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Take A Business Approach To Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences should be treated like business conferences

Dear Dr. Fournier:

Report cards are out and I have just received my child's along with a note from his teacher requesting a parent-teacher conference.

I've been here before. I remember my first time. I was happy to know the teacher wanted to work with me, but then I went to the meeting and it was horrible. I decided my child should be present, expecting we were ready for solutions. Instead, I sat stunned as she told me how horrible and terrible he was. She had only had him for a little over 6 weeks so how could she know this? I've had him for 11 years and I know he is a kind, caring child.

Because of my past experience, I'm afraid to meet with his current teacher. How can I get over my fear and participate in solving my son's educational issues?

Lindsey G.
St. Paul, MN

Dear Lindsey:

All too often, the motivation for this type of parent-teacher conference turns parents and teachers into adversaries at the very time they need to be collaborators. Let's get an understanding of this situation first before we talk about ways to overcome your fear.

First, both parents and teachers are meeting over an issue that is causing pain for both.

The teacher is unable to reach the student either academically or behaviorally and the parent is unable to help a child who is experiencing rejection and failure. Everyone involved is in a fragile state and emotions are likely to override reason and logic.

Second, when a parent-teacher conference is called to discuss a child's problems in school, it's a perfect situation for one-upmanship:

Teacher: "I'm the teacher and I spend eight hours a day with your son."

Parent: "I help pay your salary and I think I have a right to be heard."

Even worse, parents and teachers sometimes unite to rule over the child with a heavy-handed approach.

By recognizing these two major pitfalls, parents and teachers can work together to prevent a conference from becoming a confrontation.

Lindsey, your first step is to put aside emotions. The second step is put aside preconceptions about what a teacher or parent should be or do.

When parents and teachers can come together as two individuals who are legitimately concerned about a child's welfare and who want to work together, they can easily produce realistic solutions.

View your upcoming parent-teacher conference as you would any professional business meeting. Consider a few rules from the corporate boardroom and apply them to the parent-teacher conference:

  • Go into the meeting with a positive attitude.
  • Avoid unnecessary negatives.
  • Be prepared to identify your son's specific positive attributes.
  • Prepare or practice ways to communicate his good points rather than focusing on what is lacking.
  • Treat the other participants with empathy.
  • Try to understand his teacher's point of view.
  • Stick to the topic, and use time wisely. This is a professional meeting, and confiding personal information is not appropriate.
  • Prepare a realistic, written agenda of what you hope to accomplish, clearly defining the concerns that prompted the meeting.
  • Each concern should be stated in a short sentence that can lead to a specific remedy. For example, saying "I know he's lazy," leads to no explicit action. Yet, "He doesn't hand in his homework," is a concern that can be resolved.
  • Give several options to resolve each concern, and be prepared to compromise. By studying options, both sides must look at pros and cons, avoiding simplistic decisions.
  • Select the best option for each problem, clearly stating possible negative consequences.

Finally, make sure all solutions are doable! In the case of a parent-teacher conference, you want to be developing a plan of action that the child can control and carry out.

A parent-teacher conference is one of the most important professional meetings you may attend. Give it the same attention and impartiality you would expect in the business world and look forward to the chance for ideas and solutions from everyone involved.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.

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