How MilFams Can Rock Parent-Teacher Conferences

Ever feel just a little bit lost? You’ve just gotten used to one school’s grading system and protocols when it’s time to move. Now you’re right back at square one again!

That makes parent-teacher conferences all the more important to keep military kids on the right path educationally. Use these tips to rock your conferences this year.

1. Prepare in advance

Take some time to peek at your child’s grades right now. Look for scores that seem unusually low, with at least one letter grade or 10-15 points difference from “normal.” If you spot something different, take a closer look in that subject area.

In each subject, look for one big-ticket low grade or clusters of low grades. One big test or project can pull your child’s average way down. Flag this to discuss with the teacher. If you see a few scores all in one lesson, chapter or unit that seem too low, make a note of it. Having a group of lower than normal grades could mean that your child struggled or doesn’t understand the content.

2. Research Grades

It’s important to know how your child is being graded overall. Different grading systems are often used within the same district and even the same school.

Many schools still use traditional cumulative grades. This means that the teacher adds all the grades from the quarter, then divides by the number of assignments to find the final score. These types of grades can be shown as a number grade (0-100) or a letter grade (A-F). Cumulative grades count every bit of graded work, even the quizzes from the very beginning or pre-teaching assignments.

The other type of grading systems is based on standards. Essentially, at the end of the quarter, the teacher looks at your child’s progress toward the target learning standards. Wherever your child falls on the scale becomes their grade. Often these are expressed as a numeric rating scale (1-4), in words (does not meet, some progress, meets, exceeds) or letters (often abbreviations for words). This type of grade is based on a child’s final progress at the end of the marking period.

3. Make a List

As you research the grading system and your child’s personal grades, write down any questions or comments that you might have. There are no silly questions. Teachers would rather answer lots of questions now than have to address serious concerns down the road.

Bring your list with you to conferences. It will help to keep you on track and get all the information that you wanted.

4. Bring Examples

If your child has already brought home graded work, take a minute to flip through. Pull out anything that you think might help you to illustrate a point, caused you concern or that brought up a question. Having the actual documents with you will help you to focus on your talking points and questions. Plus, the work will refresh the teacher’s memory about the assignment or help to answer your questions.

Many teachers keep student work to pass back at conferences. As the teacher is talking, ask him to pull out work that relates to his points. This can help the teacher to show you concrete examples and offer suggestions for the future.

5. Offer Support

Teachers love to have parent support! Whether you are coming in to help with copies, chaperone occasional field trips or assist from home, it’s all helpful. If you have the time and/or resources, ask what the teacher could use as fall turns to winter.

Another way to help is to assist your child at home. If there are major academic concerns, ask the teacher for recommendations about next steps. She might give advice about online programs or tutors. Even if your child is on track working together at home can be a huge boost in the classroom. Ask the teacher what else you could do at home to support learning at school. Often teachers will suggest museum trips, books or other non-traditional family-friendly learning activities. These have the added bonus of getting you out into the community and helping your child at school!

6. Follow Up

If your child is struggling in any area academically or socially, it’s important to follow up with the teacher. Give any agreed upon interventions about 4-6 weeks to show progress, but check-in weekly to see if there is any feedback.

At your parent-teacher conference, tentatively schedule a meeting for about 5-7 weeks out from the start of the intervention(s). This will give the teacher time to gather enough data and potentially pick a follow-on strategy if needed.

For students that are ahead of the curve, it’s important to schedule meetings with any special program coordinators, like gifted and talented teachers. There is more to education than the traditional classroom and you want to know about all parts of your child’s learning.

Students who are typically progressing could also use some additional follow through. Plan to schedule a meeting in the spring to revisit any possible areas of concern or address new topics. This is super important if you are scheduled to PCS in the spring or summer. You want to cover all of your bases as early as possible.

How do you handle parent-teacher conferences at school? Share your best tips in the comments!

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