Parent Teacher Interviews are a strange construct. They are time efficient. They put all the necessary parties in the same place at the same time. But sometimes I wonder whether we get the most out of them.
As a secondary school teacher my experience of these meetings was mixed. It was always nice to meet the families of my students. Often it gave me more insight. I liked that interviews gave us the chance to all get on the ‘same page’ and plan how we were going to move forward. However, I was often overwhelmed and exhausted by the sheer volume of interviews. Forty or more interviews, one after the other, was fairly normal.
Parents also have mixed experiences of these interviews based on widely varying factors. As a parent, you might walk into the room influenced by your:
- Experience of past interviews, but also your own experiences of school and teachers. Those experiences might be positive or negative.
- Expectations of the school, teachers, your child and yourself as a parent.
- Fears and ambitions, spoken and unspoken
Teachers also walk into the room armed with experiences, expectations, fears and ambitions. Don’t doubt that some teachers are just as eager or nervous as you.
What is important is that these interviews give us the opportunity to build relationships and support the learning of children. The teacher-student relationship is fundamental to academic success, so it is important that we take opportunities like this to communicate clearly and strengthen that relationship.
Teachers prepare for interviews by reviewing work, reviewing results, reflecting on learning habits and behaviours and thinking about existing barriers to better performance and greater engagement.
In order to get the very most out of parent teacher interviews, there are some steps parents can take.
Before the interview
- Read your child’s report very carefully. Jot down questions that it may pose about strengths and weaknesses or changes that might be necessary.
- Talk to your child about what they anticipate the teacher will say and why. This conversation will give you more insight into the relationship between your child and the teacher. It will also give you an idea of what your child’s perceptions are about their strengths and weaknesses.
- Ask your child what they would like to achieve in the meeting and if there are any questions they would like answered. You might be surprised by what they say.
Who should attend the interviews?
- The child should attend the interview. At Santa Maria College we call our interviews Teacher Parent Student Interviews. It is expected that the student is part of the conversation. You might find that the teacher speaks mainly to your child, not you. That is so that the child takes responsibility for their own learning, rather than letting ‘the grown ups’ deal with it. This will also give you some insight into the relationship between your child and their teacher. In some extreme circumstances you might feel your child can’t cope with this sort of experience. In those cases a different format should be negotiated before the day. There’s no doubt that some kids need a different feedback experience.
- It is a myth that only parents of kids who are struggling should go to parent teacher interviews. Yes, it is important that those parents attend and address the obvious problems. However, all kids can be extended and challenged. Parents of high achieving students still need to form partnerships with teachers and talk about future direction. Also, it is a chance to get some great positive feedback. If your child works hard and is achieving great things, let them have the opportunity to bask in that positive affirmation. It is amazing how much more powerful a teacher’s praise is when it is delivered in front of a parent.
- It is always best to have both parents at the interview if that is possible. Often only one parent attends, usually mum. I understand that logistically looking after siblings and work can be problematic. However, research shows that those students who believe that both parents are strongly involved in their education are more successful. With separated parents this can sometimes be uncomfortable, but having everybody hear the same messages is important. I have been part of some great interviews where parents have used the opportunity to unite in support of their child and the teacher.
At Santa Maria College we ask students to wear their uniforms to the meeting. It is a formal occasion. It is a business meeting and the business is your child’s learning. Uniform helps set that tone.
During the meeting
- Negotiate goals for your child and strategies to achieve those goals. Ask what you can contribute to the partnership. What can you be doing at home that will support what is happening at school?
- Take notes, you are likely to be bombarded with information.
- If you have a particular concern. Let the teacher know early in the interview so that the conversation can be more focused.
- Be honest and direct, there isn’t time, or the need, to dance around issues. However, tone is always important. Respectful communication on all sides will help build the relationship.
- Accept that the way your child is at home is not always how they are at school. We are all different in different contexts. Parents are often surprised that their child is an angel at school but not at home. They can also be silly at school and save their good behaviour for home.
- Help your child’s teacher better understand your child – foster their relationship.
Remember, big issues require bigger meetings. The teacher is probably running to a strict schedule and running over time will affect many other people. If this is the case, ask for a meeting at a mutually convenient time where you can properly discuss ideas in more depth.
After the meeting
- Go over salient points made and strategies with your child.
- If there is a need, stay in contact with your child’s teacher.
- Speak positively about teachers you have met or don’t say anything at all. Undermining a teacher may bond you with your child in the short term, but in the long term it undermines the relationship that is essential to your child’s learning outcomes.
With mid-year break approaching, I hope you all have the opportunity to meet with your child’s teachers and that it is a positive experience. Remember that we all have the same motivation. Teachers and parents both want great academic and social outcomes for kids. A gentle attitude and a sense of gratitude, in all of us, will go a long way in achieving those goals.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here