Getting the most out of parent-teacher communications

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Shannon Anderson

Now that the school year is well underway, many parents are attending parent-teacher conferences for their children. I realize the first round of parent-teacher conferences may already be over, but I thought that this topic could be beneficial for many parents as children complete the 2012-2013 school year. Since I am frequently asked questions by parents about communicating with teachers effectively around conference times every year, I have done some research and here are some suggestions that we usually give parents here at our office.

First, be sure to show up to any parent-teacher conference or scheduled meeting with your child's teacher on time. Teachers are very busy during conference times and often have students scheduled back to back for several hours at a time. If you show up late, this rushes your conference and can often make the teacher late for his or her next scheduled parent meeting. Even if you are not meeting during conference time, the average school day is very busy and hectic for your child's teacher. It helps if parents keep this in mind and are always prompt for any scheduled meeting with their child's teacher.

Also, when attending a parent-teacher conference, be sure not to use the conference as a place for yelling at or disciplining your child. Save the discipline for later on at home and don't spend time in the actual conference doing this. Conference time is best used talking to the teacher and gleaning all of the pertinent information that you can about your child so that any negative behaviors can be addressed as you move forward. It is often best to actually leave your child at home during the parent teacher conferences so you don't fall into this trap.

Often parents of children with behavioral issues feel like they are in trouble at the conference or meeting with the teacher. Remember, neither you nor your child is in trouble at either a meeting or the parent-teacher conference. Conferences are simply a scheduled meeting with the teacher to help you and him or her establish an open line of communication that can set the tone for the rest of the school year. Above all, conferences or teacher meetings should be viewed as time spent identifying ways to best benefit your child as the year moves forward. Just be as open as possible and don't feel that the teacher is your enemy during the conference. He or she, like you, is likely just looking for ways to help your child be more successful.

Last, be sure not to ask questions about other children during a parent-teacher conference or other school meeting. Parents often want to compare their children with others. However, this is not a good practice to get into for multiple reasons. Most importantly, teachers cannot discuss another child's academic or behavioral performance with anyone other than that child's parent or guardian. Secondly, comparing your child to others only serves to damage his or her self-esteem. Again, remember to view this time as time spent to help your child make progress in the classroom.

I would also recommend some other related tips and pointers to parents in regards to working with your child's teacher in general. It is often a good idea, especially if your child has been challenging in years past, to make contact with the teacher early in the year. Don't wait until the first parent-teacher conference to make contact with the teacher. You can try calling or emailing your child's teacher, whichever he or she prefers. Check out the school website. These often have email addresses to each teacher and provide useful information about the class and what's going on, etc. Children whose parents get involved earlier in the year, or as soon as possible after problems develop, are more likely to be successful as the year goes on.

Above all, remember to always support your child's teacher and not be negative in any way. This will only serve to make your child even more likely to act out in class or be disrespectful to the teacher. Children look up to their parents as role models. Be sure to serve as a positive one for your child and don't be negative about his or her teacher, even if you don't necessarily agree with something that the teacher said or did. There are other more appropriate ways to handle these disagreements or misunderstandings with the teacher. And by doing so, you are also modeling appropriate problem solving skills for your child.

Shannon Anderson is the owner and clinical director of Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center and specializes in child, adolescent, and family counseling. He is also currently completing certification in parent management training, an evidenced-based therapy for the treatment of oppositional and aggressive children ages 2 to 14. He has also recently completed training through the Missouri Therapy Network in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, an intervention designed specifically to treat traumatized children dealing with loss or abuse. Look for his blog at