How to get the most out of your next parent-teacher conference

Teacher discussing something with young student at Nexus International School Singapore
We've spoken to some of Singapore's leading educators to learn how best to approach parent-teacher conferences, so that you can truly understand what your child needs to thrive at school and beyond.

Ever felt daunted by the prospect of parent-teacher conferences? It almost feels like you’re back at school! So little time to ask all the questions you want to and so much information to absorb all at once. Parent-teacher conferences are a step in the right direction on your child’s educational journey and can actually be enjoyable if you approach them in the right way.

Parent-teacher conferences are an integral part of your child’s development at school – they help to keep the lines of communication open between your child, their teachers and parents. The best way to get the most out of your next parent-teacher conference is to ensure you’re prepared, whether that’s speaking to your child beforehand to hear their point of view, discussing progress and achievements with your partner or writing up a set of questions you want answered. We’ve got loads of brilliant tips from some of the best educators from five of Singapore’s leading international schools to help you on your way…

Paul Beach, Head of Primary at Nexus International School (Singapore)

Communication between families and the school is key to building harmonious relationships, says Paul Beach from Nexus International School (Singapore). Photography: Nexus

Why is it important for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences?
Parent-teacher conferences are important for both families and schools to build harmonious relationships. It is about working consistently together to support your child. Most schools will have an open door policy, meaning that you don’t have to wait for a parent-teacher conference to talk about your child.  If you have any concerns, you should be able to see teachers as you need to.

How can parents prepare for parent-teacher conferences?
Firstly, speak to your child. Ask them about what they enjoy learning, what they find more challenging to learn or what they are not interested in. Ask them if they are connecting with their friends.

Secondly, make sure you are up to date with their education, what are they learning about?  Do they have any upcoming school trips? Have you seen their home learning?

Can you suggest a question a parent could ask during a parent-teacher conference?
Parent-teacher conferences are about discussing where your child is in their current learning.  The best question you can ask is “What are their next steps in their learning and how can I support my child?”

For example your child may understand phonics so the next step is to begin to blend words together. Your teacher can recommend the best books to help with this development. For an older child they may need to move into reading between the lines, so asking why the author chose that situation or talk about the characters motivations to act in a certain way.

Read more about Nexus International School (Singapore) on the HoneyKids School Selector

Martin Hughes, Principal at EtonHouse International School, Broadrick

Why is it important for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences?
Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity to get more involved with your child’s learning and understand what they are working on, the successes and challenges they face, even though the time is often limited to 10-15 minutes.

Conferences come in different styles – the traditional parent-teacher style is often where the teacher expresses views on the progress and targets for your child. Most teachers are more consultative and want to share their understanding of your child and gain additional insights on them from you that can help their teaching be more effective.

Whatever time pressures you are under try to find time in your schedule to attend. It’s important to listen to your child as they will see the value you attach to what they do each day. All children want to do well and please their parents, even if at puberty they may appear more concerned with their peers’ views – keep that dialogue open!

How can parents prepare for parent-teacher conferences?
Consider taking your child along with you for them to be involved in this process. This is encouraged in many schools and not only for older students. If not, it is good to prepare for the conference by asking your child what they would like you to say/ask, or to ask them what they think they are doing well or where they are having difficulties.

Can you suggest a question a parent could ask during a parent-teacher conference?
Questions you might ask at the conference will depend on how your child is learning and the relationships they are building. 

If there are areas of difficulty for your child, you could ask, “What are the next steps my child needs to focus on?” or, “Can you show me some of their work so I can understand better?”

If your child is coping well, you may like to ask, “What chances does my child have for inquiry, or student-led learning?”

Or simply, “How can I best support my child at home?”

Read more about EtonHouse International School on the HoneyKids School Selector

Dr Vanessa von Auer, Principal at Integrated International School

Why is it important for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences?
At Integrated International School (IIS), we believe parent-teacher conferences to be an excellent opportunity to build parent-teacher partnerships, which can make a significant impact on the student’s learning journey and experience.

Parent-teacher conferences allow parents to connect with the teacher around their child’s current academic challenges and strengths, social-emotional development, to identify ways to further support the child and most importantly how to do so collaboratively, as well as consistently across the school-home settings. 

Finally, parent-teacher conferences should allow the teacher-parent team to further refine the student’s individual learning plan for the new term/semester.

How can parents prepare for parent-teacher conferences?
Keeping a collaborative spirit in mind, have a chat prior to the parent-teacher conference with your child (if age appropriate) and ask if they have anything they would like you to bring up at the meeting. It is important to gauge how the child is feeling about learning and school so that teachers are aware of their individual perspectives.

In addition, discuss with your spouse which pertinent talking points you would like to address with the teacher. Since each parent-teacher conference is allotted a specific amount of time, it is important to be able to talk about the most pressing points that will add value to your child’s learning experience.

Finally, ensure an open mindset to whatever the teacher brings to the discussion. Teachers generally have the child’s best interest at heart and appreciate it when parents are supportive of their suggestions and recommendations.

Can you suggest a question a parent could ask during a parent-teacher conference?
Since most questions tend to revolve around academics, we would recommend asking questions relating to the child’s other developmental domains, like the social-emotional domain. Great questions include, “Do they confidently interact with their peers?”, “How does my child resolve conflict with peers?” and “How does my child behave when they encounter a challenging task?”

Read more about Integrated International School on the HoneyKids School Selector

Sarah Woon, Head of School at Blue House

Why is it important for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences?
For us, there are three main reasons why parent-teacher conferences are so important. Firstly, so that you can 
receive feedback from your child’s educator not only about their personal development, but also within context of the class dynamics and where your child sits on the range of general development.

Secondly, to understand more about the values and expectations towards education for your child. A parent can witness how their child’s unique learning style is being honored by the school.

And finally, to gain clarity on what the educators’ perceptions of your child’s personality and learning strengths or challenges may be. This also helps parents gain an insight into the child’s behaviour at school versus home. 

How can parents prepare for parent-teacher conferences?
We encourage parents to go into these meetings with a strong sense of openness, knowing that by openly talking about your child you are providing your educator with knowledge and insight they can use in order to better support your child.  

Prepare questions that help you learn about your child as an individual, forming their own identity. Think about all the things that are important to you as a family, and think in detail about your child and how you feel they may be best supported at school.

Can you suggest a question a parent could ask during a parent-teacher conference?
You want to create an atmosphere where you and your educator can have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect, knowing that you value each other’s insights and observations.

Ask questions such as “How is my child developing relationships within the class?” or, “How is my child in working independently and as part of a group?”

These questions are harder for you to measure at home as a parent as you’re not privy to the social dynamics of the classroom. Whilst you can often gain insight into a child’s ‘academic’ performance through results or tangible evidence, the social and emotional journey of your child is much harder to measure or understand from the outside. Questions such as these will also help parents understand the child’s level of participation in facilitated or self-directed learning.

Read more about Blue House on the HoneyKids School Selector

Divya Prasad, Student Counsellor at Global Indian International School

Why is it important for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences?
In nursery and primary school, there are several occasions like school functions, volunteering activities, trips or even trivial occasions like coming in to drop missed lunchboxes, where parents get the opportunity to interact with teachers. However as students move to middle and high school these opportunities definitely shrink.

Parent-teacher conferences are a good platform for the teachers to gauge family support and understand the parents’ attitude towards learning and achievement. By meeting the parents, teachers get to know specific things about child’s personality which they may not observe otherwise. Sometimes, specific insights, like the child being shy or sensitive, prepares the teacher to handle the child in a better manner.

From a parent’s point of view, they can get a glimpse of the teacher’s approach to lessons, expectations and approachability, amongst other things. They also get to know various aspects of child’s behaviour in school – whether the child is interactive in class, whether they are socialising with the right set of friends, whether the child asks enough questions in the class, or anything specific that the teacher wants point out.

How can parents prepare for parent-teacher conferences?
Whether the time allocated for parent teacher conference is generous or limited, it tends to fly. If you have specific concerns about the child, it is advisable that you drop a mail to the teachers prior to the meeting so that they are prepared with the answers.

Discuss with your spouse and child and note down two or three specific areas that you want to focus on during the meeting. To get useful insights from teachers on how to offer academic support at home, parents should analyse the academic progress of the child during the last few months and ask specific questions related to their strengths or weaknesses.

Can you suggest a question a parent could ask during a parent-teacher conference?
There is no one question that applies to all children, as parental concerns vary from finishing lunch, missing water bottles, grades, untidy or incomplete class work, to attention span and discipline. When discussing with the teacher start with the most prominent one.

If the main area of concern is a behavioural issue in a child, make sure to ask how often the teacher has noticed this behaviour. Other questions may include, “Does my child exhibit this behaviour across all subjects?” or “In your estimation as a teacher, is this behaviour out of the ordinary or common in children and how can we, as parents try to help?”

Read more about Global Indian International School on the HoneyKids School Selector

Top image: Nexus International School (Singapore) 

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