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Here's how you can get the most of out this fall's parent-teacher conferences
Some school districts across the U.S. are looking to change the format of parent-teacher conferences. Here's how parents can get the most out of the traditional conferences. - photo by Payton Davis
Educators in Wisconsin are asking whether traditional parent-teacher conferences truly help develop strong relationships between instructors and parents, according to The Capital Times.

At some schools in Madison, Wisconsin, three group meetings during the academic year where teachers meet all parents simultaneously might replace one-on-one conferences, and The Capital Times reported the idea solves issues with the traditional way.

"It uses the teachers' time very differently," said Nichelle Nichols, family, youth and community engagement director at Thoreau Elementary. "Instead of the one-on-one conferences where parents may feel rushed or teachers may want more time, this at least allows them to talk to the whole group at one time and helps parents network with each other."

But in places where parents only have the typical option, what can they do to make their conferences more effective?

According to NPR, they should focus on three major topics during the one-on-ones the child, the classroom and the future.

Telling teachers about issues at home that may affect their children's performances in school keeps educators in the loop, the NPR article indicated.

And my colleague Lois M. Collins reported likewise.

VitalSmarts, the company of authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, issued a report that detailed "five life-event areas where failure to communicate can damage a child's ability to learn," according to Collins. A death in the family, a major illness, a divorce or other family disruption, mood changes and possible drug use comprised the list.

A Chicago Tribune piece about the VitalSmarts report said not only does information about students' lives help teachers, but they'd prefer to receive it: 94 percent of teachers said it would be important to know if a child's parents were getting divorced.

However, just 23 percent of divorcing parents said they told their child's teacher, according to the Chicago Tribune.

As for "the classroom" and "the future" aspects of NPR's article, asking questions brainstormed before the session can help parents and teachers get past vague conversation, NPR reported.

Parents should keep in mind both academic and social aspects of the classroom when speaking to their child's teacher, and according to NPR, asking what they can do to lend a hand shows the educator they're serious about seeing progress in the future.

"Go in looking for an opportunity to get involved with supporting your child," Colleen Holmes, assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Erie, Pennsylvania, told NPR.

If teachers start using jargon during discourse, parents must put their pride to the side and ask for clarification, NPR's article quoted Karen Mira of a parenting magazine in Singapore as saying.

"Teachers can sometimes use educational jargon that may seem alien to you," Mira wrote. "Don't be shy to ask your child's teacher to explain what a certain educational word means."

According to a tip sheet issued by Harvard Family Research Project, going into the session with clear expectations alleviates stress, and a two-way conversation with emphasis on learning and discourse about opportunities and challenges should all come up. Parents should make sure progress, assignments and support learning at both school and home are touched on, the tip sheet indicated.
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