By Sandra Berger, M.Ed.
Source: Family Education Network

Whether you have specific goals to discuss with the teacher, use these five guidelines and five questions to make the most of your parent-teacher conferences. From our partner, the Council for Exceptional Children.

Five Guidelines to Take Along

  1. Plan ahead.
    The more prepared you are, the more you'll accomplish. Write out your questions in advance. Bring some of your child's work that the teacher might not have seen, especially if your child is a basement scientist, a closet poet, or is highly advanced in any academic area.
  2. Establish a feeling of teamwork.
    Be specific about some things you really liked about your child's school experience so far this year. Describe some specific things your child enjoys doing at home or in extracurricular activities.
  3. Listen carefully for positive or negative ways the teacher describes your child.
    Does the teacher think your child is stubborn or persistent, communicative or an annoying chatter box, the class clown or someone with a keen sense of humor, a pest or inquisitive?
  4. Clarify expectations -- yours and the teacher's.
    Model positive ways of acting that you want the teacher to use; for example, ask open ended non-judgmental questions to encourage many different responses.
  5. Don't assume that the teacher has a great deal of experience with educating gifted children.
    Some teachers believe that if a child gets one answer wrong, she's not gifted, and that giftedness equals perfection. Many teachers misunderstand a gifted child's tendency to learn by either moving through a subject more slowly and deeply, or by skimming the surface of many topics.

Five Questions to Ask the Teacher

  1. What are your academic goals for the year?
    Focus on your child's progress with respect to the teacher's class goals. If your child has already mastered subjects described by the teacher, discuss and give examples of the level your child has reached.

  2. What do you see as my child's strengths; can you give me some examples?
    Probe beyond "I enjoy having Johnny in my class."
  3. What are some areas that my child needs to work on?
    The teacher's answers might give you a sense of your child's accomplishments in areas that are not strengths.
  4. How would you evaluate my child's learning style?
    If the teacher hasn't thought about this, can you describe ways that your child prefers to learn -- for example, alone or with others, by seeing or hearing, in a very quiet space or with a radio playing? If you think your child is a visual spatial learner, it's important to tell the teacher, because many teachers assume students are linear sequential learners.
  5. How can I help?
    Determine the specific areas where you can help the educational process at home or by bringing materials to school for everyone to use. This is an excellent way to emphasize your child's strengths and share with other children who might have similar needs.

At the end of the conference, summarize the main points, especially if you or the teacher have agreed to take some action. When you get home, write a thank-you note, and share appropriate parts of the conference with your child.

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