The Mindful Life™ Blog

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much”. Helen Keller. How to survive parent teacher conferences. Article by Dr. Kristen Race,

How to Make the Most of Your Parent Teacher Conferences

Gone are the days when teachers and parents had the time to mingle before and after school to discuss how kids are doing. As demands on teachers and their time continue to rise and the over scheduling of our kids creates a rush from the moment the school day ends, the ability for teachers and parents to communicate regularly has drastically declined.

Classroom webpages and group emails allow teachers to update parents on what is happening in the classroom, parents can track their kids grades, and you can even watch videos of your child working on a science project. While helpful in many ways, this type of interaction cannot replace face-to-face time with the person who is likely spending more time with your child than you are.

Most parents get only a couple of opportunities to sit down face to face with their child’s teacher and discuss their child’s progress. Often, we are capped at 15 to 20 minutes to learn everything we can about our child’s life at school. While we expect teachers to be well prepared for each conference, often parents do not take the time to do the same.

Being intentional about the knowledge you want to gain during these conferences is critical. The parent teacher conference provides you with the opportunity to gain the perspective of a trained professional who spends an enormous amount of time with your child. Being mindful about the way you plan for your child’s conference can go a long way. Here are a few ideas to help you get the most out of your meeting.

Before the Conference:

  • Talk to your child.
    Ask them what their teacher may say, what they like and do not like about school, and if they want you to discuss anything in particular with their teacher.
  • Talk to your spouse.
    Find out if they have questions or concerns prior to the conference so you aren’t surprised during your time with the teacher. If your spouse cannot attend, find out if they have questions or concerns for the teacher.Make a list of questions and concerns and bring them with you. Don’t rely on your memory, especially if the conference may bring up strong emotions. When our mind is in a state of stress, often everything we planned goes out the window. Arrive early. You don’t want to come racing into the school in a frazzled state of mind. Give yourself plenty of time so you arrive relaxed and ready to listen.

During the Conference:

  • Listen.
    Sometimes we get so involved in our thoughts about what we want to say that we fail to be present and really hear what the teacher is saying. Know that you will have the opportunity to speak your mind (remember that is what your list is for) but be intentional about actively listening. The teacher has valuable information that they want to share, so listen to them!
  • Keep an open mind.
    Parent teacher conferences can bring out all kinds of emotions. Remember the conference is an opportunity to work with the teacher as part of a team. If the teacher points out areas of concern ask them how they plan to help your child make improvements and ask how you can support their efforts at home.Ask the teacher how they prefer to communicate about progress. Do they prefer email, phone calls or a personal check-in. Make it as easy as possible for the teacher to communicate with you.Breathe. When our kids struggle we struggle. Often when concern is expressed about our child our brain interprets it as a personal attack. If you feel your blood pressure rising, the tears coming, take a few deep breaths. Give yourself time to reflect on what the teacher is saying, don’t feel you need to respond right away. One of my favorite quotes by Elizabeth Stone is “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

After the conference:

  • Follow up with the teacher.
    Check in on progress and let them know what you are working on at home. If there is something you forgot to discuss at the conference follow up with a note or phone call. Keep the dialogue going.
  • Talk to your child
    Tell your child right away about the positive things the teachers discussed and then talk about their suggestions for improvement. Create process-oriented goals with your child if you want to create a plan to improve behavior or performance.

Most kids and adults tend to think in outcome-oriented ways (i.e. what grade you received on a test or whether you won or lost a game). While your child may work incredibly hard, they still may not achieve the score they were hoping for on a reading assessment. Children who are more focused on the outcome than the process tend to display less task persistence (they give up sooner), less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions (felt badly about themselves when they didn’t get it correct), and worse task performance. Children who focus on the process are more persistent, don’t beat themselves up if they make a mistake, and ultimately perform better.

Examples of Process Oriented Goals include:

    • Read 20 minutes per night rather than read 3 books each month
    • Practice 5 one-minute math fact worksheets per night instead of complete the sheet in less than one minute
    • Practice spelling words on car rides instead of get 100% on the spelling test

Share your process goals with your teacher in an email, they might have additional process goal suggestions depending on what your child’s needs are academically. Make a fun process goal chart to ensure your child sticks with them. If you want to implement a reward system, reward the process instead of the outcome.

Parent teacher conferences are a great opportunity for parents and teachers to connect over shared goals and they’re a great reminder for all of us that together we can do so much!

P.S. If you’re interested in transforming your school community with mindfulness this year, please consider joining our brand new Mindful Life Weekly Wellness Program. It’s designed for teachers and youth professionals to practice alongside the kids that they work with, but it’s beneficial to all (parents included!). We’ve already welcomed over 800 people into this program in its first week. Won’t you join us, too? Cost is $99 for 37-weeks of simple mindfulness practices for adults and kids. Join the mindfulness movement here.

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