There is a book entitled, “The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right” by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. The following is a list of rules that could be in a similar book entitled, “The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Participating in a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference.” Most adults do not know the rules and thus most conferences are not productive. Since September is the month for many first conferences, now is the time for adults to learn and practice the rules.
Parents should be able to describe their child’s temperament and learning style so that the most effective program can be put into place.
The verb “to educate” means to “to draw out” “to develop”. It does not imply changing a child into something he is not. Each child is unique and should be treated uniquely not equally. Parents need not only to understand, but to accept their individual child in order to help him to develop to his fullest potential.
When parents describe their child to the teacher, they should do so in concrete, positive terms. The purpose of this description is not to have the teacher change the child but to have her accept him as he is. Parents should not describe what the child cannot do, rather they should describe what he can do. In order to do this well, parents need to know their child’s temperament and learning style.
To reach this understanding, parents can seek the answers to the following questions about their child:
a) Does he learn best by the use of concrete objects like pictures or models which him to visualize and to understand the whole concept?
b) Or does he do better when the concept is broken down into a step-by-step linear explanation with verbal cues?
c) Is he very active and gets distracted when there is too much activity and too many choices?
d) Does he work best in small groups?
e) Does he learn best when he can work for a short period of time and then take a break?
f) Or, does he like to work alone on one project for long periods of time without interruption?
Do these sentences describe him:
a) He loses everything and has so many interests he tends to go from one thing to another.
b) He likes to know what is expected of him and can memorize quickly.
c) He seems to understand everything but sometimes forgets the details.
If, after the parents describe their child, the teacher gives a different description, parents should trust their own judgment but be willing to explore with the teacher the areas of disagreement. Such a discussion may yield additional information which will be helpful to planning an appropriate program for the child.
Nobody should be permitted to label the child or speak negatively about him.
If someone at the conference says the student is lazy and does not try, another adult should challenge the use of that label. Labels give no useful information and are too abstract. Ask instead for a description of behavior. For example: John does not hand in his homework and comes unprepared to the class and is therefore unable to participate in the classroom discussions”. This is concrete information everyone can understand. It allows everyone to explore the problem and to suggest concrete, useful solutions, not punitive ones.
Conferences should be informative and free of educational jargon. They should be encouraging, not confrontational. Teachers and parents should be allies, not adversaries. Courtesy and respect are essential. At the end of the conference, each person should be able to summarize what was said and what conclusions were reached.
Students should participate in conferences since it is their learning that is being discussed and they must make the decision whether they will learn or not.
Parent-teacher conferences offer valuable opportunities for all the parties engaged in the educational endeavor to communicate with each other for the good of the student. You can make the most of these opportunities if you know and follow the rules.
Help your child have a wonderful, productive school year.