Handling School Conferences
If your child is having problems at school, step one is to set up a parent-teacher conference. Ideally, school conferences are a chance for parents and teachers to share information and develop plans for solving a student's problems. It's a good idea to have your child attend all or part of the meeting, too.
Behavior problems often stem from students being given work that is so difficult they give up or so easy that it fails to challenge them. They entertain themselves by making mischief in the classroom. Consult with the teacher about ways to ensure that the workload is appropriate for your child.
If you believe your child's teachers are assigning work that is too hard or have expectations that are overly challenging, plan to discuss ways he can get extra help or be given a more manageable workload so he can keep up. Similarly, if you believe the schoolwork is too easy and the expectations are too low, see if the teachers can provide more challenging work or make enrichment activities available.Conference Planning
Advance planning helps ensure school conferences are as productive as possible. Too often, parents hear a list of problems and complaints, and although they leave with a clearer sense of what is wrong, they don't know what to do to help make things better. Since teachers are so busy, school conferences are necessarily short. Therefore, how productive they are depends on your ability to make good use of your allotted time. Prepare a written agenda in advance and review it carefully to be sure that each item is an educational issue. Arrive early so that you have adequate time to park and find the room where the meeting is being held. Being ten minutes late may mean that half the time has been used up before the conference has even begun. When introducing yourself, simply say your name and relationship (mother, guardian, stepfather).
Nervous parents often have difficulty getting down to business, so by the time the initial pleasantries are finished and they feel at ease, there is little time left to discuss their child's educational needs. Remain on track throughout the meeting. Tangents are great tension relievers, but everyone is likely to end up frustrated with the lack of accomplishment unless you remain focused. While it is important to let the teachers know about any special problems or sources of stress that your child is coping with, refrain from asking for advice about child-rearing issues. Teachers are not parenting experts. It is fine to solicit recommendations about where to go to get help for personal and family problems, but don't expect your child's teachers to counsel you.
Productive conferences don't dwell on a student's problems; most of the time should be spent formulating solutions and deciding who will be responsible for implementing them. However, sometimes educators emphasize problems in hopes of convincing parents to take a particular action, such as allowing their child to receive special education services or attend counseling. At other times, the child's problems remain the focus of discussion because no one can quite pinpoint them or knows what to do to help. In that case, an educational evaluation may be needed. Alternatively, it may be necessary to schedule a second conference after everyone has had time to think about ways to address the problems.Productive Conferences
Before attending a school conference, create an agenda (see the following form). Jot down questions that you want to ask, list any unmet educational needs that you think should be addressed, and note your ideas for improving your child's education. Try to think about the kinds of classroom activities and assignments that have been successful at motivating him and helping him learn in the past.
Take your agenda, extra paper, and a pen to the conference so you can take notes. It is normal to be nervous during a school conference, and that can make it hard to remember later what was said. Record all of the recommendations as well as any decisions that are made.
School Conference Agenda
When it is your turn to speak, list your questions and share your ideas about how to make school a richer, more beneficial educational experience for your child. Share something that your child has liked or appreciated, such as a classroom activity, an assignment, or attribute of the teacher. Positive feedback strengthens the student-teacher relationship while providing important information about the kind of learning strategies that work well for your child. It is easy for teachers to focus on the deficits and difficulties of a problem student, but successful teaching requires building on the student's strengths. Most of the forms schools use for detailing individual educational plans have a space to list the student's assets and strengths, but completing this section is often treated as a mere formality. Be prepared to list your child's positive attributes during the conference, and ask the other participants to do the same. It's a good idea to have your child attend the school conference, too. He should be prepared to describe the kinds of the problems he is having and suggest solutions.