I still remember waiting for my mom to return from parent-teacher conferences, anxious to hear what my teachers had to say about me. Not every high school holds conferences, but for those that do, it often feels like speed-dating. Parents schedule 15-minute slots online with each teacher. The teachers are set up in the cafeteria or gym with parents going from one appointment to the next based on the ringing of a bell. Some schools say students are welcome to come while other schools require student attendance.
No matter how conferences are set up, these meetups are a great opportunity for communication–if you use it wisely, says Margaret Miller, a former dean of students and a Spanish teacher in Mountain View, California.
“A conference brings out overall what your student is doing at home when it comes to studying habits, and provides the teacher’s perspective as to what’s going on in the classroom,” says Miller. “The goal of the conference is to create an opportunity to foster communication with their teacher and to help students come up with ideas of how to become more successful if they are having difficulties.”
Parent-Teacher Conference Preparation is Key
This means that parents and students need to prepare for conferences, and Miller believes students should attend conferences if possible.
“The skills your student learns by being part of a parent-teacher conference are the same skills needed for job interviews, and helping your teen prepare is all about teaching them how to go in with a glass half-full attitude,” says Miller.
Here’s the pre-conference strategy Miller recommends:
- Ask your student how they complete homework for each class.
- For each class, ask your child to write down what is going well and what they think is challenging for them.
- Ask your student to write a question or two for each class. For example: What are some ways I could be more successful in this class?
- Tell your student it’s okay to express any frustration they may have in the class, and help them express this constructively.
Ask, Don’t Tell
Part of this preparation is showing your student how to take charge. You can do this by asking for their input instead of delivering statements to them, adds Miller. “Instead of saying ‘I think you really need to,’ say ‘I’m wondering what you think might help you learn math,’” says Miller.
Questions to Ask the Teacher
Whether or not students attend conferences, Miller suggests attendees ask these three questions:
- What type of learner do you think my student is?
- Do you feel my student is reaching their potential in your class?
- What kinds of things do you think my student could do to improve their performance in your class?
One last tip: Don’t invite fear into this meetup by telling your teen, “We’re going to get a list of all your missing work,” says Miller. The goal is to leave the conference with more confidence and a solid game plan for success.
Looking for more tips and tricks on how to handle the high school transition?
Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.