A New Approach For Parent-Teacher Conferences
Parent-teacher conferences are coming up and they can feel like deja-vu: Same kid, same feedback, different teacher. After hearing negative feedback from a fellow adult, there is the understandable temptation to give the “This is serious,” lecture. But as he waits for it to be over, it’s likely that he will either shut down or get defensive. More than “Your teacher and I want to help you,” it’s likely he’s hearing, “I am doing it wrong again. I need to work harder, go to extra help, stop disrupting and start participating.”
You know your child is basically a good kid with some areas for improvement, but after hearing a bad report, it’s hard to keep that perspective. So before your next parent-teacher conference, take a look at this plan that will help to get the school year going in a different direction.
Before you meet the teachers:
Get the schedule right and prioritize the teachers you want to meet with. This is where the conversation can begin between you and your teen. Be straight with her and say something like, “I’m going to conferences this week. Is there anything you would like me to know about, good or bad, before I meet your teachers?”
You can also ask him which teachers he would like you to see the most in his major subjects. This will give you a sense of who he likes, so you should make it a point to meet him or her. (It is not a bad idea to meet these people last, in case you need to end the night on a high note. Just something to keep in mind.)
If your teen is particularly insistent on you talking with the art teacher because that is her passion, then do it and don’t make any comments about it not being important. Make sure that you see the art teacher AND the chemistry teacher.
Ask specific questions: These nights can be very overwhelming for a teacher, so if you are getting a generic answer that speaks to a negative behavior like being disruptive, ask for clarification, and then write down the specific examples. Since kids can be different in each class, here are some specific aspects of your child you might want more information about:
- How is his academic performance? (test grades, projects)
- How is his work ethic? (Do he do his homework regularly? Does he put in effort?)
- How is he in class? (Does he behave? Participate?)
- How is his attitude (Is he on time? Engaged? Respectful?)
- Is he social? (Does he seem to have friends? Does he do well in groups?)
Take notes: If you hear something you don’t like, record it accurately so that when you go home and talk to your child, you are not making generalizations based on how you feel about what you heard, but rather what you actually heard.
If you got some bad news, separate for yourself what was actually said and how you feel. Debrief on the ride home, or better yet, go and meet with a parent friend, preferably over a coffee or a drink. I think this is especially important because talking things out often deflates the significance of a parent teacher conference–i.e. You are not a failure and neither is your child because he comes late to class or is missing homework. He will not necessarily be an irresponsible adult just because he is an irresponsible teenager.
(However, if you get some terrible news–i.e. Failing the class, extremely disrespectful or disruptive, there is a bigger issue to address here and I will follow up about that in an upcoming post.)
There is no faster way to shut-down than: “Every teacher said the same thing: you are lazy and you don’t work up to your potential.” So before you sit your teen down for a lecture, remember your notes and stick to just the facts. In the best case scenario, you will be able to communicate that he has some things to work on this year and you are there to help him improve, but you are not going to punish him tonight.
- “Your english teacher mentioned that you didn’t turn in 2 assignments this quarter. Do you know which ones she was talking about”?
- “Your chemistry teacher mentioned that you are late every day. He said that you do not misbehave otherwise, but you being late is a distraction.”
- “Your math teacher mentioned that you rarely participate and that you got a 65 and a 70 on your tests.”
And then before you start in about your disappointment, see if you can start a conversation about why. You might ask, “Did you understand the novel you read?” or “What do you have before chemistry that may be making you late?” or “I know math has/hasn’t been hard for you in the past. How are things going this year?” Whatever it is, excuses or not, listen with curiosity and see if he has language for his experiences. Maybe he had a soccer game the week things were due, or maybe he doesn’t understand Algebra, or maybe he is having a hard time getting to class on time because he has to stop at his locker.
The goal here is to communicate the problem without building towards conflict. To avoid defensiveness, present the feedback and then listen for what he comes back at you with.
There is a whole year ahead to improve on these behaviors and habits, and this can be a chance to promote connection. Let him know that you are there to help, not to reiterate the feeling that school sucks and the adults in his life are already disappointed in him.
I get why it’s tempting to vent all your feelings after being told that your kid is struggling or has a bad attitude. But if the goal is connection, laying into your teen is not the path. The best case scenario is that you communicate effectively enough that he gets the message that people are watching out for him, and those same people will hold him accountable to becoming a better version of his already already okay self.
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