Conference Confidence

by Nicole Ziccardi

Trigger warning: Parent-Teacher Conferences. Just kidding, mostly. Conferences can be anxiety-inducing as the teacher OR the parent. Parents, rest assured, your child’s teacher has seen it all, and genuinely wants what is best for your child (just like you do!). Teachers, you are no stranger to prepping, so read on!

A great school will offer many opportunities for families to connect with their child’s school life well beyond conference time. However, I wanted to zoom in on this moment and offer some relief for when it does feel like a scary or pressurized task. From skipping work to showing up on time (parents), to preparing notes ahead of time and staying “on schedule” (teachers), it can feel like a lot.

Advice for Teachers:

  • Send out a note to families in advance of conferences, shedding a little light on the timing and flow of the session. Assure parents you will invite them to ask questions or voice concerns. (I would recommend you request these in advance, so you can have some time to think about it.)
  • In the week leading up to conferences, jot little anecdotes about something you’ve observed each child in the class saying or doing. Kids really do say the “darndest things”! You will convey, not only that you see each child, but that you appreciate and admire them as humans.
  • As you prepare, name individual areas of strength and then design specific and tangible goals. You might say, “I am working with _(child’s name)_ to (verb) by December.” Make the goal time-bound so you can track progress, which will be helpful for you in prep for the next report card or conference time.  
  • Select one or two work samples to share with families, as you further illustrate and articulate what you mean. Seeing something concrete and tangible (a drawing, a math solution, a piece of writing) really helps parents to understand what you mean, and will keep you away from using too much teacher jargon. 

Advice for Parents:

  • Prepare one or two questions. What are you most curious or concerned about – friendships or academics? Sharing a question reveals what you care about and it will help the teacher to prioritize how to steer the conversation.
  • Recognize that, just like adults, children show up differently outside of the home versus in the home. This might mean you are very surprised by what you hear. That is ok! Take this moment to share intel about the other “version” of the child you see and build mutual understanding. 
  • Avoid asking for comparisons between your child and other students. Instead ask about grade level benchmarks or developmental milestones, such as, “Is this what is expected for the beginning of third grade?” 
  • Ask for ways you can support at home (or whether further support is even necessary). Similarly, do ask for additional support when YOU need it. For example, if homework is a contentious time, be honest and request guidance. Or, if you have concerns about your child’s overall progress and development, ask what other resources are available at the school. Sometimes a brief chat with the school counselor or psychologist can go a long way in making you feel supported as a parent. 
  • If you feel like the conference time left you with more questions or a sense of uncertainty, please schedule another moment to connect with the teacher. It can be a brief check in on the phone or Zoom, just to make sure everyone feels heard and on the same page. Teachers are ok with this – I promise!

As a collective, parents and educators are working to support and enhance the lives of beloved – and sometimes perplexing – little humans. This is BIG work, and offering grace and empathy is sometimes all that is needed. Wishing everyone a fruitful conference season!

Nicole Ziccardi

Nicole Ziccardi

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