5 Tips to make the most of those fifteen precious minutes.
So you opened your kid’s backpack and found that crumpled orange paper asking you to check off the times when you are available to meet with her teacher. None of them are convenient, but you find one or two that you can make work.
Whether you relish or dread these meetings, if you’re taking the time to show up, you should probably do your best to make those fifteen minutes count.
After experiencing hundreds of these conferences, mostly as a teacher but also as a parent, I’ve learned a lot about how productive (and unproductive) they can be. Here are my tips for how to make this year’s conference a good one.
- Preparation is Key: These meetings are short, so you don’t have a lot of time for small talk or to ease into any important topics. Before your meeting, think about what you’d like to know about your child. Better yet, if there are questions you have, email them to the teacher in advance. That said, keep in mind that there may be topics that are too large to tackle in a fifteen minute meeting. If that’s the case, you may want to schedule another meeting for a later date. When you take the time to plan ahead, you’ll get better, more useful information from the teacher.
- Collaborate, don’t Challenge: Parents and teachers are on the same team with the same goal — getting your kid to graduation and beyond. Even if you are angry with how the school year is going, the issues might be related to other students, scheduling, space or curriculum, not the teacher’s incompetence or evil intent. As adults who are important in your child’s life, both parents and teachers need to focus on finding solutions, not placing blame or assigning guilt. Look at this conference as an opportunity to share information about your child that will help her teacher or school better serve her.
- Don’t talk about yourself: It doesn’t matter if you liked 4th grade or if you never got over your assigned bus seat from middle school. This conference is about your kid. If you have childhood memories that need processing, do the adult thing and get some counseling. I can’t tell you how many minutes I’ve watched tick by as a parent gives me the blow-by-blow of some perceived unfairness that happened two dozen years ago. Your stories might be funny, but they don’t help your kid have a better school year.
- Take it In Stride: I hate to break it to you, but there’s a chance what your child has told you about school is a lie. It doesn’t matter how good your kid is or how close you are, she is capable of lying to you. And the lies go both ways — which means the teacher may have heard terrible things about your parenting as well. I am a big proponent of including students in these conferences for this very reason. Not only is it satisfying to see them get tangled up in their own web of lies, it helps to see the golden triangle — parents, teacher, student — all in the same room so that they can get on the same page. If you find out that you have misinformation, don’t get angry, but work with the teacher to find out how you can get the correct information in the future.
- Make a Plan and Follow Through: If you followed the above and everything went great, you can skip this step. If you learned about or shared an issue that needs follow up, make a plan that works. Since the plan involves your child, he or she should be a part of it. Plans that require a lot of legwork on the part of the adults but exclude the student are not effective. Even young children can carry a small notebook or envelope in their backpack. Before you attempt to set up a plan for daily communications, consider that you probably won’t get good quality information from the teacher. I teach high school, and I will try to set up bi-weekly check ins. When I do this, I take the time to provide good, solid feedback about an issue. Also remember that you need to follow through with your part of the plan. Don’t agree to it unless you really are willing to take the X-box away or cancel weekend plans.
Most teachers are decent, good people. Assuming you are too, there’s no reason why you can’t have a great, productive conference that will help set your student up for success for the rest of the school year!
For more tips on how to help your kids succeed in school, check out the articles below: