One of the best way parents can help their children in
school is to make good use of the opportunity provided to them in
parent-teacher conferences. It works even better if they are
made into parent-teacher-student conferences.
I believe that students should be involved in all such
meetings. It is the students learning that is under discussion,
and it is up to the students to decide whether they are going to
learn or not. Teachers can teach, and parents can support, but
if the students decide not to learn, for whatever reason, there
is not much anybody can do about it. Learning is not a passive
activity. Students must atttack the material and make it their
When the student is present in the conference, not only does
he or she get all of the information first hand, but it gives the
adults an opportunity to experience how each one responds to the
student. It also eliminates the middle man. When the student is
not involved in the conference, the teacher reports to the
parents how the student feels, which may or may not be accurate
and the parents report to the student what the teacher said,
which also may or may not be correct. I have been involved in
very successful conferences where first grade students were
present. It is never too early for students to take charge of
their own learning.
In all conferences, there should be an agreed upon purpose
and time for the conference. If the parents want another person
such as the remedial reading teacher at the conference, the
request should be made prior to the conference. If the teacher
is going to have another person at the conference, the parents
should be aware of this ahead of time. All benefit if everybody
is prepared in advance, and unexpected agenda items work against
If the stated purpose of the conference is to discuss the
student’s academic program and progress, the teacher should be
prepared with samples of the student’s work and a summary of the
student’s progress. The summary should include not only areas of
concern but also areas of strength. Above all, it should be
encouraging, not discouraging.
All adults at the conference should protect the student’s
self-esteem and nobody should be permitted to verbally attack the
student whether he or she is present or not.
The purpose of conferences if for all groups to communicate
effectively with each other for the good of the student. It
sometimes helps if the parents come to the conference with some
questions jotted down to keep the conference directed to its
intended task. Conferences should be free of educational jargon.
If parents do not understand what is being said, they should feel
free to interrupt and ask for clarification.
At the end of the conference, each person should summarize
what he or she understands was said and what conclusions were
reached. If the parties involved consistently have difficulty
understanding each other, it sometimes helps to have an extra
person at the conference to facilitate communication. This is
especially important if there is a language barrier.
All participants have an obligation to be constructive and
positive in their approach. At the end of the conference,
everyone should feel encouraged. If there were problem areas,
positive solutions should have been recommended and a plan of
action agreed upon. Follow up conferences may be scheduled
especially if a topic came up which was different from the one
agreed upon originally.
As a courtesy, remember that most teachers work on a tight
schedule, and conferences which go overtime use up the time of
other waiting parents. Take the opportunity to model cooperative
behavior by concluding conferences on schedule.