Research shows that students with parents who are actively involved in their education fare far better academically than those whose parents are disengaged. One important way to stay involved is to attend parent-teacher conferences. These brief meetings are an informal yet important way for parents to connect with their child’s teacher(s). Even with busy schedules, it’s important to make time for a parent-teacher conference. Forging a relationship with your child’s teacher gives you important insights into your child’s experiences in the classroom. More importantly, you send a message to your child that his or her education is important to you.

Parent-teacher conferences are not simply for parents who have concerns about their child. In fact, parents who have specific concerns may not want to wait for the scheduled conference if issues have already arisen. Teachers will welcome your inquiries and your desire to work through issues together.

Keep in mind, too, that parent-teacher conferences are usually brief. If you feel you need more time with the teacher, don’t hesitate to request a follow-up meeting so that you and the teacher have can discuss any important issues without time constraints.

Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your next parent-teacher conference:

  • Speak with your child before the conference. Ask if there is anything your child would like you to discuss with the teacher. Children are often unduly nervous about these meetings. Reassure your child that you are simply meeting his or her teacher and want to stay involved to make sure your child has the best possible experience.
  • Decide what you want to talk about. Keep a list of topics you want to address. You may also want to keep and maintain a folder with any of your child’s tests, assignments, or any other classroom work that you have questions about.
  • Make the most of your allotted time. Arrive on time and, if possible, do not bring your child or other children with you. Shut off your cell phone and devote your full attention to the meeting.
  • Bring a positive attitude. Share some of the things you like about what is happening within the classroom. If you have concerns, try not to phrase them in a negative manner. Putting the teacher on the defensive is not productive for you, but more importantly, it is not productive for your child.
  • Listen first, and with an open mind. Listen to what the teacher has to say first before you raise any issues. Often what the teacher has to say will alleviate some of your concerns, and that leaves more time to get on to other topics you want to address. Pay attention to the teacher’s observations about your child without being defensive.
  • Ask questions. After you’ve listened, refer to your list and/or folder and ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Remember that the meeting is about your child. Keep the focus of the meeting always on your child, not on you or on the teacher. Just as you would not expect a teacher to tell you how to parent, you do not want to tell the teacher how to teach. Teachers welcome the support of parents to achieve what is best for the student within the classroom and with parental support at home.
  • Work together. Let the teacher know that you are willing to work with him or her to reinforce any necessary approaches at home. You want the teacher to know that if there’s a problem, you want to work together as a team.
  • Discuss preferred methods of communication. Ask the how the teacher would like to be contacted—by phone, email, or a note. Be sure your child’s teacher knows that you want to be available as well, and how to best contact you.
  • Ask how you can be involved. Teachers know parents are busy; after all, most teachers are working parents too. Whether you work full-time, part-time, or not at all, involvement is about being aware of what’s happening with your child’s education. Being involved can be as simple as asking what you can do at home to support what your child is learning at school, or as complex as asking if the teacher needs help planning events or enlisting other parents to help organize needed classroom supplies.
  • Speak with your child about the conference. Though there are some issues that may not be appropriate to discuss with your child, talk with him or her about the relevant aspects of the conference. Children also need positive feedback, even if it’s as simple as, “Your teacher enjoys how curious you are.” Finally, ask your child again if there are any concerns about his or her classroom experiences. Remind your child that he or she is your main priority, and that both of you are a team as well.