Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences
Byline: J. Hope Babowice
For some parents, the childhood memory of parent-teacher conferences brings to mind teachers calling parents on the carpet for the student's academic shortfalls.
"I remember getting that nervous stomach feeling when my parents would go talk to my teacher," said Kristi Thompson of Libertyville, mother of kindergartner Ryan Thompson. In a few weeks, Kristi will be attending her first parent- teacher conference.
So much of what we remember from our school days is vastly different for our children, and Thompson and other parents new to parent-teacher conferences will be surprised to learn that today's conferences focus on partnership and positive feedback. From pre-K through eighth grade, the teacher collaborates with parents to construct the best possible educational opportunities for the student. Depending on the grade level, many conferences feature the students as moderators who present a portfolio of work that best defines what he or she has been learning.
Once in high school, students are expected to take charge of their academic progress, so parent-teacher conferences generally focus on areas of improvement. "It's a really important topic for us" said Nancy Holman, principal at Elk Grove High School.
Whether students are in pre-K or 12th grade, research shows that the best tool for academic achievement is parent and caregiver involvement. Judy Pappas, principal at the K-8 St. James School in Arlington Heights, sees the conference as a chance to align on the same team.
"Parent conferences enable parents to get a good picture of what's happening," Pappas said. "The parent has the opportunity to see the environment the child is learning in and begins to further develop a partnership with the teacher."
Parents can prepare for conferences by asking their child if they have any concerns about their schoolwork. Conferences last about 20 minutes, so making the most of the meeting means preparing notes. How is my child progressing? Is he or she mastering grade-level skills? How can I help? Let the teacher lead the conference and make sure there's time to address your questions.
"Any parent who simply comes to a conference is doing something great for their child by being involved with their child's school and showing their child that they care about how he or she is doing in school," said Katherine Crawford, fifth-grade teacher at West Oak Middle School in Mundelein. …