Whether you are the parent or the teacher, conferences can be stressful. I should know. I am a mom of six and have sat through my fair share of meetings with teachers, not all of them showers of glowing praise. I am also a teacher with over twenty years of classroom experiences, including probably hundreds of meetings with parents. Not all meetings happen for the same reasons, but there are some general rules for how to make the conference a success for everyone.

Remove preconceived notions or prejudices. 

Yes, we all have them (admit it!). Maybe your child has told you something (potentially out of context) or you think you know something about the teacher with whom you plan to meet. Maybe you already have a feeling this won’t go well, or you have previous experience with the same teacher. To the best of your ability, try to go into any meeting with an open mind; after all, each party ultimately wants what is best for your child to meet or exceed his or her potential.

Lead with something positive.

The best way to break the ice is not necessarily with a joke unless you’ve got a really good one. I find telling a teacher something my kid loves about his or her class helps, or if I can speak intelligently, something I love about their classroom or my kid’s reaction to the teacher’s class. Maybe all the teacher has are positive comments, but at least if there are any negative ones, he or she will know my kid (or me) doesn’t hate them. And this is not schmoozing…think of it as rapport-building.

Remain focused on the issue at hand, if one exists.

Sometimes, the meeting is just a meet-and-greet or a general open house. In that case, get your information and get out of there. Other times, it is a simple report of current performance and a chance to tell the teacher something personal about your kid. I don’t mean life-story, but his or her interests so the teacher gets to know your child.

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If the issue is performance or behavior, stick to what is happening or has happened and what to do moving forward. Kids do act differently at school, or away from their parents, so don’t be shocked or think the teacher is a liar. I have always been the kind of parent to recognize my kids aren’t perfect and sometimes do and say terrible things. If that happens, you gotta deal with it.

Make a plan for moving forward.

If your child is performing up to standards, as they say, plan to encourage your child and continue to support him or her at home with time and space to do homework. If your child is not performing well, plan to work with your child and his or her teacher to address the problem immediately, starting that day, with specifics, like checking the agenda or online class page for homework assignments and ensuring that your child completes them.

Decide how you will communicate with the teacher about how the plan is going, whether it be a short note in the agenda, an email or phone call. If the issue is classroom behavior, talk to your child about expectations you have for him or her and possible consequences if they are not met (yes, I do think kids should have consequences at home for bad behavior at school).

Above all, keep calm and choose your words carefully.
Obviously, you are attending a meeting and that shows your commitment and dedication to working together for your child’s benefit. Sometimes, this is where the common ground ends, but just like the rest of life, you have to deal with it and move on. Your child won’t have this teacher forever, but that doesn’t mean you should tell him or her off today! Seriously, you never know when you or your child may encounter this person in the future, so it is best to stay positive, even in the worst of situations.

Parent-teacher conferences are great opportunities to hear about our kids’ academic performance and potential, and also share what is great about our kids. It isn’t always academics. Teachers sometimes need reminding of this fact. If your conference doesn’t go as planned, hopefully the teacher will try to include you in some way as the year closes. Otherwise, you’ll get to try again next year. If it goes really poorly, you might want to involve an administrator if the issue is serious enough. Just follow my five tips and you’ll be enjoying summer vacation before you know it!

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