Letting students lead their parent-teacher conferences

Tips for busy parents as they meet with teachers

If you’re a parent, you have more than a full time job. You balance work and kids’ schedules. You try to make sure they eat healthy food, get plenty of sleep, stay on top of homework and have fun. It can get hectic. Believe me, I know.

But if you’re the parent of an elementary or middle school student, there’s one more thing I hope you do: Get to your parent/teacher conference. This is your chance to sit down and catch up with your child’s teacher to learn about your child’s progress in school.

This year we’re doing something a little different at all 13 of our middle schools. Students actually lead these conferences by telling their parents what they’re doing in school. Students create a portfolio of their work, which they share with their parents as part of the regular parent teacher conference. They talk about what’s going well and where they think they need to grow. By leading these conferences, students grow in their agency, assuming increasing responsibility for their own learning.

I’ve shared tips for making the most of your parent teacher conferences before but they’re worth repeating. Consider these questions when you meet with your child’s teacher.

What is my child expected to learn this year?

Ask what is being studied. This is also a good time for the teacher to show you what your child did for class projects and other assignments. The teacher can review the grade level standards your child is learning.

How are they progressing?

It’s not enough to know the standards, we also want to know how well your child is progressing toward meeting these standards. We actually create multiple ways for teachers to assess the progress your student is making during the school year. Ask the teacher to share the results of any assessments done so far and to share work samples from your child’s classroom projects and assignments.

What are my child’s strengths?

Ask about where your child is excelling. It’s important to reinforce and build on these with your child. You might even learn about something your child loves that you didn’t know about. You can also use this time to tell the teacher what you see as strengths in your child.

In which area does my child need improvement?

This question is crucial. Ask the teacher what support your child is receiving in the classroom to improve in subjects where your child is experiencing challenges.

Talk it over with your child

Conference over? You’re not quite done. Make sure you talk one-on-one with your child after the meeting even if your child is part of the conference.

Emphasize the positive things you learned, and discuss areas where improvements can be made. Make sure your child knows what everyone is going to do next to help him or her thrive — including your child.

Please be sure to make time for your parent/teacher conference. These conferences are a fundamental part of being involved in your child’s education, and they send the message to your child that their education matters.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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