Jerry Buelter: How to make the most of parent-teacher conferences
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The first round of parent-teacher conferences is about to take place, and I thought it might help if I shared some thoughts that would make for a worthwhile experience for student, parent and teacher. The goal should be that everyone gains from this experience, and that it is more positive than negative. Remember, it is about your student. And by the way, it is best your student attend — personal information can and should be held outside of conferences.
The first round of conferences should serve as a way for parents and teachers to get to know one another while finding out the best way to communicate. It is good to remember that every teacher is unique just as every student is.
Here are my thoughts as to how to make this experience as positive as possible:
- Focus on learning. Both sides need to make the conference about what the student knows — or does not know. If you have information about what has worked in the past for your student, share it. It is perfectly alright to ask if your student is at grade level. If need be set some goals together that can be evaluated at the second conference.
- Students should be present at the conference. The student needs to share how they are doing academically and behaviorally. As parents, most of us are aware of how artful our young can be pitting one side against another. Being present helps with putting on a united front, a front that will benefit the student.
- Ask the teacher what they have observed in the classroom. It is hard to beat personal stories about what they have observed in class. The same is true as to what you have observed at home. Please try to stay objective. Together, you are sharing information that will better serve the student. By the way, our student’s input can be very valuable at this time. How about an example where your student demonstrated his/her strengths and one where your student struggled? What assignments proved to be easy or difficult while your student worked on it at home? What you can share does not just have to be about academic issues alone. How do they do emotionally? Socially?
- “Educationalese” is a term many of us in the field tend to use. Academic jargon — acronyms or programs can and are usually confusing — if you hear something you do not understand, slow the conversation down and ask. If it is important enough to bring up, then it is important enough to explain.
- If there is a disagreement between parent/student and school about an incident that took place, realize the truth likely lies somewhere in between. Approach your concern as someone looking for clarification, not as one making judgments.
- Tell the truth. This can be done without hurt feelings if we refuse to lay blame on one person or another. Look for solutions, not blame.
- Remember the 3 Bs of successful conferences. Be on time. Be prepared. Be respectful.
One point to remember with each of these recommendations is to keep the focus on the student. What can we do to make our experience as positive as possible? Happy conferences, and thank you for attending.
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Jerry Buelter taught and coached at Steamboat Springs High School for 20 years and served as an assistant principal and principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School for 17 years.
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