and times for conferences, but if they conflict with your schedule, try to find a mutually convenient time. Otherwise, ask your child's teacher if you can schedule a phone conference instead. If necessary, divorced parents can ask a teacher to schedule separate conferences.
Other school staff who support your child's learning may attend the conference, too. An administrator might attend at the request of the parent or teacher if a problem or special need cannot be resolved by the teacher. In some cases, the student will also be asked to attend, but parents can ask for private time with the teacher as well.
Conferences focus on learning, although your child's behavioral and social development also might be discussed. You will probably hear feedback about your child's progress and areas of need. Other topics of discussion might include standardized test results, individualized education plans (IEP), and 504 education plans.
Before the Conference
Some parents may have been tracking their child's schoolwork and progress all along, and already know what issues are most important to discuss with the teacher. Some may have been talking with teachers at IEP or 504 plan meetings. For those parents, the conference is an opportunity to update each other on how the student is progressing. Other parents may be talking with the teacher for the first time.
Whether it's your first conversation with the teacher or one of many, it can help if you go to the parent-teacher conference with a sense of how your child is doing and what you want to discuss. Even if you know all is well, attending parent-teacher conferences shows your kids that you want to stay involved in their academic life, which can even help boost progress at school.
These tips will help you make the most of those important minutes at parent-teacher conferences:
- In the weeks ahead of a conference, check in with your child about how he or she is doing on homework and in each subject. Review any recent projects, tests, quizzes, report cards, or progress reports.
- Ask if there are questions or issues your child wants you to discuss with the teacher.
- Plan to bring something to take notes with (paper and pen or a laptop or other device).
- Write down a few things to share with the teacher — your child's interests, aspirations, favorite subjects — to help the teacher know your child better.
- Write down questions or topics you'd like the conference to cover. Depending on your situation, you may want to ask about:
- whether your child is meeting grade-level academic expectations (not how he or she compares with peers)
- if your child is not meeting expectations or is consistently exceeding them (you can request additional testing to diagnose any special needs)
- what the teacher sees as your child's strengths and challenges and how these are being addressed
- services to help your child grow as a learner
- making a plan in which the teacher checks in with you regularly if there is a behavior problem
- your child's work habits, independently and in large- and small-group instruction
- how your child gets along with other students in class and during lunch, recess, phys-ed, and other classes
If any school-related problems arise with your child, contact the teacher or other school staff via phone or email. Don't wait for the conference to address any serious issues.
During the Conference
Teachers usually meet with students' parents in back-to-back meetings, so try to be on time for your meeting.
At the meeting, remember to:
- Get contact information for the teacher and ask what the best form of contact is (letter, email, phone call, message via student-teacher-parent web portal, etc.)
- Take notes.
- Ask to see classwork and homework samples, tests and quizzes, and standardized assessment data.
- Ask your questions and share information about your child.
- Make the most of this time by focusing on your child's learning and avoiding the temptation to socialize and chat.
- Summarize the main points of the discussion to confirm details and any next steps.
After the Conference
To follow up after the meeting:
- Contact the teacher about any questions you didn't have time to ask.
- Review your notes about what you and the teacher will do to support learning, then make detailed plans about how and when you will help your child.
- If you still have concerns or do not agree with an evaluation, put your thoughts in writing and schedule a meeting with the teacher or an administrator as soon as mutually convenient.
- Check in with the teacher in a few months to follow up on your child's progress.
- Review what was discussed at the conference with your child, including any special learning plans, and share the positive comments the teacher made.
- Consider sending a thank-you note to the teacher and any other educator who took the time to attend the conference.
During the entire process, keep in mind that you and your child's teacher should have the same goal in mind: To help your child succeed in school.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2013
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