Home-School Conferences - A Guide for Parents
By Andrea Canter, PhD, NCSP
Minneapolis Public Schools
Home and school—everyone shares the goal of helping
children learn and feel successful. Research has proven that
when parents and teachers work together, everyone benefits:
Students tend to earn higher grades, perform better on tests,
attend school more regularly, have better behavior, and show
more positive attitudes toward themselves and toward school.
School programs that include strong parent involvement are
more effective. Yet, collaboration between parents and teachers
is not always a smooth process.
Establishing an effective home-school partnership requires
efforts from both teachers and parents to create a trusting,
equitable relationship. Sometimes parents must first deal with
their own discomfort with schools and teachers. If parents
have experienced difficulty in school, then they may have to
overcome negative feelings that carry over from their own childhood.
If parents are new to the community, come from another culture,
or do not speak fluent English, then they may feel overwhelmed
by the prospect of attending a conference with their child’s
teacher or participating in a Family Night or School Open House.
Try not to worry or be afraid of a conference with your child’s
teacher. Even if you have talked frequently with school personnel
about your child’s failing grades or misbehavior, a conference
may be an opportunity to start a cooperative partnership with
Preparing for the Parent-Teacher Conference
At least once per year, and frequently each semester (or
more often), you will receive a notice of a parent-teacher
conference. Perhaps you have requested the conference yourself.
There are many steps you can take to assure that the conference
is productive and positive:
Assemble relevant materials. Gather appropriate
materials to help prepare for the conference. This can include
records from previous schools and school years, such as report
cards, test scores, immunization and other health records,
and past and current correspondence between home and school.
Review these materials. Make sure you have gathered
all the material you need. If anything important is missing,
such as a report from your family physician, try to locate
it and add to your file. As a tip, once you have started a
collection of your child’s records, it is easy to add
new material each year. At conference time, if you or the teacher
has specific concerns, you can then find whatever might be
important to share with the teacher.
Talk with your child before the conference. Children
should understand why the conference is taking place (is it
due to a problem or is it a routine meeting held for all parents)
and be assured that parents are seeking ways to help and learn
about what their children are doing in school. Find out if
your child has any specific concerns about schoolwork or relationships
Acquire the handbook for students. If your district,
school, or classroom has a handbook for students, be sure to
obtain a copy well ahead of the conference and review it. In
particular look for listings of expectations for behavior and
attendance so that you might anticipate what questions the
teacher may ask of you. Also, try to assemble a list of questions
you may want to ask the teacher if you are unsure of material
in the handbook.
Be familiar with your child’s homework assignments.
If your child has homework be familiar with the assignments
and how your child has been performing. Is the work getting
done? Does your child seem to understand the assignments? Does
the work seem too easy or too difficult?
Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your child’s
teacher. Is my child meeting expectations for learning
and behavior? How has my child performed on daily class assignments,
on tests, on homework assignments? How does my child compare
to others in basic skills? Does my child follow school rules
or does my child exhibit any behavior problems? If my child
is struggling in any area, what has been tried to improve
performance? Does my child pay attention in class? What else
can be done at home or at school? What are my child’s
strengths? Are there any concerns about my child’s
health, or adjustment? Are there materials or resources that
you would recommend? How does my child get along with other
Referral to special education. If you or the teacher
have concerns about referral to special education, find out
about your rights ahead of time. State and community agencies
and advocate organizations can provide this information, and
all schools should also have a printed copy of parents’ rights
under state and federal law.
Be ready to collaborate. Generally, teachers will
give parents bad news because they want to help the child do
better and not to place blame on the parent or child. But sometimes
the message does not come across that way, and parents naturally
become defensive and protective, maybe even angry. Assume the
teacher has your child’s best interests in mind, and
respond calmly and tactfully. Indicate that you are most concerned
with solving the problem and helping your child succeed. Offer
to meet further to discuss the problem and to work out a solution.
Remember that teachers are often as afraid to deliver bad news
as parents are to hear it.
During the Conference
Listen carefully. It is perfectly acceptable to
take notes. This is particularly helpful if one parent or other
involved relative cannot attend. It can also help you remember
details so that you can ask questions later.
Offer your perspective. Many times teachers will
ask you about your child’s activities at home and your
views of your child’s strengths and areas where help
might be needed. Even if the teacher does not ask, speak up
and provide your observations and any concerns.
You want to hear good news about your child. If
the teacher does not offer any positive comments, ask directly, “What
does my child do well?” And remember that teachers often
hear only negative comments, too. Be sure to try to offer a
compliment, a thank you to let the teacher know you appreciate
what they are trying to do to help your child—even when
what the teacher is trying to do may not be working.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you do not
understand something or feel your concerns are not being addressed,
then ask the teacher. Teachers and other educators easily slip
into jargon and forget that many parents are not familiar with
the terms they use every day. Ask what test scores mean and
what the results mean for your child. Stop and ask for explanation
of unfamiliar terms or programs. Not understanding can quickly
lead to misunderstanding.
Clark, L. (1996). SOS: Help for parents (2nd ed.). Berkeley,
CA: Parents Press. ISBN: 0935111204.
Lansky, V. (n.d.). Preparing for a parent-teacher conference.
ParentTalk Newsletter of the National Parenting Center. Available: www.tnpc.com/parentalk/preteens/pretee25.html
Levine, M. E. (1994). Educational care: A system for understanding
and helping children with learning problems at home and in
school (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.
Rimm, S. (1996). Dr. Sylvia Rimm’s smart parenting:
How to raise a happy, achieving child. New York: Crown. ASIN:
Parent Advocacy Coalition for Education Rights (PACER)—www.pacer.org
The National Parenting Center—www.tnpc.org
Andrea Canter, PhD, NCSP, is a school psychologist in
the Minneapolis Public Schools and is Editor of the NASP Communiqué and
consultant for special projects for NASP. This handout is
based on an article provided by NASP to the Teachers First
website for posting in October 2002.
© 2004 National Association of School Psychologists,
4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814—(301)