Parent-teacher conferences are an ideal opportunity to exchange information and to engage with your child’s teacher. As a parent, you bring information about your child’s interactions, behaviors, and experiences out in the world and at home, as well as previous experiences in school or daycare that might affect his performance in school. You also offer insight into what interests and excites your child. The teacher brings insight about how your child interacts with other children and approaches tasks in the classroom.
In September when the new year started your child may have been working extra hard to master difficulties to please the new teacher and be on absolute best behavior, by expending a great deal of energy, complying and remaining on task the whole day. While children can manage this for some time, eventually the excessive effort exacts a toll detracting from cognitive attention and performance, exacerbating low frustration tolerance, causing stress, and result in meltdowns as soon as your child enters the safety of your home.
At this point in the school year, the schools have raised the ante and if there are difficulties, they are more apt to emerge now than at the beginning of the year. The first parent-teacher conference may be the time when some of these challenges begin to emerge and may or may not be shared with you. Don’t worry! With a little forethought and some simple steps, you can leave the parent-teacher conference not only with information about your child, but as a partner with your teacher, and the recipient of skills and strategies to help your child succeed.
Most parent-teacher conferences last only 10 minutes, which is why preparation is so important.
Familiarize yourself with your child’s work. Look over their homework, if they have it, so you have a sense of what they are doing in the classroom.
Know their grades and have a sense of the school’s grading standards. Grading information is usually available in the school's handbook or on the website.
Talk with your child about what they love about school and the things that are the least enjoyable for them. You may find some really interesting information that you would not know had you not asked. For example, your child feels excluded at lunchtime or the child sitting next to him at the table is too noisy and detracts from his attention. This can be useful information to pass along to the teacher.
Prepare questions in advance and prioritize them. With only 10 minutes you want to make sure you get your most important concerns addressed.
If there is something specific that you want to bring up, let your child’s teachers know in advance, so that they are prepared. The more you prepare the teacher and the more you prepare yourself, the more you will be able to get out of the meeting.
Be ready to share strategies that have helped your child thrive in the past. Remember you and the teacher are a team in educating your child. If you have information that will help the teacher, feel free to offer it. But remember, the teacher is the classroom expert. Assist them, but recognize their leadership role.
Solicit Help. it’s a good idea to bring along someone who can listen carefully and take notes while you are having a conversation with the teacher. If you can bring a spouse, a parent or even a really good friend, it will free up your mind to talk to the teacher while someone else can concentrate on remembering. This is a really good way to ensure that while you are in the thick of the conversation, you are not losing precious tidbits that either you or the teacher have offered up.
Use those 10 minutes wisely. Listen and partner with the teacher to ensure your child’s success.parent-teachersuccesses
Start with a super positive attitude and check your negative emotions at the door. If you have had an unpleasant experience at parent-teacher conferences in the past, try not to pre-judge, and give the new teacher a chance to shine. The teachers are the experts in their classroom. My style is to treat them with respect, recognizing that my children spend the vast majority of their waking hours with them. The teacher is someone that you want to have as an ally.
The most important message to get across to the teacher is that you and the teacher are forming a partnership to help your child. If your child’s name is Charlie you can be “Team Charlie.” Talk about solving any problems and celebrating succeses together. Express curiosity about what he or she perceives as your child’s strengths and challenges.
If you disagree with something he or she says, do so respectfully, and ask for clarification and examples. For example, saying “tell me about that…” gives the teacher an open-ended opportunity to expound upon her observations and insights without your seeming unduly challenging.
Discuss the whole child, not just academics. Oftentimes social and emotional development is more important than academic success and may in fact either impede or support that success.
If you suspect there is an issue or if there has been one in the past, rather than waiting to see if the teacher brings it up, bring it up yourself, which gives the teacher "permission" to make observations she might have hesitated to share, which can waste precious time. At the beginning of the parent-teacher process, many schools err on the side of not raising the alarm because they do not know you well enough to anticipate how their feedback will be received. They want to have you as an ally and don’t want to repel you or lose you as a partner in the child’s education if they make judgments that you might feel are too harsh or too hasty. But, if you know your child has struggled with something in the past, it behooves you to bring that issue up to the teacher and address it head-on so that you can do what you need to do in order to move your child forward.
Listen for signs that might suggest that a consultation with an occupational, physical or speech therapist is in order to address concerns that surface in school that are beyond the skill set of educators. Keywords or concepts that a teacher may use include signs of a "weak core" such as "low muscle tone", slumping, lying on the floor, poor endurance or rapid fatigue. Refusing or avoiding activities may indicate that they are too challenging. Preschoolers should be enthusiastic about doing everything and not limit themselves to just the block corner. Self-isolation, difficulty sitting or participating in circle time or sitting in a chair may also signal the need to see an expert. Other key phrases to listen for include "overreacting" to noise, touch, proximity or smells; difficulty tuning into what’s going on around him; tripping, falling, clumsiness; touching or withdrawing more than other kids; difficultly "manipulating" small toys and writing/drawing utensils, and not understanding "body in space." If you hear these keywords and concerns follow up with an occupational, speech or physical therapist, or your child’s pediatrician.
Leave with an action plan.
Leave with an action plan; a clear statement of what you and the school will each do in order to facilitate your child’s development.
Send a grateful thank-you email after the parent-teacher conference with a recap of what was discussed and the plan of action.
Plan exactly how you will stay in touch. Schedule a follow-up to monitor how things have progressed. For example, ask “how can we keep talking about this?” or “Can you shoot me an email on Fridays to let me know how the week went.”
If needed, ask for in-class help or academic support. In-class help or modifications of assignments, such as breaking them into manageable parts may be what your child needs to succeed. Be your child’s advocate, learn what resources your school offers, and make sure you are maximizing them.
Follow up with additional resources if a teacher has expressed concern about things that are beyond her level of expertise. Schools do not make referrals lightly. If they have suggested that your child be evaluated by an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, or an educational consultant in order to gain more refined information to understand what makes your child tick and help get him or her on track, make sure you follow up. Providing outside support can bolster your child's and provide both teacher and student with strategies for progress--that's your end of the partnership. Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Speech Therapists prepare children to thrive in all of the environments in which they need to, including school. With a deep understanding of the whole child and kids’ needs in the classroom, experienced therapists are in a unique position to understand which expectations are developmentally appropriate, evaluate your child's underlying skills and bridge the gap between expectations in school and your child's abilities. My favorite way to get the process rolling is to observe students first in the classroom before they know me. There are unique challenges and supports inherent in each classroom including the teacher’s personalities and unique expectations, the class composition, and the social and physical environment. Therapy for children with challenges in school is tailored to help each child to meet his/her individual developmentally appropriate goals. To make this happen, in addition to providing one-on-one intervention, therapists partner with classroom teachers to infuse therapeutic strategies for your child that often end up benefiting all of the children.
HOW POTS CAN HELP
Founded by Dr. Chaye Lamm Warburg, POTS is the premier comprehensive pediatric therapy practice in Bergen County, providing cutting edge Occupational, Speech, Physical, Feeding and Aqua Therapy services to infants, children and their families since 1991. POTS has the most experienced, highly trained occupational, physical and speech therapists in Bergen County. We welcome you to schedule a free 15-minute consultation in person or on the phone so we can help you chart the best course of action. We find that not every child who is recommended for evaluation will need therapy. We partner with schools and parents to help children achieve best outcomes and we welcome the opportunity to partner with your family.
Written by Dr. Chaye Lamm Warburg, POTS Director