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Parent-Teacher Conferences | What to Ask | Special Education | Distance Learning

Parent-Teacher Conference

Like other areas of our life, Parent-Teacher conferences can look different for a child with an IEP. A Parent-Teacher meeting can be stressful even in a normal year and now we have distance learning. Most schools only allow 15-20 minutes, so we’re rushed.

Chances are you and your spouse had to split up for the evening. Maybe you had to leave work early and eat a rushed dinner. And then add on to that that your expectations of the meeting were different from what happened and all around it’s no wonder we dread them!

parent teacher conference

But, a successful parent-teacher conference can be a 15-minute snippet of valuable face-to-face time that we don’t often get with our teachers.

Here are some parent teacher meeting tips to reduce stress and have a successful parent-teacher conference. Even if distance learning means your parent teacher conference is virtual. Or, you have IEP concerns.

Parent Conference

I think that one of the biggest sources of disappointment for both parents and teacher is mixed expectations. In my mind, the two main expectations of a parent-teacher conference should be:

  • The parent needs to recognize that this is NOT an IEP meeting or even a mini-IEP meeting. If you need an IEP meeting, call for one.
  • The teacher needs to recognize that even if this child has an “active” IEP team that has met recently, that does not negate the importance or necessity of a positive Parent-Teacher conference.

When I say positive, I don’t necessarily mean that all the information presented has to be positive. But that it should be productive and useful, not brushed off because Mom is in frequent contact with the team.

By all means, if you and your school do something that is totally different from this, and it works for you and everyone is in agreement with it, go for it!

But I find that many parents treat conferences with the same anxiety and disdain that they do IEP meetings. And that stinks! I’m aiming to change both.

What to Expect during Teacher Conferences.

A good place to start is to think about what it looks like for your kids without IEPs. Don’t have one of those? Then ask around. Ask the PTA, ask your friends and neighbors. Or, ask your child’s teacher. A quick email of “This is new to me, can you tell me what I should expect at parent-teacher conferences?”

Last year, for my non-disabled child, the teacher put a whole bunch of assessments and data in front of me. And then I wasn’t allowed to keep any of it. Thankfully, he had done well on most of it so I wasn’t overly concerned. However, I was surprised to walk out of the conference without even one sheet of paper telling me anything.

What to Ask at a Parent Teacher Conference

For me, my main focus or goal of the meeting would be progress monitoring.

  • grades and what those grades measure (because remember, grades are subjective, not objective!)
  • recent standardized test scores (MAPS, etc.)
  • behavior reports
  • examples of work
  • “In the past 90 days, do you feel that the performance is getting better, worse, or staying the same?”
  • Does my child have friends? Is he/she bullied, ostracized?
  • Talk to your child beforehand, see if they have any questions they want you to ask.
  • Ask the teacher if they have any questions for you, about your child.
  • “What can I do to support this at home?”
  • Remember to stay child-focused in all concerns. Attack the paint, not the painter. Instead of ‘You never pick Gabby to be line leader!’ or whatever it is, say “Gabby reports that she still has not been line leader yet this year and she’s really looking forward to it.”

Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

  1. Establish expectations. Ask the teacher ahead of time what you should expect, and should you bring anything? If you need it, tell the teacher that you would like a copy of whatever she is going to show you at the conference.
  2. If you are expecting to see something at the conference, let the teacher know. “We have been working really hard on practicing handwriting at home, can you please show me some of her recent work examples?” or “Sammy is reporting that she gets these reading comprehension booklets to work on and they are too hard for her and she’s frustrated. Can you show me one of these booklets at the conference?” If you are expecting to see a certain teacher (IE Learning Support sitting in with Gen Ed) then make that known and schedule accordingly.
  3. Make sure you are registered for whatever online venues they have. PowerSchool, Class Dojo, Schoology and all that fun stuff. Whatever your school uses, sign up ahead of time. I consider myself to be quite web-literate and even I have trouble with this stuff sometimes. But, do it, and look over your child’s stuff before you go.
  4. Have a list of questions. But this is not a time to “empty the dam” so to speak and unload a ton of stuff on the teacher. If you need to do that, schedule it separately. Remember, if you need an IEP meeting, request an IEP meeting.
  5. If the teacher gives you a bunch of serious concerns: It’s ok to say “Do you think I should request an IEP meeting?” or “Do you want to meet with me one day this month when we have more time? This is concerning to me.”
  6. Ask for another meeting if there is not enough time. It goes without saying, but arrive a few minutes early and keep your eye on the clock so as not to run over in time.
  7. Don’t bring your whole traveling circus. (that’s what I call mine!) Personally, I do not think you should bring an advocate to the conference, but I have attended some with parents (because the parent did not understand the data that was presented to them). However, if you need to, bring a friend or your sister or something if you have trouble processing information. Don’t bring kids.
  8. Speak with your child ahead of time. Ask them if they have any questions or concerns that they’d like you to bring up. Ask them if there are any surprises “Is there something that Mrs. S may tell me that I don’t know and may not be good news?”
  9. Bring a pen and paper to take notes. And, this is a great time to consider buying the IEP organizer. You won’t be struggling to find information if you use it.
  10. Stay child-focused and solution-oriented. Read and heed the information presented to you and follow up as appropriate. Even if you hear something that you perceive as insulting, make note of it and move on. How people treat you is a reflection of them, not you. You can always follow up via email with a “during our recent conference, you said XYZ…what did you mean by that?”
  11. Share the information with your child, as appropriate. Reword it, chunk it….but self-advocacy and self-determination is the ultimate goal. And they cannot be successful in that if they do not know how they are performing.
  12. Follow up! Remember, in IEP land, we have to maintain our paper trail. Within 48 hours, I would do an email to the entire team. Reiterate what was discussed during the conference and request to meet or adjust the IEP to address whatever you are concerned about. This is also the time to ask further questions if you didn’t understand something. An after conference email is also a good time to suggest ideas or supports you’ve been considering asking the team about. “I was concerned to hear that Gabby is doing XYZ….I think maybe at the next IEP meeting, we need to discuss if this is the right placement for her/if she needs a 1:1” and so on.

Virtual Parent Teacher Conference

The pandemic has certainly made “virtual everything” more common. But I think virtual meetings are going to be here to stay. And why not? It certainly solves many issues for lots of parents, including finding child care for siblings.

There really shouldn’t be any differences between an in-person vs. a virtual parent teacher conference. Same etiquette applies.

The one thing that may change–your ability to record the conference. As always, notify the teacher and check the recording laws in your state. A simple “unfortunately, my wife will still be at work during that time, I’d like to record the conference so she can watch it later” should suffice.

Then, familiarize yourself with your laptop or phone, and what you need to do to record. Don’t delay the meeting because you’re fumbling with apps!

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