Did you know that parents have a massive impact on their children’s educational success? In fact, research shows that parental engagement is crucial for children and young people’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

One way to show both teachers and your child that you are interested in their education is attending what are commonly referred to as ‘parent-teacher interviews’ but may be better called parent-teacher discussions. These sessions, which are often held once or twice per year, are an ideal opportunity to discover more about your child’s academic, emotional and social progress, and to share information about your child with his or her teachers.

The benefits of going to parent-teacher discussions

If you don’t have any concerns about your child’s progress, you might wonder whether it’s worth going to the parent-teacher discussion. But going along shows your child that you are interested in their education. It also provides deeper insight than a school report can provide about their strengths and interests, areas where they could improve and what you can do to help them achieve their full potential.

They’re also an opportunity to get to know your child’s teachers, help them understand more about your child, encourage them and build links to the school.

7 tips to help you get the most out of parent-teacher discussions

1. Be prepared

You’ll only have a limited amount of time with your child’s teachers, so it’s best to be prepared in advance.

If possible, make a time when both parents can attend. If you can’t make the available times due to work, volunteering or other commitments, consider organising an alternative time with the school.

If your child is in high school, you may not need to see every single teacher, but don’t limit your discussions to subjects that you believe are more important, such as Maths or English. Instead, take a lead from their school report, and ask your child about who they’d like you to see.

Familiarise yourself with any previous communication from teachers, such as reports or notes. This will help to prevent any surprises at the discussion and allow you to get the most from the time that you have.

Before the day, ask your child how they believe things are going at school and whether they have any concerns they’d like you to raise. Afterwards, report back about what you discovered.

Some schools encourage students to participate in parent-teacher discussions. If so, bring them along. That way, they get to practise communication skills and advocating for themselves. If your child isn’t very confident, consider preparing them beforehand by role-playing.

2. How to talk to teachers

It’s natural that some parents will be anxious about discussing their child’s progress with teachers, especially if there are sensitive issues to consider, or if school conjures up unpleasant memories.

Be assured that teachers may be just as nervous about talking to parents, especially if they need to raise concerns.

Being open, friendly and sensitive in the way you communicate can help to alleviate that stress and help to ensure a positive experience.

Listening attentively and not interrupting what the teacher is saying shows that you respect their expertise and opinion. Even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, try not to jump in defensively.

A good teacher will give you the opportunity to respond or raise any concerns. Don’t be afraid to be direct or ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. For example, you could ask the teacher for examples that help to illustrate an issue that your child is having.

When voicing your concerns, try to be specific and avoid blaming anyone. If you have a problem, coming with potential solutions can be helpful. For example, “Georgia tells me she is struggling with reading. Would it help her to have some learning support or to bring more books home for practice?”

It’s important to listen to the teachers’ ideas too. Remember that you and your child’s teachers want the same things – for your child to achieve their potential, meet their learning goals and have a good year at school. The parent-teacher ‘interview’ is about discussing your shared desire for your child’s success, and an opportunity to make plans together towards that goal. At ACC, we view parents as partners in the education of children.

3. Know what to ask

Having a list of questions prepared ahead of time will help to ensure that you don’t forget anything important at the parent-teacher discussion.

The time with teachers tends to pass quickly, so consider what is most important to discuss and bring that up first.

Here’s some possible questions you might want to ask:

  • How is my child progressing compared to what is expected?
  • What do you think their strengths and interests are?
  • Is there anything specific they are struggling with?
  • What are the best things I can do at home to help them?
  • How much homework should they be doing?
  • What can you tell me about my child’s classroom behaviour and participation?
  • How are they getting along with their classmates?
  • What support services does the school offer?
  • What’s the best way to contact you if I have any concerns?

If you don’t get through everything or need to talk about sensitive issues that would be best discussed more privately, you might want to arrange another appointment with your child’s teacher.

If your school expects students to attend parent-teacher discussions, you might also need a separate time if your want to talk through concerns without your child being present.

4. Take notes

Especially if you are seeing a lot of teachers or have a lot to talk about (such as potential subject choices), it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed and forget who said what.

Consider bringing a notepad and writing down key points at the end of your time with each teacher.

This will help to avoid later confusion or potential conflict over what was said. It will also help when you’re back home and making any plans for issues that came up at the discussion.

5. Manage your time well

Parent-teacher discussions are often held outside of school hours, such as before or after school or in the evening. The time you get with each teacher will depend on whether your child is in primary or high school but is frequently around 15 minutes in duration.

Make sure you arrive on time but be aware that you may have to wait if a teacher has run over time with other parents. Plan in advance which teachers you would like to see.

If you run out of time, you can always arrange another appointment to discuss any issues in greater depth.

You could also organise a separate meeting for issues that need longer than 15 minutes to discuss. For example, if there are things happening at home that might be affecting your child’s learning or behaviour.

6. Listen for common themes

Are the same concerns cropping up with different teachers? If a common theme comes out of the discussions, you might want to make an appointment with the school’s year level coordinator, or pastoral and educational support teams to help your child.

Typically you will find that a united approach is more effective than working in isolation with individual teachers.

7. Follow up

If you come up with solutions or make any decisions at the interview, it’s important to agree on who will follow them up and when.

For example, you might organise a weekly email or monthly phone call to discuss progress in a subject. Or if you’ve agreed on behavioural strategies, a follow-up discussion allows you to review progress and readjust if needed.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for parent-teacher interviews to discuss any concerns you have about your child’s social or academic development. Your child’s teacher will be happy to arrange a time to meet and talk about any issues.

Remember, their goal is the same as yours – to help students thrive spiritually, academically, socially and emotionally and develop into well-rounded young adults. Parent-teacher interviews are just one strategy in your partnership to achieve that end.