The annual rite of parent-teacher conferences can create anxiety for all involved. Parents may be afraid to hear bad news about their child or offend the teacher. "They also often replay their own educational experiences," says Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a Harvard University professor of education and author of a new book, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn From Each Other. Her suggestions for a smooth meeting:
Set a positive tone. First, share with the teacher what your child likes about class. This way, she'll be more receptive when you later make suggestions for working with your child.
Listen closely. Your goal is to ask for details so you know which areas need work. If the teacher says something generic like "Sam can be a handful," say "We'd love to hear a story about that. Can you tell us how you noticed this trait?"
Ask for guidance. Be curious as opposed to challenging. Seek the teacher's insights on how to solve a problem.
Offer suggestions tactfully. Tell stories that showcase your child's abilities and add a little background by saying, "At home, we've found that Annie responds best when we..." Then conclude with "Do you think that would be helpful?" By couching suggestions in the form of questions ("Maybe Annie would pay closer attention if she sat up front?"), you foster a sense of collaboration with your child's teacher.
Make a plan. Together, define what the teacher will work on in the classroom and how you can help at home. Discuss how you will keep in touch to track your child's progress -- whether it's by phone, e-mail, or follow-up meetings.
Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the September 2003 issue of Child magazine.