5 Important Questions to Ask at Your Next Parent-Teacher Conference
With an average 26.4 students in the typical Canadian classroom, it can be rare to get individual feedback and suggestions from your child’s teacher. Unless you’ve worked with the school to develop an IEP (Individual Education Plan) you likely glean your only insight into the classroom happenings through report cards and parent teacher interviews. And we all know how tricky it is to get accurate details, or any details really, from your child around the dinner table.
It’s exciting to hear how your child is excelling and learn more about their behaviour and accomplishments out of the home. Of course, the news isn’t always exciting. Though it can be challenging to learn that your child’s academic or social skills may need a bit of brushing up, without this knowledge you’re unequipped to help them.
5 Questions to Ask at a Parent-Teacher Interview
These five questions will help you tease out important details in your next parent-teacher conference, so you can support your child’s learning with the knowledge you need.
1. How does my child behave in class & with their peers?
Just like adults, children know how to modify their behaviour for different audiences and outcomes. To support your child’s development of appropriate behaviour, communication and social skills, you’ll benefit from hearing the teacher’s observations about their interaction with peers. Behavioural changes can be an important sign of reading and learning disabilities, as well as mental health challenges. Children who are feeling insecure about reading or learning, or socially uncomfortable, may tend to be withdrawn at school but chatterboxes at home, allowing their worries to go unnoticed on your part. Children with ADHD or autism might tend to display more social and classroom symptoms as they age and veer from their “average” peers.
Of course, social skills themselves are a key benefit of the school environment. On the other hand, they’re also one of the most challenging aspects of growing up and getting along in group dynamics. You’ll want to know if your child is struggling to socialize with kids their own age or experiencing conflict with one or more classmates, as they may not be communicating these incidents with you directly.
2. What is one area in which I could better support my child at home?
For a teacher tasked with supervising 20 to 30 children at a time, small changes in your child’s performance in specific learning areas may not immediately stand out on their list of classroom concerns. Especially if your child tends to get along fairly well at school, it can sometimes feel like you’re getting a pretty “cut and paste” report card. Your child’s teacher may have no immediate concerns, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for support or further engagement.
Asking this specific question helps you communicate your desire for greater detail and your wish to help your child work to their ability, prompting the teacher to consider any recent evidence that a particular content area or set of skills could use honing. If your child has an IEP, specifically ask the teacher whether the current IEP seems to be meeting their needs in the classroom or whether they feel more home support and/or modification of the IEP is warranted.
3. My child is wondering ______. (Communicate your child’s concerns or have them attend.)
Make time before the parent-teacher conference to review your child’s report card with them and ask questions about their experience and the teacher’s feedback. Try open-ended questions like, “Who have you been hanging out with lately?” or “Which class is your favourite this year?” Younger kids might hint at struggles like a “loud” classroom or “hating” a subject that can be mentioned to your teacher in order to investigate sensory, learning or social strategies.
Older kids may have concerns about classmates’ behaviour, the teacher’s expectations, or their own learning needs or challenges with subject areas. You might choose to attend the conference with your older child or teen present so they can communicate directly with your support, or relay their concerns to the teacher privately. Helping your child be an active participant in the school communication process shows that you value their opinion and have their best interests at heart, even when things are hard.
4. What do you see as my child’s strongest and weakest subjects or skills?
It’s not easy hearing that your child has been struggling to be attentive in class or that their homework hasn’t been up to snuff, but getting specific feedback on areas of strength and challenge can help you decide where to use your parenting energy. It can be a relief to hear that your child is doing well in one arena so you can zero in on what does require attention.
If, for example, the teacher tells you that your child’s work is tidy and well-written, overseeing their handwriting or editing probably isn’t worth the tension in your relationship. On the other hand, if your child’s teacher identifies a particular subject as more challenging, you can be extra attentive to any at-home work in this area or consider real life strategies to help reinforce these skills.
5. Can I tell you about what’s happening in our home?
If you sometimes feel like you’re only getting half the picture when it comes to your child’s education, imagine how it might feel from the teacher’s perspective to get “half the picture” of the home dynamics and life challenges. Even if your child has been sharing details of your recent divorce or the death of the family dog, your adult insight and concerns for your child will help round out the picture and even explain shifts in behaviour. The teacher may not want to risk invading your privacy by asking for detail and, depending on your child’s age, they may not be aware of major life changes or health updates at all or be unsure if the child’s shares are founded in reality.
Offering to inform them opens the conversation and relieves your child of the need to discuss these difficult topics with their teacher, while allowing the teacher to have context and compassion for your child’s behaviour and needs. As the other adult who spends nearly every day with your child, your child’s teacher is an important ally to help watch for changes in mood, attentiveness or socialization.
After the conference…
After the conference, take a day to gather your thoughts and communicate with your partner or co-parent, if you have one, about the teacher’s observations. Then, speak with your child to convey the teacher’s concerns and how you discussed supporting your child at home and school. It’s important for your child to know that you and their teacher are working as a team and interested in helping them feel confident and successful, not in “getting them in trouble.”
Stay in touch with the teacher between report cards if you have new information to share or have new concerns. When the next opportunity to meet arises you’ll be on the same page and better able to develop a plan to help your child.
What are some of your go-to questions for parent-teacher interviews? Share below!