The 5 Best Questions to Ask at Parent-Teacher Conferences
The new school year is fast approaching, and that means you’ll soon be meeting your kids’ new teachers. And it won’t be long at all until you’ll be heading to their classroom to sit and have a nice chat about how the school year is going so far. That’s right - it’s parent-teacher conference time. And I want to help you make the most of those conversations.
I assure you, your child’s teacher is a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be explored. If you’re willing to ask the right questions, they can tell you the most incredible things about your little ones. But, honestly, these very important thoughts might never even occur to them if you aren’t ready to start the conversation.
On the other hand, If you aren’t properly prepared, the conversation you’re about to have is in real danger of veering into a useless recitation of missing assignments and letter grades. Your kid spends hours upon hours with these people every single day. It would be an absolute tragedy if all you learned from meeting with them is what their math grade is and how many words they can read in a minute.
Life is about so much more than grades. I want my kids to know that message well - and I want their teachers to know I feel that way too. Good teachers know full well that they’re playing a big role in raising these kids. Kids spend a lot of time around their teachers, and they have the ability to be very strong role models in their lives. That’s why it’s so helpful and so important to be on the same page with your child’s teacher - and that’s why I always ask them the questions on this list.
From a teacher’s point of view, it’s actually very heartening to hear when parents want to know more information about the whole child. Social and emotional skills deserve just as much emphasis as academic skills, if not more. But, if you don’t ask the right questions, the odds are that they’ll just stick to the script and tell you how they’re doing in class.
So, whether this is your 1st or your 97th parent-teacher conference, give these questions a spin at your next meeting. It doesn’t matter if your child is in kindergarten or in 8th grade - the answers to these questions are things you’ll want to know. And they are absolutely hidden away somewhere in that treasure trove of knowledge known as the teacher’s brain.
1. Is My Child Nice to Everyone?
This has always and will always be my number one question for my children’s teachers. Empathy is very important to me. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed that we read A LOT of books that teach empathy with our kids. Treating others with kindness is at the very top of my priority list that I want to pass on to the kids. Our actions reflect upon who we are - and I believe that our relationships with others is basically the meaning of life.
If you want to raise a kind and considerate child, you have to realize that children are sponges and they are more aware and more wise than we sometimes give them credit for. If their parents value athletic ability and good grades more than anything else, their child will absorb those values. And the same is true if you truly value kindness and happiness above all else.
Nothing would make me happier at a parent-teacher conference than hearing about our kids standing up to bullies, or playing with kids who seemed lonely. I want to know that they are helpful, kind, and thoughtful - and that means with the teachers as well. After that I could walk away full of pride - without saying a single word about school work.
2. Is Everyone Nice to My Child?
A natural follow up to the first question - it’s important to know that the kindness is being reciprocated. They’re your kids after all, and you should of course have a natural instinct to protect them. If they’re going to be spending so much time somewhere, it’s your absolute right - if not your duty - to make sure it’s a safe and loving environment.
If my kids weren’t getting along with other kids, I would want to know about that. And I definitely want to know if there are any issues of bullying. Any information at all could lead to very important conversations that need to be had - both with your kids and their teachers. There is a lot that can be done to boost self-confidence, deescalate conflicts, and focus on what really matters in life - but we obviously need to know about the issue first.
3. What Interests My Child at School?
Nothing makes me happier than seeing our kids excited about life. And I’d do anything to help find the next thing that inspires them and gives their life meaning. If done right, school is an amazing opportunity for kids to discover new things and pursue their interests. I would absolutely hate for them to miss an opportunity to pursue a lifelong passion because we somehow never heard about their interest.
Odds are that your little ones will bump into several things throughout the school year that piqued their interest - and I want to know about every single one of them. Maybe they got really into a unit on poetry, or they loved playing volleyball in P.E., or maybe they like to dance around the classroom. This is all invaluable knowledge. This may honestly be the most important inside scoop teachers have to offer.
If you play your cards right, you’ll walk away with the fuel you need to spark your child’s imagination and creativity for years to come. You can help them light that spark - and you may even help them find a lifelong passion.
4. Are They Trying Their Hardest?
I ask this question just to show the very tiniest nod to the academic side of the parent-teacher conference - the side I attribute the least amount of value to. Unless their teacher has surprising educational news like our son bonked his head and forgot how to count, I don’t want to hear it. A classic thumbs up will suffice for the entire academic segment of the conversation.
What I do want to hear about is their work ethic and their general attitude toward school. I want to know that they are inspired to do their best and that they’re engaged. I want to know if it feels like they’re being appropriately challenged and rising to that challenge. And if there happens to be some sort of disconnect anywhere, I want to have an opportunity to talk about that and troubleshoot together.
I frame the question this way because I could not possibly care any less about grades. I do, however, care slightly more about their attitude toward learning. Are they interested? Are they engaged? Are they happy? And that also just so happens to lead to the last question on our list.
5. Are They Happy?
This is a perfect and natural question to wrap up a conference and put a little bow on top. I want nothing more in the world than for my kids to be confident and happy. But the sad truth of school is that your kids are spending more than 7 hours away from home every day. In a lot of cases, that often means that your teachers get to see your kids more than you do. So I think it’s fair to say that their general disposition during this time is pretty important.
And after they get home - getting straight answers about how school was that day isn’t just a teenager problem. Sometimes our 5-year-old son couldn’t even tell us what he had for lunch, let alone detail the ups and downs of his day.
But I always very much want to make sure that there are more ups than downs. And I want to figure out whether or not some of those downs can be avoided somehow. That’s why I think it’s vitally important to have a straightforward conversation about happiness with their teacher - and to brainstorm ideas together if there are any issues or concerns. It should be much more obvious than it appears to be - but, at the end of the day, their happiness should be our very first priority.
What’s your favorite question to ask at parent-teacher conferences? Are you big on empathy too? Let us know what you like to talk about with your teachers in the comments!