Questions to Ask During Teacher Conferences by Julie Shullo

Teacher conferences are an important time to connect with your student’s teacher(s) and learn more about how he/she is doing both academically and socially.

How is my student excelling? What are his/her strengths both academically and socially?

It’s easy to go into parent conferences wanting to know any areas where your student might need extra help, but it’s also important to identify the areas he is showing success. Using your student’s strengths can be a wonderful way to navigate any areas of weakness. For example, if your child excels at art, but struggles with reading comprehension, incorporating art into his reading could be a great way to boost his understanding. He might take notes after each page/chapter that he’s read and sketch the main points. Or while taking history nights, having him code his notes with symbols that he’s drawn to remember key information. Knowing his strengths is also a great way to build his confidence and help him continue to excel by encouraging practice in these areas.

How is my student doing socially and emotionally at school?

Teacher conferences are a great time to get another perspective of your child. Her behavior at home may be very different from her behavior at school. Getting the teacher’s perspective is a way to better understand your child’s emotional well-being as a whole. For example, it’s typical for teens to begin to develop their independence and want more privacy. Parents may be concerned that their teen is suddenly isolating herself to her room in the afternoons. If the teachers report that she’s social and happy at school, it may just be typical behavior as she develops her independence. However, if the teachers also notice that she’s suddenly isolating herself from the group, this change in behavior could be cause for concern. A school counselor, psychologist, or other professional may be necessary. On the same note, if your child is happy at home, but easily upset at school you may need to find out what’s triggering his emotions at school. Is something difficult for him? Is he struggling with his peers?

Are there any areas where my student is struggling? 

Conferences typically occur 6 to 8 weeks into the school year. The teachers are in the process of getting to know your student and beginning to notice any areas that may be challenging for him. They may be academic, organizational, social, etc. It’s important to find out specifics from the teacher. For example, if your son is struggling with passing the timed test for the multiplication unit, find out how he’s specifically struggling. Is it due to a lack of understanding of multiplication? Is it because he’s easily distracted and unable to focus during the timed tests? Is it due to a weakness in his fine motor skills, and writing his answers down takes him longer? When discussing a student’s weakness, it’s important to identify the correct area so that the proper supports can be put in place. If he knows his facts, but takes longer to write them down or is easily distracted, a computer test or oral assessment might be a better gauge of his understanding. But if he doesn’t understand the concept of multiplication, he may need some re-teaching or tutoring in order to address the problem and support him. For a teen student, if she’s failing English, find out why. Is she missing homework assignments, but doing well on the tests? Is she struggling to understand the material? Is it do to her essay scores? If it’s missing work, she may need to use a planner to keep track of her assignments or a structured time to complete her homework so that she doesn’t procrastinate. Weekly emails from the teacher notifying her (and you) of missing assignments might be a solution. If she needs writing support, the teacher may have office hours for her to get additional support. Or the help of a tutor could be beneficial. The more specific you can get on her areas of weakness, the more targeted support the school (and you) can provide for her.

How can we work together to support my child/teen?

Having a team approach to supporting your student is essential to his success.  Now that any areas of weakness have been identified, together you can develop a plan to support his areas of weakness both at school and outside of school. If the teacher has noticed that specific supports/prompts/strategies are effective, then these may be things that could also be done at home to reinforce his learning. For example, if your student is struggling with organization and the teacher notices that he does well when given a visual checklist to help him organize his materials, providing a similar visual checklist at home will reinforce and help him generalize this skill. Likewise, if you know of something that works well at home or an area of particular strength for him, share this with his teachers. They may be able to incorporate into his classes somehow.

How will we monitor my child’s/teen’s growth in this area?

Depending on the type and severity of any weaknesses, it may be appropriate to schedule a follow-up meeting/phone conference in four to six weeks. At this time, you can determine the effectiveness of any interventions that have been in place. Teachers (and parents) are busy. Scheduling a time to meet again will help hold everyone accountable and ensure your student is getting the supports she needs. If the area of weakness isn’t too much of a concern, an email follow-up with the teacher or closely monitoring her grades online may be all that’s necessary.   

Teacher conferences are a great way for you to gain insight into your child’s strengths, emotional well-being, and any areas of weakness from a professional’s perspective.  As a team working together, you can support your child’s development and provide the supports he needs to have a successful year! 

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