Child working on homework

By this time in the school year, most of us have already had our first round of parent teacher conferences. I’ve spent the past 31 years as a professional educator, including a classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator. I’ve learned we all have different reactions to parent teacher conferences.

I once had a parent tell me that she absolutely loved conferences. She shared that, while her child had some typical behavior struggles at home, he always did very well at school. Hearing the teacher share good reports about her son gave this mom hope and belief that, despite the occasional struggles, her son was on track to future success.

I’ve also had a parent tell me that he didn’t even like stepping into the front doors of the school because it brought back memories of some difficult times in his life. He said that being in the building reminded him of some mistakes he made when he was younger, and it made him scared that his child may repeat some of those mistakes.

In my 31 years, I’ve been part of thousands of conversations with parents. I’ve learned some tips along the way about how we can get the maximum impact from collaboration between parents and school personnel.

1. Engage in the conversation. The most important thing any parent can do is to engage in conversations with people from school. School staff are the experts in education. You are the expert about your child. The school needs your expertise! Never hesitate to reach out to school personnel.

2. Find common goals. Everyone who interacts with your child wants him or her to experience success. Even when there is conflict between school and home, the team should be able to come to a common definition of success. This allows the team to have a common goal to work toward. Finding a common goal shows your child that you and the school are “on the same page” and will work together to support him.

3. Celebrate strengths. Every child is more than academic successes or challenges. It’s easy to get trapped in discussing a child’s challenges. Always take the time to ask about and celebrate your child’s strengths.

4. Don’t get stuck in the negative. Once again, it can be easy to get stuck on mistakes kids make. Kids make mistakes because they don’t always know how to get their needs met appropriately. Always ask yourself, "What need was my child addressing when he or she made this mistake?" Once you identify the need, you can help your child learn how to address it appropriately. For example, a child who gets frustrated with an academic concept may misbehave in the classroom. He may even get kicked out of class to escape the assignment. Once you know the behavior was motivated by academic frustration, you can work with your child and the teacher to teach him or her how to ask for help appropriately.

5. Recognize the “role” each person plays. Everyone on your child’s team plays a unique role; each of which has a different perspective. Recognize and respect the role each person plays on the team. More importantly, recognize that sometimes those perspectives may conflict with one another. Take time to try and see what happened from the other person’s perspective.

6. Stay involved. As kids get older, it can be hard to get them to give you details about their day. A simple way to get information is to be more specific in the questions you ask. General questions such as, “How was your day today?” will typically get general response like “Fine.” Ask specific question targeting what you most want to know. Below are some examples.

Academics: "Tell me one new thing you learned today?" "What subject is most difficult for you right now and how can I help?"

Peers: "Who is your best friend at school right now? What do you have in common?" "What mistakes have you seen other kids make? What can you learn from those mistakes?"

Teachers: "If I called your teacher today and asked him or her how you are doing, what would he or she tell me?"

Attitude toward school: "What’s your favorite thing about school right now?" "If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be? How would you change it?"

Remember, as kids get older it’s normal for them to want more independence. Just because they start to become more independent doesn’t mean they need you less. I’ve worked the full K-12 continuum and believe they need you more the older they get. Stay involved. Keep asking questions. Keep checking in with everyone on “the team.” Celebrate growth — even when it’s started by a mistake.

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Scott Butler has been a professional educator for 30 years. He has worked as a classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Additionally, Scott is a licensed mental health practitioner. He is currently the director of the Boys Town Day School. He is father to four kids ranging from 14 to 22. Outside of work, he is an avid gardener and quilter.

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