Twelve Tips To Connect With Teachers At Conference Time

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It's that time again! Parent-teacher conferences are coming. Are you nervous? Excited? Confused? It takes teamwork to raise kids. Teachers are part of the team, but sometimes it feels like you're on opposite sides of the fence. Connecting with teachers can help bring out the best in your kids. Here are twelve tips to make conference time a productive, team building experience.

1. Talk with your child before conferences. Ask: "What's the best thing and worst thing about school for you right now?" "What would be most helpful for me to know before meeting your teacher?" "How are you feeling about school, and what are you needing?" Listen more than you talk to draw out their thoughts.

2. Identify feelings and needs. Look at the situation with empathy for everyone's needs, (your child's, the teacher's, and your own.) This puts you in a better position to engage cooperation from all parties.

3. Be on time and end on time. You may want to linger to bask in the glory of your child's accomplishments, or stay to find resolution to additional issues. Rather than creating tension for the teacher and waiting parents, set up a follow-up phone call or meeting.

4. Solve problems by focusing on solutions. If you're dealing with an ongoing problem, follow these steps: a. Listen to the teachers concerns. b. Talk about your concerns. c. Together, come up with a list of ideas that would help to solve the problem. d. Agree on a plan of action. e. Set a specific date to evaluate progress or adjust the plan. If possible, include your child in the problem solving session. Kids enjoy following through on plans they help put in place.

5. Make specific requests, such as, "Would you be willing to move Ella's seat to the front row, so she can see the board more clearly?" It's easier for a teacher to be helpful, when you are specific about your child's needs. If your request is declined, discuss what other ways your child's needs can be met. The best solutions aren't always the first ones we come up with.

6. Communicate with respect to gain respect. Suppose you are angry over a teacher's actions. If you begin accusing, forcing, and condemning, you may or may not bully the teacher into complying, but you've lost either way. Be assertive, not aggressive. Instead of attacking the teacher, attack the problem. A mom shared this story with me. She said, "Ben's teacher made comments in front of the class, about his forgetfulness, including calling him 'the absentminded professor.' Ben was embarrassed and felt worse about himself and his ability to remember things every time she did it. At conferences I described the problem without attacking the teacher. I was relieved to see how eager his teacher was to be helpful. She even thanked me for bringing it to her attention. A few days later, Ben thanked me, saying things had gotten a lot better at school since conferences."

7. Take notes. Conferences can be frantic, especially in the higher grades when you meet with multiple teachers. It can be hard to keep it all straight. Jot down teacher contact information, and any suggestions.

8. Check your self esteem at the door. I waited in line to talk with my son's high school math teacher who said, "You son is a stellar student. That's all I have to say." I floated away from his table on a cloud. Next, I met the science teacher. She said, "Your son is disorganized, constantly late for class and behind in his project." I went from floating to sinking. I had to remind myself, "This isn't about me. It's about being helpful to my child." Keep your self-esteem high by not linking it to your child's performance.

9. Don't spiral down the tunnel of negativity. You'll suck the teacher down with you and your child will suffer. When you sit down at conferences, resist the urge to purge your complaints about your kid's poor manners and messy bedroom. Give the teacher insights into your child's passions or interests. What you focus on grows. While you need to be aware of negative behaviors, your energy is best spent focusing on what your child is doing right. Inspire faith, possibility, and the potential for growth. Improvement is a process. It doesn't happen all at once. Instead of expecting perfection, point your child in a positive direction, by focusing on what's going right. Encourage your child's teacher to do the same.

10. Teachers are people. When my youngest was in first grade, he used to think his teachers lived at the school. He thought their bedrooms were in the teacher's lounge. Sometimes parents also forget that teachers are real people, with their own personalities, temperaments and styles. Rather than criticizing one teacher for being less spontaneous or more reserved, than another, consider the value your child gains from learning to interact with each teacher's unique qualities. Look for the best in what a teacher has to offer, and you'll find it.

11. End the meeting by summing up what was said. Include any specific action steps you've agreed upon, and confirm any follow up that may be needed. Clarity relieves confusion.

12. Give appreciation. Teaching is a challenging job. After conferences write a letter or email specifically describing what you appreciate about the teacher. Your positive feedback is energizing and sets the tone for a more positive educational experience for your kids.

Marilyn Suttle presents parenting and work/life communication keynotes and workshops for corporations and associations. To receive her FREE e-newsletter: Life in Balance: Thriving Kids/Thriving Parents, visit: www.SuttleOnline.NET, or reach her directly at 1-248-348-1023.

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