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A New Look at the Parent-Teacher Conference

The Harvard Family Research Project Provides Five Tips on Maximizing the School-to-Family Relationship

September 18, 2014
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“From my point of view,” wrote Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot in The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn From Each Other, “there is no more complex and tender geography than the borderlands between families and schools.”

With the first month of school in full swing and parent-teacher conference time upon us, the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) provides a tip sheet to navigate that territory — to help principals, teachers, and parents in their respective yet intersecting roles. The goal? To maximize productive communications while also creating a climate that fosters better student outcomes.

“The tip sheet is a concrete way for us to do this,” says Heather B. Weiss, founder and director of HFRP. “We see our materials as part of an ongoing conversation — beginning with back-to-school, followed by the parent-teacher conference, and continuing throughout the year — the goal of which is to support a kid’s success in and out of school.”

As covered today in a report from National Public Radio, Weiss said the parent-teacher conference of today is an opportunity to gain insight into your child’s performance while taking the steps necessary to address areas of both strength and challenge.

“Let’s say your child does great in art but she’s having trouble in math,” says Weiss. “In your conversation with her teacher, ask if there is an afterschool program for her to pursue art, but also ask if there are other opportunities for her to get help with math. It’s about supporting the whole child.”

Weiss says the conversations between educators and families should be “accessible, understandable, and actionable.” In a related HFRP document, “Supporting Ongoing, Constructive, and Meaningful Conversations About Student’s Progress,” parents and educators alike offer their own stories that work toward these related goals:

  1. Be persistent in reaching out to and communicating with families.
  2. Adopt online and in-person communications.
  3. Engage families and teachers in the development of guidelines for cross-cultural communication.
  4. Develop a systemic approach to conferences: emphasize the role of principals, teachers, and families.
  5. Use student data as a tool to guide conversations with families about student strengths and areas for improvement.

“You need multiple forms of communication,” says Weiss.


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