ERIC Identifier: ED433965
Publication Date: 1999-09-00
Author: Clark, Ann-Marie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Parent-Teacher Conferences: Suggestions for Parents. ERIC
Parent-teacher conferences sometimes become a cause for concern for everyone
involved-children, parents, and teachers. Children just beginning their school
experience may be wary of the idea of parents and teachers talking about them
behind closed doors. Parents may feel uncomfortable about going inside their
child's classroom, sitting in small chairs, and listening to reports of their
child's conduct and class work. Teachers, especially in their first years of
teaching, may be uncertain about how to handle unhappy or critical parents. They
may feel uneasy telling anxious parents about their children's problems. This
Digest outlines ways to improve communication during parent- teacher
conferences. Suggestions are offered to help parents participate more
effectively in parent-teacher conferences dealing with children's behavior and
If children are experiencing
problems at school, it is important for parents and teachers to share the
responsibility for creating a working relationship that fosters children's
learning and development. Teachers can encourage open communication by letting
parents know when they are available and how they may be contacted, inviting
parents to participate in classroom activities, and eliciting parents' concerns
and interests prior to a scheduled conference. Parents can introduce themselves
early in the school year, letting the teacher know when and how they can be
reached and asking how they can begin to become involved in classroom and school
Open and frequent communication between parents and teachers helps to ensure
that the issues raised in parent-teacher conferences do not catch anyone by
surprise. Both parents and teachers benefit from being well prepared in advance
of the meeting so that the meeting is less emotionally charged and takes place
in a trusting atmosphere. Assuring parents of confidentiality also helps
maintain trust. It may be helpful for both teachers and parents to keep in mind
that for many parents, it is a fundamental part of the parenting role to be
their child's strongest advocate (Katz, 1995).
Conferences between parents and teachers may become a prime situation for
cross-cultural communication or miscommunication (Quiroz et al., 1999). For
example, if a teacher says that a child is outstanding in a subject, some Latino
parents may interpret this comment to mean standing out-a characteristic
considered undesirable by parents from a culture with a more collectivist
viewpoint. Asking for clarification of terms and more specific information may
help to improve understanding between parents and teachers. Some schools conduct
student-led conferences to provide children with an opportunity to critically
examine their work with their parents. However, for students experiencing
difficulties, parents may wish to request a conference alone with the teacher.
ADDRESSING LEARNING PROBLEMS
When discussing a child's
learning problems with the teacher, parents can try the following strategies:
CONSIDER THE CONTEXT. Ask the teacher to be specific about the problem and the
context in which the problem occurs. Children who experience difficulty in
learning may do so for many reasons. They may be experiencing frustrations with
peers, with family arrangements, or with specific subjects or learning
situations. It may be beneficial for teachers to pinpoint both strengths and
weaknesses that the child displays. Parents can then work with teachers to
identify specific situations in which the difficulty occurs. IDENTIFY WHAT
HELPS. Ask the teacher what is being done to help the child overcome the
problem. Ideally, the teacher has tried several strategies to help the child
overcome the learning problem. Sometimes small steps, such as moving a child to
a different place in the room or shortening an assignment, can make a
difference. Often children find it difficult to let the teacher know that they
do not understand what is expected of them. It may be helpful to have the
teacher talk to the child about his or her problem along with the parent. MAKE A
PLAN. Ask the teacher what you can specifically do to help the child at home.
With the teacher, list three or four concrete actions to do every day. It may be
as simple as a change in the evening schedule so that the child has 15 to 20
minutes of the parent's time to read together or work on math homework. A
regular schedule is usually beneficial to a child. A young child might benefit
from two shorter periods of work rather than one long session. For example, it
may be more effective to learn to spell 3 new words a night than to study 10 or
12 words the night before a test. SCHEDULE A FOLLOW-UP CONFERENCE. Before
leaving the conference, it is a good idea to agree with the teacher on what is
expected of the child, what the teacher will do to help, and what the parent
will do. Sometimes it is helpful to involve the child in these decisions so that
he or she can see that the teacher and parents are working together to help
alleviate the problem. A follow-up conference can be used to review the
effectiveness of the plan and to formulate a new plan, if necessary. Scheduling
another meeting after 3 to 4 weeks signals to the child that both parents and
teachers are highly interested in taking effective steps to help him or her
achieve success in learning. This strategy can serve to encourage a child who
may have become discouraged from repeated experiences of failure early in the
ADDRESSING BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
When addressing their child's
behavior problems, parents can try the following strategies:
THE BEHAVIOR. Ask the teacher to be specific about the type of misbehavior in
which the child engages. Aggressive behavior may be a child's way of getting
something from a peer rather than of intentionally bringing harm to another
person. Inability to follow directions may be a result of a hearing or language
problem rather than evidence of direct defiance of the teacher. It is helpful to
consider many possibilities when pinpointing the behavior in question.
THE CONTEXT. Ask the teacher to help determine when, where, and why the
misbehavior is occurring. Try to identify with the teacher any events that may
have contributed to a specific incident of misconduct. Try to take into
consideration anything that might be contributing to the situation: the
influence of peers, time of day, family problems, illness or fatigue, or changes
in schedule or after- school activities. Children may be more prone to
misconduct when they are tired or irritable.
THE TEACHER'S EXPECTATIONS. Ask the teacher to be as specific as possible about
what a child does that is different from what the teacher expects in a
particular situation. Sometimes, if the teacher assumes that a child is being
intentionally aggressive, the teacher's expectation of aggressive acts can
become part of the problem and can lead to a "recursive cycle" (Katz, 1995) in
which children come to fulfill the expectations set for them. Try to determine
with the teacher if the child is capable of meeting the teacher's positive
A PLAN. Ask the teacher what can be done by both the teacher and the child to
help solve the problem. It may be helpful to have the teacher call the parent if
the problem happens again, in order to discuss possible solutions. Parents and
teachers can look together at alternative short-term solutions. Often very young
children may not understand what is expected of them in specific situations and
may need added explanations and encouragement to meet a teacher's expectations.
When young children understand the procedures to follow to complete a task, they
may be better able to act without guidance. Knowing what to expect and what is
expected of them increases children's ability to monitor their own behavior.
A FOLLOW-UP CONFERENCE. Children are more likely to be concerned about improving
their behavior if they believe their parents care about how they behave. When a
parent shows enough concern to try a plan of action and then meet again with the
teacher to evaluate its effectiveness, the parent sends a strong message to the
child that he or she is expected to behave at school. It is sometimes beneficial
to include the child in the follow-up conference, too, so that the child can
make suggestions. Knowing that parents and teachers care enough to meet
repeatedly about a problem may be more motivating than any material reward a
child is offered (Kohn, 1993).
WHEN THERE ARE NO CONCERNS: QUESTIONS FOR PARENTS TO ASK TEACHERS
In some cases, parent-teacher conferences may not be very
informative, especially if the teacher reports that the child has no problems.
Some parents may repeatedly hear that they "have nothing to worry about." While
this may sound reassuring, these parents may come away without the necessary
information to help their children continue to make steady progress in school.
When parents anticipate such an outcome from a conference, they may want to be
prepared to ask some of the following questions:
What does my child do that surprises you? Very often this question can reveal to
parents what expectations the teacher has for the child. Sometimes a child will
behave quite differently at school than at home, so the parent may be surprised,
What is my child reluctant to do? This question may reveal to the parents more
about the child's interests and dislikes than they would ordinarily know. The
question may encourage the teacher to talk to the parent about the child's
academic and social preferences.
What is a goal you would like to see my child achieve? This question can serve
as a springboard for parents and teachers to develop a plan to work together to
help a child set and reach a specific outcome. Even well- behaved and
high-achieving children may benefit from setting goals in areas that need
improvement or in which they might excel.
What can I do at home to support what is being done at school? This question is
always appreciated. Teachers may have suggestions for parents but may be afraid
to offer unsolicited advice. The question helps create a team feeling.
Effective parent-teacher conferences take place
in an atmosphere of trust, where confidentiality is ensured and parents and
teachers treat each other with respect. When children have learning or
behavioral problems, it may be helpful to examine the context in which they
occur and then to formulate a plan of action. Sometimes it is helpful to include
the child in setting goals and reviewing the effectiveness of plans. Children
are more likely to succeed in school if they can view their parents and teachers
working together cooperatively.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Doner, K. (1996). My teacher hates me.
WORKING MOTHER, 19(9), 46-48.
Katz, L. G. (1995). TALKS WITH TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: A COLLECTION.
Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 380 232.
Katz, L. G. (1996). Building resilience: Helping your child cope with
frustrations at school. INSTRUCTOR, 106(3), 95-96.
Kohn, A. (1993). PUNISHED BY REWARDS: THE TROUBLE WITH GOLD STARS, INCENTIVE
PLANS, A'S, PRAISE, AND OTHER BRIBES. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Nielsen, L. E., & Finkelstein, J. M. (1993). A new approach to parent
conferences. TEACHING PRE K-8, 24(1), 90-92. EJ 469 327.
Quiroz, B., Greenfield, P., & Altchech, M. (1999). Bridging cultures with
a parent-teacher conference. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 56(7), 68-70.
Willis, S. (1995). When parents object to classroom practice. EDUCATION
UPDATE, 37(1), 1-8.