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For Parents: Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

PTConf

Have you seen this all over your favorite social media platform? A teacher is your child’s biggest cheerleader in school, make sure you are a team!

Welcome to September, which means slightly cooler weather, Johnny Appleseed, visits to the apple orchard, and amazing apple pies.  For those of us who work in schools September also presents one of the most anticipated weeks of the school year: Parent-Teacher Conferences.  It is well known that many parents and teachers communicate more consistently through e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook but the individual one on on conference is a sacred time in our year.  Here are a few tips to help navigate your parent teacher conference, and help you leave feeling like you know everything about your child at school.

Be Prepared to Listen

Although fall conferences happen within the first quarter of the school year, your child’s teacher has gathered a lot of information and wants to share it with you.  Teachers will share important progress indicators, these are usually not grades, to help you paint the picture of where your child stands within the same age and grade peer group.  LISTEN! The progress indicators shared are many times more important than an actual grade. Take note to the expected performance for this time of year and where your child is performing.  This is the type of data teachers use consistently to make decisions about learning experiences in the classroom.  Sure, grades are important; however, unless you really understand what the grade represents there is little difference between an A or C.  Many teachers will also share their insight on how your child is growing socially in the context of school.

Be Prepared to Ask Questions

You are going to have questions, and your teacher wants to answer them.  Most often we hear parents report they feel like there is never enough time to ask their questions.  My son’s teacher sent home a request for questions prior to the conference so she can ensure there is enough time to talk about what is important to us.  If you have specific questions, communicate them prior to the conference.  This is a big tip – a teacher can tailor the conference to your needs if there is information you want to discuss.  You can do this via e-mail, voicemail, or write a note.  In our school we have 15 minutes per conference, and I know that isn’t adequate time.  I plan to prioritize the questions I have to make sure we have an opportunity to talk about my biggest questions.  The rest can follow up in an e-mail, a follow up phone call, or an additional time to meet if necessary.  Remember, teachers are available to you all year long!

Thank Your Teacher

Being a classroom teacher shouldn’t be thankless job.  No matter what your questions or concerns, be thankful.  Showing genuine gratitude for the work teachers do every day should never taken for granted.  A simple, “Thank you for all you do!” means so much to a teacher.  They definitely deserve it!

Sincerely yours,

HMG

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A Parent’s Guide for Back to School

If you are like me, you spent a few minutes this weekend visiting Target or Wal-Mart gearing your kids up to return to school.  As I was standing in line, I looked around at the other families with their carts full of #2 pencils, Crayola crayons and colored pencils,  folders, notebooks, binders, dry erase markers, Kleenex, and Clorox wipes and it reminded me of all our families preparing to return this week.  So, here are a few tips to start the school year off right and keep it going in the right direction.

A Parent’s Guide for Back to School:  3Tips for a Successful School Year  

Establish a Routine

This is the most important tip to discuss!  Children, and most adults,  thrive on structure.  Younger children depend on routines to learn successful habits.   I encourage parents to work together with their school aged children and create a checklist or agenda to outline their responsibilities in the morning, after school, and the evening.  When parents allow their children to be involved in the process of establishing school routines, its focused on responsibility and ownership which increases effectiveness.

Our evenings go a little like this, after dinner the kids take a bath and brush their teeth.  Then once we have pajamas on we choose our outfits for the following day and put them on top of the dresser, so we know where to find them in the morning.  Then it is bedtime, but not before we enjoy a story or a chapter in one of our favorite books.  As you can see, by making some of the most contentious decisions in the evening while everyone is awake and not sleepy or grumpy, we’ve decreased any opportunity to make small decisions a big deal.  This makes our morning easier to manage, and decreases many of the morning power struggles before the kids get to school.

After school we are much more laid back.  We choose not to do homework right after school.  I realize my six year old has just spent a full day in a structured environment, so we take some time and space to relax and play.  We usually decide on a whim if he wants to do homework before or after dinner, and whatever he chooses is when we do it.  I think by giving him the choice, again, it give him buy in and a little control over the decision.  Then our evening routine starts again, and once the kids are asleep we head down to make and pack lunches for the next day.

Create a Partnership with your Teacher & School

Take the first step to open the channels of communication with your child’s teacher.  Sure, there are ice cream socials and back to school events which allow parents a sneak peek into the classroom.  I encourage you not to stop there.  Within the first few weeks of school reach out and schedule a time to talk on the phone or send a quick e-mail.  Share with the teacher the best ways to get in touch with you, and encourage him or her to contact you whenever needed.  If there are specifics you’d like the teacher to know about your child, communicate them.  I’ve observed so many parents use the wait and see approach with teacher communication.  Communicate as often as needed to make you feel as if you have an accurate pulse on the classroom and your child’s progress.

If possible, find a way to volunteer.  Whether this is consistently or only when you have time off work, it is so important for your child to see you invested in his or her learning process.  Ask the teacher where and when help is most needed, and make it work.  You won’t regret it!  I have heard parents say, “I don’t think my child’s teacher likes volunteers.”  I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who would turn down another pair of adult hands, even if it is only every once in a while.  If you feel more comfortable volunteering outside of the classroom get connected with the PTO and find out what opportunities might be right for you.

This is too important not to mention – please never let your child hear you speak negatively about a teacher or the school.  This undermines the work of the school and creates unnecessary questions in the mind of a child.  If you have questions or disagree with something, reach out to the adults involved and find a solution.  Many times, just gathering all the facts can provide clarity and direction.

Stay Connected & Informed

Many schools and teachers use newsletters and/or maintain websites to provide parents with as much news, information, and upcoming events as possible.   Most websites have the opportunity to sign up for the listserv, which sends you an email at an address of your choice when new information is posted.  In addition, many now have Twitter and Facebook to expand the means of communication through social media.  If you are unsure how to get the most up to date and accurate information, call the school’s office or e-mail your child’s teacher.  Schools put a lot of information “out there”, but we know our families are as busy ever.  Find a way to get the information you need when and how YOU need it.

Good luck to all the teachers, students, and families who start school this week!  We are right there with you.  This is a great time to be an educator, and together with families, we will all find success in the end.

Sincerely yours,

HMG