A parent-teacher conference is a valuable opportunity for parents to discuss their child’s academic and personal progress.
Unfortunately, these important meetings are often held in the middle of a workday, with only a few minutes allotted for each parent-teacher interview. Having a game plan and knowing what questions to ask will put you in the best position to get the most out of the exercise for you and your high school student.
Why you should attend parent-teacher conferences
The parent-teacher conference is an important part of raising teenagers, especially if your child is experiencing stress or not realising their full potential. A meeting with the teacher is the first step to a collaborative partnership focused on the best interests of your child.
5 questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference
Asking open-ended, neutral questions about your child may provide more insight than if you start with specific questions about progress. It allows the teacher to tell you what they think is most important and keeps the focus on areas needing attention.
1. What do I need to know?
This is the broadest possible question you could ask, but it might also provide surprising answers. Without you asking specifically about test scores, homework or classroom behavior, the teacher will give you the information they feel is the highest priority for you to know about your child.
2. What can I do to help?
This question tells the teacher you’re interested in forming a partnership with them for the benefit of your teenager. It also shows them you’re supportive of their efforts. Your instinct might be to smother your child with support, but your child’s teacher should have constructive ideas about where you can help and where your teenager needs to step up.
3. What successes can we build upon?
It’s not unusual to walk away from a parent-teacher interview feeling deflated after hearing 10 minutes of ‘areas needing improvement’. Make sure to balance this by finding out what successes your child is having so you can encourage those results to keep happening. Parenting is hard enough without always being the bearer of bad news. Makes sure to come away from each interview with positive news, too.
4. What other support do we need to provide?
If your child is planning on attending university, you’ll want to make sure they’re on track during their high school years. Knowing they would benefit from things like tutoring, better study habits, or more sleep can go a long way to making sure they stay on course.
5. What is the plan to follow up?
Before you leave the interview, make sure to establish next steps, especially if there are areas of weakness in your child’s performance that need to be addressed. Get agreement on action items, with deadlines and ways to contact each other in future.
What NOT to do in parent-teacher interviews
Don’t blame the teacher
The parent-teacher interview is not the time to have a confrontation. If you suspect the teacher’s performance is having a negative impact on your teenager, make arrangements to address that out of the conference. With only 10 or 15 minutes for each interview, it’s nearly impossible to address teacher performance problems in a meaningful way.
Don’t ask about your child’s education
Teachers consider the word ‘education’ to be all-encompassing and open to many different interpretations. Instead, ask about your child’s learning for the year. This is something they can easily evaluate and report to you. It may feel like a lesson in semantics, but it’s better to communicate with the teacher using language they prefer.
Don’t ask if your teenager is enjoying the subject
High school teachers know better than anyone how difficult it can be to get information out of a teenager. Often they’re faced with a child who seems indifferent in class but find out later it’s been a favourite subject. High school students have all sorts of pressure to perform academically and they may respond by being reserved in class or feigning boredom in front of their mates.
What to do after the parent-teacher conference
Don’t give up hope if you get a bad report from one or even all of your child’s teachers. Using the questions here provides you a good opportunity to receive constructive criticism. They’ll also put you and the teacher on the same team to support your child.
Sit down with your child and help them construct a plan to improve. Even the most capable child may have trouble keeping positive in the light of criticism.
Murdoch runs free online Open Night events to help parents learn more about ways to support their child through school and on to uni. Consider them another tool in your parenting toolbox.