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Nancy Coolidge | Make school conferences meaningful

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It’s time once again for parent-teacher conferences, so I offer some advice, some tips, and some encouragement. For your child to succeed in school, you must be involved, and conferences are one way to make that happen. So the most important advice I offer is you must attend.

Even if you feel everything is going well and you are 100-percent satisfied with what you are seeing and hearing about school, go to the conference.

These meetings are usually very short — 20 minutes at the most — so this isn’t the time to philosophize, learn about school policy, discuss teacher background, debate the merits of homework or the grading system. You are there to learn how your student is doing and how you can help support what the teacher is hoping to accomplish.

You need to come into the conference ready to listen, even if some of what you hear isn’t positive. You must put aside your “mother bear” instincts and listen to what the teacher has to say.

Before the conference, talk to your student. Ask him if there is anything he wants you to know before you walk into that room. Does he get along with the teacher? Other students? Other staff? What does she think her grade is? What does she think the teacher will be telling you in the meeting?

Take a pen and paper so you can jot down notes. Sometimes teachers go through test results, which may consist of terms you do not know. Sometimes they mention missing assignments or upcoming projects. If you write this information down, you can “research” it more closely after the conference.

Have your own questions ready. Here are some “generic” questions, if you don’t have any of your own.

  • How is my child doing in general? How specifically in math? In reading? In science?
  • How are his work habits? Does he get stuff in on time? Is he neat? Does he have his necessary materials? May I see her desk?
  • Does she participate in class activities? Raise her hand to answer questions?
  • Is he working up to his ability? Do you think she needs extra help? Where do we get that help?
  • How is my child’s behavior?
  • Does she get along with classmates?
  • How can I help?

I also suggest you have prepared an index card with your contact information: email address(es), home telephone number, work telephone number and the best times to call either. If you don’t want calls at work, say so. If you work nights, say so. When your time is nearly up, ask the best way to contact the teacher. If you feel you need more time, ask if you can schedule a conference.

Many districts in our area conduct what they call “student-led conferences,” which means your son or daughter is running the show. There are lots of good things about student-led conferences, but it does limit the conversation to things you are comfortable saying and hearing in front of your child. If you have a specific concern, particularly sensitive or negative, save it for a private conversation and make an appointment with the teacher.

Wenatchee resident Nancy Coolidge is a classroom teacher, radio personality and director of several Sylvan Learning Centers. You can ask her a question by posting a comment on her Good Habits, Great Grades blog at or by emailing