How to get an A+ at your child’s parent-teacher interview

Every parent of school aged kids has been there: parent-teacher interviews. From my many years of experience behind the teacher’s desk, I’ve learned that while most parents want to hear a recounting of their child’s progress, work habits and behaviour – exactly the same information that’s on the report card – they usually stop there.

While report cards provide a quantifiable account of a student’s progress, interviews have a much more important purpose: to give both parents and teachers the opportunity to connect and open a fluid communication channel between home and school.

Since opening these lines of communication, face-to-face, can be an invaluable tool for parents and teachers to get on the same page and work together to optimize a child’s success, here is a list of suggestions to help you make the most of that ten or fifteen minute meeting.

Connecting with the teacher, right from the start, sets the tone of the interview. My Bubby always used to say, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Instead of opening the interview on the attack or the defensive, try to go into the interview with an open mind and a goal of connecting with the teacher. Remember, some teachers might be really nervous to meet you even though they’ve done this countless times. Smile, make eye contact and come prepared with questions. If your interview time is on the later side, bringing the teacher a coffee or a muffin can be a lifesaver (I still remember the families I’ve encountered over the years whose kindness helped to keep me afloat). Now I’m not suggesting that you try to bribe your child’s teacher with sweets, it’s just that teachers have hours upon hours of meetings and they will undoubtedly appreciate kind smiles and open communication.

Talk to your child before the interviews.

In order for kids to take ownership of their academics, they should be involved! Learning is a partnership between home and school, so instead of viewing parent-teacher conferences as another report on your child’s progress, use them as way to talk to your kids about school and how they see their progress. Then, share that information with the teacher. The conversations, of course, should be age appropriate. Try asking a primary-aged student if they are happy at school or if there is anything that they would like the teacher to know. For elementary or middle school students, ask them about their friend groups and perceived areas of challenge. For high school students, talk about why they enjoy their classes and where they feel they excel. By opening the dialogue with your kids, you equip yourself with knowledge about your child’s feelings and attitudes, an important starting point for meaningful interviews.

Really Listen to What the Teacher Has to Say (and make notes)

Parents also get nervous for interviews and this nervousness often translates into parents who monopolize the conversation. I can recall many interviews over the years where I hardly got a word in edgewise. One father, a few years back, went on and on about how much his daughter was reading at home. He talked so much about how impressed he was with his kid that he never had a chance to hear about her sophisticated and insightful contributions to discussions or my concerns about her socializing during class. This doesn’t benefit anyone. Yes, parents are the experts on their kids, but so are teachers, who spend 5-6 hours a day with them, in both social and academic contexts. My advice? Pause, take a breath and listen to the teacher’s insights – it’s more than likely that you will something new and important about your child.

Prepare a general list of questions for the teacher. This list might include questions like,

  • What are some of my child’s strengths in your class?
  • What is your homework policy?
  • Is my child completing homework well and on time?
  • Does my child work well in class?
  • What are some of my child’s areas of challenge?
  • What strategies are you using at school to help?
  • What can we do at home to support you?

Ask about academics, yes, but also about attitude, social and emotional intelligence. Ask the teacher questions like,

  • How does my child handle challenges?
  • Does he/she exhibit resilience when faced with tough situations?
  • Does my child appear happy to be at school?
  • Does he/she work well in groups?
  • Does my child socialize appropriately?

If there are any identified areas of challenge, use the interview to get the teacher’s input on next steps and strategies you can use to help at home. Ask questions like,

  • How can I encourage my child to enjoy reading more?
  • What are some interesting ways I can practice math skills at home with my child?
  • How much should I be helping my child with their homework?

When parents come prepared for interviews with realistic expectations, an open mind and valuable questions, they leave with new insights and strategies to encourage their children, to support the work being done at school, and to foster growth and development in meaningful ways.

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