How to Get the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences, sometimes called family conferences, are often a parent’s main point of contact with a child’s teacher and the broader school community.

Some schools require students to attend with a family member, while others limit the conference to the teacher and a parent or other caregiver. Conferences usually occur two to four times each academic year and are often mandatory.

Unfortunately, it’s common for these conferences to only last 10-15 minutes, so once you’ve reviewed a student’s grades or narrative assessments, there isn’t much time left to explore concerns. In addition, because the schedules are so tight, any conference that runs over its allotted time can cause a cascade effect that makes the entire evening extend beyond everyone’s patience. For these reasons, it’s helpful to come to the conference with clear expectations and concrete, limited issues you want to address.

Questions to Guide the Conversation

  • What do you see as my child’s strengths in school?

  • Where is there room for my child to grow academically, artistically, or socially?

  • I’ve noticed that my child is struggling with X. How can I effectively support his learning outside of school?

  • What goals have you and my child set for this next quarter? For the year?

  • Are there specific concerns that we haven’t addressed tonight? Can we make a follow-up appointment to discuss these?

What to Keep in Mind

The goal of these conferences is often just a check-in, an opportunity to foster a relationship between the teacher and the family. Given how short the meetings are, it’s most effective to save longer discussions for a separate, individual conference between you and the teacher. You’ll both have more time to devote to the conversation, without all of the pressure and distraction of the 25 other families who have to get in that night. It also gives you a chance to have these conversations without your child present, if that’s appropriate, and to prepare any additional issues you want to bring up.

Conferences change as children get older, so be prepared to adjust your approach as they move up in grades. Once students reach middle school, it’s important to think about strategies to encourage buy-in on the part of your child. Adolescents are famous for being focused on short-term goals, so use the conference to help your child create a series of steps towards longer-term goals you share. If she is allowed to attend, ask your child what she wants to achieve in the next quarter. Work with the teacher to map out a plan to reach these goals, and ask your child if she can see herself taking these steps.

If the conference takes place with just the teacher and you, ask where he sees your child heading. Teachers often see a side of our kids that we don’t at home, so you can learn a lot about teens in these meetings. Families and teachers can be strong allies in supporting student learning. These conferences provide a great opportunity to learn about your child’s achievements and challenges, and to form an alliance with her teacher that will support her continued growth.