Parent-Teacher Interviews: Focus on what’s critical to you.

One of our core values at Fern Hill School speaks to the importance of working with parents:
We believe that children develop best when there is an active and willing partnership between school and family.
That partnership manifests itself in many different ways throughout the year, including during parent-teacher interviews. In just a few days, you will have an opportunity to connect with the teachers, discuss your child’s progress, and to continue to build that partnership. One of the most frequent comments I hear about parent-teacher interviews is that there is rarely enough time to have an exhaustive discussion. How can we build “an active and willing partnership” if the upcoming Zoom meetings will be under 10 minutes long? Will there be enough time to ask all the questions we have and have a full discussion?

No. My recommendation is to use this time not as a rare opportunity to have a lengthy discussion, but as one of many opportunities to check in. When we approach parent-teacher interviews as the only opportunity to connect and discuss, we tend to cram as many questions into the allotted time as possible. We try to address too much. What generally results is a rushed conversation that is short on actionable insights.

Instead, it may be helpful to look at parent-teacher interviews as one of many different opportunities to have a focused conversation. There will be time later in the term and throughout the rest of the year to do more check-ins, to send a quick follow-up message, ask for a quick update, or exchange observations. Instead of trying to transform 10 minutes into an exhaustive discussion, treat the interviews as an opportunity to have a focused exchange about one or two key areas that matter to you now.

Teachers are well-prepared for interviews: they review the grades, their notes on student progress and behaviour, recent assignments, and plans for the rest of the term. Take advantage of this high level of preparation and zero in on areas that are of particular interest to you. Prepare questions that target those areas. Avoid open-ended questions: they won’t always result in the kind of focused discussion you need. Instead, consider the following:

  • Should we worry about that B-, or was it a temporary hiccup?
  • Veena gets anxious before major tests or assignments. Are there any upcoming projects or tests that we should be aware of so we can help her manage her anxiety? How will you help her with anxiety in the classroom?
  • Is Langdon’s gregarious personality a distraction in class?
  • We want to encourage positive interactions and friendships. How can you help us accomplish this goal?
  • How well has Mieka adjusted to this grade level and higher expectations since September?
  • We’ve noticed a difference in Dara’s organization skills and self-regulation since last year. Have you observed that, too?
  • Hiromi is conscientious about getting work done, but what are your thoughts on the quality of her work?

Finally, at the end, consider asking one of the most magical questions parents can ask during parent-teacher interviews:
What can we do at home to support our child and your work in the classroom?
Teachers don’t hear this often enough, but wonderful things happen when they do. I hope you’ll try it.