Before the conference call with your child’s teacher and principal, consider using a checklist to guide your conversation. You’re going to want to go over your expectations for your son / daughter’s experience at the school, the curriculum to work towards, and any areas of concern/opportunities identified during the meeting. This will ensure you come from an informed position, which should help alleviate confusion or misunderstanding during your final conversation. Also, be sure to take notes or jot down questions for the conference call so you have an easier conversation when you speak with the teacher. Here are some things to consider including in your pre-conference call checklist:
1. Why your child is going back to school
If your child isn’t sure why he or she needs to return to school, now is the time to discuss this topic. The reasons behind what’s motivating him or her may be tied to learning, personal development, confidence building (in self-reliance), etc. Whatever reason is relevant, it’s important your child feels encouraged to continue his or her education in addition to understanding why.
2. Current performance and behaviors at home
This is a touchy subject. While most kids thrive in high levels of competition, there must also be some amount of patience required to develop skills such as resilience. Be mindful of how hard they are pushing themselves at the moment and how they’ve responded to past failures. Additionally, do you see positive growth in areas such as organization, responsibility, perseverance, or teamwork? If so, what areas have your family found success? Be wary of negative behavior – too much perfectionist tendencies or the inability to make decisions on your own sometimes leads to the inability to handle frustration. Try to strike the right balance between encouraging a mindset of independence, flexibility and resiliency – and holding firm boundaries.
3. Transition issues
How might his move affect friendships at home? How did the transition in the fall go (especially if issues arose)? Think about how to talk honestly about this to your fellow parents and discuss ways they might support your child, too. Did you meet with your child individually during summer vacation? Consider asking them to write down three questions they would like answered at camp, before they went on a field trip, or whatever else comes to mind as you think about how to structure those conversations. Also, consider scheduling weekly calls with your kids’ therapists or doctors as a way to learn more about his health. This lets them have the opportunity to practice sharing more details about themselves or things they feel uncomfortable speaking about aloud just yet. Remember, the conversations shouldn’t feel like a lecture; rather, these discussions can encourage empathy and help build trust.
4. Curriculum and Expectations
Here’s a chance to discuss any concerns you have specifically about the curriculum and expectations for classes and extracurriculars – plus, it’d help the school if you can outline how well-rounded your kid actually is in various fields or subjects that seem to apply to the job market. Also note and highlight how much free time will allow your child to participate in sports and other related programs. Don’t want anyone thinking you’ll be sitting idle all summer. Do you see him/her taking part in after school activities, clubs, tutoring, art sessions? If not – that needs to change! Don’t miss the opportunity to express these needs aloud in order to be sure the school knows you want the most out of these interactions. Also, ask if the teachers have been able to incorporate technology (internet, email) into daily assignments, too (as opposed to requiring homework outside the traditional framework). Don’t miss an opportunity to remind your child how important “keeping up in school” is. Also, be mindful of how much ‘screen time’ he or she gets each day (outside of homework) as that might be linked to any academic difficulties or anxiety issues that arise from the change in routine.
5. What can we anticipate?
If your student is struggling, you may need to look ahead and focus on potential challenges, so you can prepare strategies and coping mechanisms to mitigate potential effects of this new environment as best possible. For instance, what changes might occur during transitions between periods and recess (i.e., what happens when the bells ring?) Or, have you heard the expression ‘if you build a better mousetrap’? Is your child likely to take pride in his or her appearance and show up differently at parent conferences? Will he or she struggle socially at first? If so, what could families do to combat this (think fun activities/sports you can schedule to get kids interested in physical activity or organized sports teams!)
6. Have there been any adjustments made to the IEP at school due to your child?
Did anything happen that surprised you during the summer? It’s okay for a student to re-write their individualized education plan (IEP) as needed. Just keep your eye on what’s happening throughout the year rather than jumping into any drastic alterations. Sometimes kids really improve in one area, whereas another area has become stagnant. Either way, don’t assume anything!
7. Is everything ready for the transition?
Did any equipment get thrown out or broken? Any other special preparation needs to be addressed for the start of school? Remember – your school didn’t send a whole lot of information about your child’s accommodations – that’s where most people are gonna land up missing some details. There’s no harm in asking for clarification on special equipment or accommodations, but let’s hope families have already checked in about these issues with teachers before the conference call.
8. When can we talk about transitioning home again, if ever?
As difficult as this question can seem, especially when dealing with a teen, here are two things to remember: 1) most children actually love transition, and 2) kids who have experienced transitions tend to do their best in school once they understand the process they’re moving through and can utilize the strengths in an advantageous way. We’re always concerned, of course, about being consistent with rules or routines from one day to another when moving from one academic setting to another.
9. Where should we get our books?
Can you recommend a good book store or website for online ordering? Any special delivery arrangements available? Are there any other areas you’d recommend families research in advance?
11. What do you envision the school’s attendance policy going forward?
Should he or she report to the front office/main office for discipline, or should he or she stay in class? What role will your school counselor play in that decision? Also, is there anything else families need to know about this topic?
12. Was there anything left unsaid…on purpose…for a long period of time and why?
Have others asked before and there wasn’t a strong response? Be as honest as you can, this is a great opportunity to establish trust! It helps if you can give non-confrontational examples, too. For example, this person didn’t realize how to properly introduce himself at Camp, or he was really hesitant to tell us about his family’s history of drug addiction, etc. All that being said – if there truly IS something you feel strongly about, try to state your opinion clearly without attacking someone you have only met briefly, if at all. Most often ‘the silent treatment’ is a red flag. Think before you speak, and if you aren’t convinced about something, be willing to say “we’ll keep digging”! Also consider if there is a way in which this topic can ‘set you free’ emotionally speaking.
13. How can we reach each other outside the classroom?
Can you suggest any specific resources available right now and any social connections you’ve built up? Are there any social media platforms, apps, websites, etc. that offer helpful suggestions or tools? Has your family done any research related to connecting with others via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp? In my experience, we tend to miss opportunities to connect in social scenarios unless we’ve intentionally set time aside.
14. Anything else that would be helpful to our learning as parents?
Let me share the information that I gathered on my topic before the conference call. Let’s make sure all members of the team understand what the plan of action is and all parties are working to achieve certain objectives. That being considered…how might we make these plans a reality? Here are some common “checklist items” teachers suggest to include within your pre-conference call conversation. These topics include but are not limited to:
- Is a formal letter necessary? Who knows this (school staff, district admin)?
- What are the dates for testing? (this will depend on the teacher)
- How many days off does she have scheduled from the parent call for this month?
– Has she sent information out yet?
- When will your teacher expect the family’s involvement as far as meetings, phone calls, etc.?
– Can you do weekly check-ins over the next 6 weeks while she and you adjust and adapt to the new environment?
- When and where can you contact her/him? (email? calls/texts? phone?)
15. In terms of a grade level, any advice for us as well? (For older students, how can they support younger siblings?)
16. Does this mean homework every night or a break every other week? If the latter, how could he/she support a younger child during those breaks?
17. Will homework be assigned every night?Or will it be more structured like an academic calendar with certain activities assigned?
18. What is your schedule like, when can we book the discussion?
As they continue their learning, teachers typically create schedules for all family meetings, phone conversations, and events that are important to them. The best resource available in terms of planning is the curriculum guidelines found here. If the parent has questions about when he/she needs to provide support for an individual skill in a certain area – such as reading, math, or behavior — the most useful document a teacher can provide is this one. We hope many members of your team will work collaboratively together for each and every event.
19. Parent-Teacher Email Template
Thank you so much, Mrs./Mr. __________! It sounds like we need to talk about a number of things…I imagine all these things will come up on conference call this evening. Do you think it’s smart for us to do ‘research ahead of time’? Would you suggest we ask any specific questions or simply prepare a general outline of what we may see coming, so that we’re able to focus on getting through this transition as quickly and seamlessly as possible? Please let me know if you require any other information at this point. I look forward to seeing everything online tomorrow and we can start discussing this topic further. If you have any questions after reviewing the documents you’ve prepared, or any specific ideas, questions, concerns, suggestions, etc., then please don t hesitate to reach out directly by sending email as shown above in point 4 to us at [email protected]. Best wishes and thanks again for this amazing opportunity. Your friend, _______
20. When can we expect to hear back from you regarding the next progress update?
21. What’s your teaching philosophy?
22. Does your school have any unique initiatives?
- (like summer reading programs, arts integration initiatives, etc.) that we should be aware of and what kind of impact could this have on our family?
23. Are you excited about starting another cycle at the school?
… and looking forward to engaging this student/children in meaningful ways? If yes, what kinds of activities will you involve them in?