Caregiver-Teacher Conference season, albeit exciting, can create anxiety. As caregivers, we want to make sure our children are seen and heard for who they truly are and not necessarily for what they can do or produce. Spring conferences present the perfect opportunity to see your learner’s world from their teaching team’s lens to ensure that your goals and expectations are matching one another’s and that your learner is on a positive path to end the year with confidence and security. Here, we provide a few tips for how to make the most of your conferences now and in the future to ease any stress that you might experience throughout the process.
Start with Why
As Simon Sinek so eloquently states. “Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes.” It is important, no matter what, to always start with thinking clearly about your purpose and intentions for the Caregiver-Teacher Conference. Typically, as caregivers, our why is that we want to secure our learners’ path to potential and help them feel confident and successful all the while. Sometimes our why might also involve learning more about how our learners learn best so that we can support them at home. Whatever your why may be, once it is clear, you might need to sprinkle in self-reminders along the way to maintain clarity and your priorities as the conversation unfolds.
Start with an informal conversation to get to know more about your child’s teacher and to build a connection. For example, ask how their conferences have gone thus far or if they have plans for the weekend/over Spring Break! Keep in mind the teacher’s perspective – you and the teacher both have your child’s best interests in mind, which will allow you both to keep him/her at the forefront of the discussion. Read your audience to gauge their receptivity to your communication, their interests and how you can balance both to make the most of your conversation. Always keep in mind, of course, that the caregiver-teacher relationship is a partnership with the ultimate goal of supporting your learner to reach his or her full potential.
In order to reduce potential anxiety and to feel equipped for the conversation itself, it is important to keep these quick tips in mind:
- Review assignments, grades and any progress reports.
- Before the conference takes place, find an opportunity to sit with your learner as he/she does homework in each subject.
- Understand their strengths and thought process first-hand.
- Chat with your learner to gauge their feelings about the school year so far. Casual settings may encourage more discussion than a formal sit-down.
- Talk with other caregivers, past or present, from the same classroom about experiences.
- Make a list of questions to ask and have your take prepared for discussion. Resources for creating a list of questions can be found:
- Don’t forget to bring a notepad, pencil or pen, samples of your child’s work and any concerns so that you cannot just feel prepared, but also can reflect on the discussion points later.
We are all busy juggling the multiplicity of responsibilities we have as caregivers, but it is imperative to put aside a brief window of time (approximately thirty minutes) to remain fully present throughout the conversation. Ways to self-check that you are staying engaged involve active listening (physically leaning in, for example) and communicating both verbally and nonverbally (i.e. smiles, nods, etc.) throughout the entire meeting. Personally, I like to take notes even if I feel secure with my ability to recall the takeaways so that I make extra sure that I am focused each and every minute during the conference.
After the meeting, follow-up strategies to continue the conversation should be one of your first priorities. End the Caregiver-Teacher Conference by scheduling the next formal point of contact. If unsure, feel free to ask the teacher how he/she prefers to communicate (email, note, phone calls, etc.) and then follow up with a thank-you note of some kind. It is never too late to reconnect and follow up as questions arise, so please do not hesitate to re-engage in communicating with your learner’s team whenever you feel it is necessary to do so. Educators recognize that there might not be as many organic opportunities to connect during drop off/pick up/events during the pandemic, so reaching out electronically is completely understandable.
At the end of the day, try to keep these principles from the Harvard Family Research Project in mind for productive and effective communication in every Caregiver-Teacher Conference:
- Best intentions assumed
- Emphasis on learning
- Home/school collaboration
- Examples and evidence
- Active listening
- Respect for all
- Dedication to follow-up