Here are some concrete illustrations (vignettes) of successful and unsuccessful conference techniques:
First: Let the teacher speak first and briefly express her concerns without interruption. Conferences are very short.
The wrong way to do it: The parent immediately expresses her dissatisfaction. She tells the teacher that her son is bored in the class and should be given more interesting assignments perhaps adding that he really should be in the Gifted and Talented Class.
The teacher becomes defensive and tells the parent that her son is not the brightest in the class and even does not do all of his homework assignments.
The right way to do it: The Parent Lets the teacher talk first. The teacher tells the parent that her son is doing well in the class and is especially talented in math and science. She says he does not seem interested in the language arts, however, and often fails to do his homework assignments in that subject. She is open to suggestions on how to help him.
The parent and teacher concur on some suggestions. The parent suggests that her family could make dinner an important time for conversation and communication. The teacher suggests that after dinner the family spend time reading a favorite book either together or by themselves instead of watching television. She says that she will give the child credit for a homework assignment if does this and talks about what he read in class.
Second point: Be positive in your comments.
Wrong way to do it: The parent says that her son did so much better last year but seems to hate school this year. She adds that nothing has changed at home.
Right way to do it: The teacher says that most of the children in her class love school but her son does not. She thinks it is because he does not get along with the other children. The parent says that she is glad that the teacher told her that because now they can think of some ways to help him. The parent asks the teacher what she has done in the past to help children like her son. The teacher says she has found that cooperative learning lessons and cooperative games have helped and that she will begin introducing them in her class. The parent says she has heard of the teacher’s success with these programs. The teacher suggests that the parent find an after school activity like art, music, boy scouts, where her son can be with children in a non-academic setting. The parent and teacher agree on a follow-up conference.
Third Point: Concentrate on the main issues.
Right way to do it: The teacher tells the parent that her child does not listen and can’t sit still in his seat. He doesn’t do his work. He doesn’t know his letters, can’t sound out his words, and can’t count. The only thing he can do is play. The parent, without being defensive says that it is important that she know all of this. She asks the teacher if there is anything else she should know. The teacher says that her child is not the only one not ready for real school. She says that this class is more unprepared than any other class she has ever encountered.
The parent asks the teacher if she thinks her child is developmentally ready for the program already in place. She asks that he be given diagnostic tests to pinpoint any obstacle. She wants to know if it is her child’s problem or the problem of this program. She asks if he should be given tests in hearing and auditory processing and an eye exam. After any testing, the parent requests a follow-up conference.
Fourth Point: Avoid labels. Keep discussion at a concrete level where action can be undertaken.
Right way to do it: Teacher says child is just plain lazy. Parent asks the teacher to describe her child’s lazy behavior. The teacher says he never gets his work done on time. The parent asks if what he does get done is correct. The teacher says she only looks at the finished product and grades that, not the steps in between. The parents asks if her child seems to understand the work when there are classroom discussions. The teacher says that when there are discussions. The teacher says that when there are discussions, he takess his time but usually participates well.
The parent says he talks about what he is learning in school and seems to understand and likes his class. The parent adds that her child has always needed time to learn something new and to complete tasks. When given the time, he learns and thinks things through and sometimes comes up not only with the right answers but with some creative insights.
The teacher says that is good to know. She suggests that maybe the three of them could sit down together and come up with some compromise. The teacher says the child could be helped to work faster when necessary and she would be willing to give him more time when appropriate.
In general, parents need to know:
1. If their child needs one or more of the following: more time, more repetition, more concrete hands-on activities, more talking it through, more discovering for himself, to work by himself, to work in a group, to be given step-by-step written directions.
2. What the possibilities are. They need to observe in classrooms, not only in their child’s but others, even those in different school districts.
3. How to encourage teachers, schools and school boards when they do it right. They should call, send notes and letters and by word of mouth spread the good news.
4. And above all, parents need to have fun and to find joy in this greatest of all adventures.