Elementary school parent-teacher conference guide: Find out what you need to know

Here's how you can be prepared for your elementary schooler's parent-teacher conference.
Teacher smiles with young student.

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By Jamie Farnsworth Finn

Want to be prepared for your parent-teacher conference in elementary school? Here are some tips that experts suggest.

Elementary school is when parents are most likely to attend conferences, and these meetings will lay the foundation for your attitude and form your impression of conferences in the future, according to educational consultant and child expert Dr. Michele Borba.

Parental involvement

The first and most important step is your involvement. Attending the conference is essential to building a relationship with your child’s teacher, and opening lines of communication will show the school and your child that you care and are involved in his education. The act of attending meetings with your child’s teacher sends a message to your child that education is important. Building a partnership with your child’s teacher is a great way for both of you to support your child and each other. Conferences are also a good place to hear about any behavioral issues or learning difficulties that the teacher may notice, and it’s best to know of those concerns as soon as possible. If one parent or guardian can’t attend, ask the teacher ahead of time about arranging for a video or speaker phone call so everyone can be involved.

Be on time

Be on time. Depending on your child’s age and number of teachers, you may have anywhere from five to 20 minutes for the conference. Your time with the teacher is therefore limited and you should try to make the most of it. Try to keep in mind you are not the only parent the teacher is meeting with, and try to stay within your allotted time.

Be prepared

Be prepared for the meeting. Part of being prepared is knowing your child’s grades in advance of your meeting. Many teachers will have a website where you can check grades, assignments and tests. You may also want to look at the expectations for students at your child’s grade level, so you can discuss these with the teacher. You could consult our academic benchmarks or your local school’s website for a background on what your child should be learning. Ask your child beforehand how he thinks he’s doing in class and if he has any concerns.

Bring questions

Bring questions. It helps to write your thoughts down so you make sure you get to everything you’d like to cover. Because time is so limited, before you go into the meeting, prioritize what is on top of your list to address with the teacher. For example, you may want to know how your child is performing compared to her peers, or if there’s a particular subject where improvement is needed. Also, you should take notes during the meeting.

Be respectful

Let the teacher know you value her time and treat her with respect. Most conferences are held over the course of a day or two—meaning your child’s teacher will be in back-to-back meetings during this time. Each family has different concerns and questions for the teacher and it’s a long day. Try not to get offended or angry if she delivers bad news. Listen first, then talk. Thank the teacher for bringing up a problem and discuss ways in which you can solve it together. A good parent-teacher relationship can help everyone better support your child’s learning.

Behavior at home

Bring up anything that is happening at home that could affect your child’s behavior, learning, or participation in class. A divorce, illness or death in the family or of a family pet, financial issues, or other disruptions to your routine could all have an impact on your child.

Communication going forward

Arrange a way to communicate going forward. Ask whether the teacher’s preferred method of communication is phone calls, emails or continued meetings. You should let it be known that you plan to be an active participant in your child’s academic achievement and you are available for further discussions. Your partnership with your child's teacher is most beneficial if it continues through the year, so you should maintain a relationship beyond the initial conference. This will help identify potential issues in your child’s learning or behavior and will make both you and the teacher feel comfortable bringing up ways to support your child’s education all year.

Duration

Elementary school conferences are likely to be the longest conferences you’ll have. Depending on your school, they generally run 15-20 minutes. Because your child has one teacher and one classroom, you won’t have to split conference time with other teachers. In this conference setting, you’ll likely be in the room in which your child spends the majority of the day. This is a good time for you to experience what your child’s daily environment is like in addition to spending some one-on-one time with her teacher.

More general conferences

The conference is likely to be more general than in middle or high school. You can expect to talk about math and reading abilities and benchmarks. If your child has recently taken a standardized test, that may be the only real specific item to discuss. You should be prepared to ask the teacher about gains your student is making and what areas are more difficult. The teacher should also be able to give insight into how your child is learning – whether she seems to be a more visual or audible learner. Which way does she seem to understand and remember better? This can also help you work with your child at home in a more constructive way.

Holistic view

You should expect a holistic view of your child. Because your child has one teacher, the teacher will have a good sense of your child as a whole. Your child’s success in school depends on social, motivational and behavioral factors, so this is a good time to talk about more than just academic achievements. How is she fitting in? How is her stress level? Is she participating in class? Is she taking on leadership roles? You’ll be able to get insight from the teacher and discuss ways in which you can help reinforce strengths and work on weaknesses at home.

Classroom seat

Ask where your child sits in the classroom. Elementary school is a good place to notice any eyesight problems, says educational psychologist and Parent Toolkit expert Dr. Michele Borba. Does she squint a lot? Does she seem to be having a hard time seeing the board? Is she constantly scooting closer to see? Identifying any issues early on can help keep your child from falling behind or becoming disengaged in the classroom.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist; Laurie Curtis, Retired Assistant Professor, Kansas State University; Doug Fiore, President, Mercy College of Health Sciences; Pamela Mason, Program Director/Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Pat Tanner Nelson, Retired Human Development & Family Studies Professor, University of Delaware.