How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher

Conversation bubble about tips for the parent-teacher interview

Plan ahead to make the most of your time in a parent-teacher interview to help your child reach his or her academic potential.

“What is the best way to reach out and communicate with my child’s teacher?”

This is one of the most popular questions parents ask. Sometimes it’s because their first child is in the school system and they’ve never reached out to a teacher before, others have had difficult conversations not go as smoothly as they had hoped, while some families have a child with learning challenges and regular communication with the school is a key part of their child’s education.

How to prepare for a parent-teacher interview

One of the first things I tell parents who are preparing to reach out to their child’s teacher is to remember that they are a valuable member of their child’s educational team. Parents have known their child the longest and while teachers are obviously an essential and important component of their child’s education, parents bring valuable insight to the table. Parents and teachers can work together to support and help a child reach success.

Prepare as you would for a meeting at work

Have a productive discussion by doing a little legwork in advance. Prepare for your phone call or face-to-face meeting as you would for a  meeting at work. Write up a list of the topics you would like to cover and any specific questions you would like to ask. By taking a professional approach from the beginning, you are also less likely to be labelled as “that mom” or “that dad”. A focused objective helps keep the tone professional.

If possible, have copies of any documents you may want to share. They could be an academic assessment, or physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or speech therapy reports.  These can easily be referred to while problem-solving classroom situations and copies can be left with the teacher if you’re meeting in person.

Starting on a positive note sets a positive tone.

When the meeting begins, start on a positive note acknowledging what has been working or going well with your child. You could mention that you like the way the teacher communicates over Google classroom or that you have seen an improvement in your child’s math problem solving.  Starting on a positive note sets a positive tone.

Don’t be afraid to take notes during the discussion.  This will allow you to keep a log of your communications, to reflect on what was said at a later date and to share information with anyone who was not able to attend the meeting but would benefit from the teacher’s perspective. If you and your parenting partner are attending a meeting together, one can take notes while the other does more of the talking.

What to do if you disagree with your child’s teacher

Not all parent-teacher meetings go smoothly. Perhaps there’s an existing conflict or maybe a point of contention comes up in the discussion.  Keeping a calm and business-like tone can help everyone stay focused. This may not always be easy, but raised voices often break down communication.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions, especially if the teacher uses educational jargon.

Try to hear what the teacher is saying and listen to their comments and insights. Remember they have a different relationship with your child and can offer another perspective on the child’s ability to learn. Even if you disagree, it is important to hear their impressions.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions, especially if the teacher uses educational jargon. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. When parent and teacher are on the same page and reach an understanding, the discussion can move forward to finding solutions.

Never doubt the value that your opinion and input brings to a meeting. You are your child’s best advocate. Do not be afraid to find your voice.  Do not be afraid to use it.

What to do after a parent-teacher meeting

As the meeting concludes try to agree to measurable follow ups and a contact plan.  Maybe you agree that the teacher will email you in three weeks with a progress update?  Maybe you agree to call at the end of the following week to see how things are going?  Make sure you write your contact plan down; that provides accountability for everyone.

Parents and teachers can work together to support and help a child reach success.

If you have tried this approach a few times and you are not getting the results you had hoped for, do not be afraid to reach out and follow up with other staff members.  If you child already has a diagnosis and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) you may want to reach out to his/her Special Education teacher.

If not, the next step would usually be to contact the Principal.  If results are still not achieved at that level, which does happen, although rarely, you could then reach out to the Superintendent for your school’s area.  Each time you reach out, you want to prepare your concerns and questions in advance, keep notes and agree on a formal follow up plan. Agreeing to a formal follow up plan is an effective way to revisit a conversation if things do not go as planned.

Ultimately, the goal of interacting with your child’s teacher is to help your child reach their academic potential. Parents, educators and children are all important members on the same educational team.

Jennifer Anstiss

Jennifer Anstiss holds a Masters of Education in Literacy from Mount Saint Vincent University, specializing in the Early Intervention and Prevention of Learning Disabilites. She is also an active member of the Ontario College of Teachers. She has been trained in the delivery of Direct Instruction Programs and is a Certified Fast ForWord Practitioner. Jennifer's field experiences include over 15 years of private clinical practice and 10 years of Special Education Teaching for both the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Peel District School Board. She specializes in the design and implementation of remedial programs for students with Learning Disabilities and Attentional Issues within both public and private settings. Jennifer gives presentations to parents, professionals and community groups.

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