08/18/2017 11:39 EDT | Updated 08/18/2017 11:43 EDT

Your Parenting Skills Aren't On Trial At Parent-Teacher Interviews

Relax and learn to prepare for a productive meeting.

There are many reasons why an interview with your child's teacher can be stressful. Perhaps it's about your own school memories. There you are, sitting across from a teacher during an interview. It may be that it feels like an opportunity for someone to sit in judgement of your parenting skills, or you are worried about a surprise bit of information that might be offered. Teachers will not judge you, and if there were concerns you would most likely be advised prior to the interview.

As parents, you need to be fearless when approaching a parent-teacher interview. The teacher really is in your corner, with your child's academic and social success as much a part of their goal as yours. You also need to be honest. Don't be embarrassed by issues, because a teacher hears just about everything during the course of their career. Be forthright because you are part of the team rooting for your child's success.

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Preparing for an interview is important. The most effective and profitable interviews are those that have an agenda and a resulting plan of action. In my long career in education, one of the most positive, unforeseen outcomes of an interview for me as the teacher was learning something about my student —an interest, skill or accomplishment — I didn't already know of. The parent and teacher each see the child in different environments.

Talk to your child prior to the interview. This may take several chats to find out how things are going in the classroom. Start with friendships. Those can be helpful in establishing your child's comfort level in the school.

Project work is another useful topic. Who do they work with in group assignments? How do the projects go? Do they feel a sense of participation? What are they proud to contribute? This can be a perfect segue to discussing favourite subjects and why. What topics give them a challenge? Can they give the reasons why it is a challenge? Who do they play with on the school yard? What types of things do they do at recess? Play can be a window on your child's world at school.Before the interview, consider what you want to accomplish. What is it you really want to know? Write that down. In the moment we can forget the most obvious or pressing issues. Notes are a great way to maintain focus.

An interview of any kind is a give and take situation.

Solid questioning is the most productive. If you have had a preliminary talk with your child, some questions may be obvious. Otherwise, there are many suggestions for questions to pose to the teacher.

Remember that teachers are not social workers, and often an interview can digress into discussion of painful family issues. It is important for the teacher to be aware of any stressors in your child's life, but they cannot offer advice or solutions on personal family matters.

An interview of any kind is a give and take situation. There is a time to talk or ask questions, and a time to listen. Too often we can ask a question and neglect to listen to the answer as we are occupied with thinking about our next question. Active listening requires focus. Make eye contact. Put your phone away so you are not distracted by texts and calls. It is helpful, if you are there with your partner, that one take notes if the interview is covering a wide range of issues.

According to research, the most accurate predictor of a student's achievement in school is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student's family is able to:

  • Create a home environment that encourages learning
  • Communicate high, yet reasonable, expectations for their children's achievement and future careers
  • Become involved in their children's education at school and in the community

If you have concerns, voice them in a diplomatic way. The school and staff are there for your child, and academic success is their goal. Regularly scheduled interviews are usually 10 to 15 minutes and not long enough to resolve a heated issue. If you do have a significant concern give the teacher advanced notice so they can prepare to address it in the interview and perhaps schedule another conference if need be. Often action plans to resolve issues require a follow up at a later date.

You want the holistic view of your child in school. Academics are one part, but other areas are equally important. What activities outside of academics engage them? Who are their friends and how do they socialize? Do they fit in with a group? Are they a leader or a follower?

And then, when the interview is over, ask the teacher one of my favourite questions: "Is there a question I should have asked you about my child?"

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