The Check-In: Parent-Teacher Conferences
November 4, 2020
I’ve known Cindy for four years. If you need to speak with someone on how to parent with less stress, she’s the person to talk to. While Cindy specializes in working with families who have children with ADHD, in a world of remote or hybrid learning most families will benefit from her sage wisdom. I was thrilled when she agreed to write for us. As you gear up for parent-teacher conferences (or “speed conferences” as I like to call them), Cindy’s advice will assure you are prepared and make the most of those precious minutes.
Guest Blog by Cindy Goldrich
Speaking one-on-one with your child’s teacher is incredibly valuable.
Whether it’s a regularly set meeting or prompted by concerns from the parent or the teacher, spending time conversing about how the school year is progressing is vital. Here’s why:
- Parents may not know how their child is performing relative to others in the specific class or compared to teacher expectations.
- Teachers may be unaware of their student’s outside support, whether from a parent or another professional.
- Students are not always the best reporters of their struggles or challenges
Students often present themselves differently in different settings.
Parents are sometimes amazed to learn that their child is performing just fine at school, even though there are constant homework battles at home. Similarly, teachers might be surprised to learn that the struggles they see their student experience in class do not exist at home. The reality is that ADHD and Executive Function challenges show up differently in different settings. Here are just a few of the reasons:
- Time of day. We each have our time of day when we are at our peak ability to work, e.g., first thing in the morning, after a meal, after exercise, while on stimulant medication (if appropriate). Kids with ADHD are more vulnerable to performing poorly when ideal conditions are not met.
- Level of interest. For kids with ADHD, the loading and releasing of the neurotransmitters Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin in the brain’s prefrontal cortex is inconsistent and less active when there is no intrinsic interest. These neurotransmitters contribute to maintaining alertness, increasing focus, and sustaining thought, effort, and motivation.
- Expectations. When students feel that their expectations are unfair or not realistic, they may experience stress and resentment that may impact their performance.
- Structure. We all know how valuable structure, organization, and time management skills can be. It is important to recognize that these are Executive Function skills that may be weak for a developing child. It’s possible that these skills are being supported differently in the home and school environment, accounting for different performances in each setting.
- Environment. Access to movement options and the physical environment (including potential distractions, temperature, noise levels) can impact some individuals more than others. Students’ awareness of the impact and comfort/option to advocate for themselves may affect their performance.
- Social Skills. While some children thrive around other students, for some, it creates tremendous stress. We have seen this impact magnified during remote learning. Some students are more relaxed and productive at home without the added pressure of peer interactions. Other students suffer from a lack of stimulation and modeling that naturally happens while working around their peers.
- Level of support. Regardless of whether a child has a formal IEP or 504 Plan, students often receive individualized support in the classroom. Teachers may help students get started, answer their questions, or provide timely feedback to help them achieve. In my practice as a parent coach, I am privy to the nature and level of support that parents often provide their child daily. While sometimes, parents’ help is necessary and valuable, I have seen situations where too much help can impede a child’s success (well-meaning and well-intended as their help may be). There must be coordination, communication, and transparency between the teacher and the parent.
- Connection. Relationships matter tremendously. When a child does not feel emotionally safe and connected to the adult they are with, they are less likely to perform their best. This applies to both teacher and parent.
Prepping for parent-teacher conferences.
In preparing to meet with teachers, formally or informally, I recommend that parents take the following steps:
- Check your own Emotional Regulation. If you feel concerned about how the meeting with the child’s teacher will go, it is harder for you to remember what you want to express or process what you hear. Consider bringing someone with you who is not as emotionally invested (a friend or relative) to help you stay focused and record what you are being told.
- Get your child’s input. Even if your child is very young, I always encourage parents to seek their child’s viewpoint on how school is going. Their insights regarding how and why they might be struggling can add valuable information to both you and your child’s teacher. Keep in mind; advocacy is a developmental skill. Your child may not volunteer that they are struggling with the child next to them, making distracting noises, or the chill they are experiencing from the windowsill. They may not feel comfortable telling the teacher they don’t understand a lesson (due to shyness, negative experiences in previous classes, etc.).
- Prepare a short list of your concerns and questions. Gather work samples, track your child’s time spent on homework, and log comments from your child regarding struggles they are having in the classroom. You might include strategies you use at home or that teachers have used with your child.
Listen well during parent-teacher conferences.
Note how well your teacher seems to know and understand your child’s challenges. You may want to ask what strategies the teacher has successfully used with your child to manage challenges you also face (e.g., helping him manage distractions, getting started on work). The teacher may want to know what and how you are providing support at home. Also, be sure to ask the teacher how you can best support the efforts of the teacher. Remember, you all have the same goal in mind. You will have greater success when you collaborate. If you feel that you are not getting the information or support you need from the teacher, seek someone at the school (guidance counselor, social worker, principal) who can help you work out your differences and move toward a resolution.
You are never alone in this journey. There are plenty of tools and strategies provided on my Resource page. Please reach out if I can offer you any support.
About Cindy Goldrich
Cindy Goldrich, the founder of PTS Coaching, LLC, is a leading authority on parenting and teaching children with ADHD, Executive Function, and Learning Disabilities. She coaches parents, provides professional development for school districts, and trains professionals to become ADHD/EF/LD Parent Coaches. PTS Coaching provides support, tools, and strategies for parents, educators, therapists, and related professionals to reduce the social, emotional, and educational impact of ADHD/EF/LD challenges on children and family systems worldwide.