How can you get the most out of Parent-Teacher conferences? First of all, go. The competition for your time is fierce, but investing time in meeting with your child’s teachers pays great dividends down the road.
Second, prepare some questions and talking points. Teachers will surely have some data to talk about, work to show and anecdotes to share, but teachers can’t possibly guess what information is most important to each parent. Your questions as a parent can help guide the teacher and help them learn about what is most important to you. Here are some suggested questions.
In what ways is my child acting with Kavod to you and other adults? How about other students?
The teacher’s description of how your child seeks assistance or what she does when she’s feeling a certain way will give you some awareness of the way she interacts with others and what her relationship is like with others in the school.
How does discipline work in your class?
Understanding how the teacher motivates your son to behave and how she reacts when he doesn’t follow instructions can help you learn about the teacher’s approach to discipline. In addition, you might learn useful tricks that you can implement at home, and you may be able to share useful insights with the teacher about what you have found works best. Consistency of approach in discipline helps your son learn consequences of pro- and anti-social behavior and helps prevent your son from developing the belief that he can act differently with different adults.
When does my child excel and what seems to be the biggest struggle for her?
This isn’t the same as fishing for compliments or being hard on your daughter. Rather, it’s an opportunity to learn what your daughter’s strengths and weaknesses are so you can harness her potential and address her challenges.
How does my child behave during davening?
At home, your son may be a committed davener or a resistant one. Learning about his disposition towards davening in school can help you support the school’s work at home. In addition, learning the school’s prayer selection and tunes can help you reinforce at home the positive habits he is learning at school.
What can we do at home to support the work you’re doing at school?
As long as this question isn’t an empty platitude, it can be a powerful way of strengthening the school-home relationship. Every time a parent asked me this question, I didn’t have to think hard to come up with something meaningful that I thought would be useful in advancing the growth of the child. Plus, I really appreciated the suggestion of partnership implicit in this question.
The most important lesson here is that it pays to prepare for the conference. Be prepared to listen as well as talk. Spend a few minutes before your conferences jotting down questions you have and topics you’d like to learn more about. It’s a good idea to take notes during a conference and to ask for an explanation if you don’t understand something. Remember, your time slot in the conference is likely very short (5-10 minutes), so you might not have time to speak about everything you had hoped to. Be respectful of the teacher and of the next parent waiting outside the class. If you want to continue the conversation, set up a time to do so in the coming weeks, and make sure to find out the teacher’s preferred method of communication. If the teacher has mentioned any areas that she’ll be working on with your child, it’s a great idea to check back with the teacher a few weeks down the road to learn how your child is doing.
Parent-teacher conferences are an important element along the continua of fostering a healthy school-home relationship and developing the academic, emotional and spiritual development of your child. Making the make the most of this opportunity maximizes return on your investment in your child’s Jewish education.
Rabbi Maccabee Avishur is the Associate Director for Teaching and Learning at Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership. He can be reached at avishur_yu.edu.
By Rabbi Maccabee Avishur