It’s getting to be parent-teacher conference time again. I must admit that throughout the years, I pretty much raced into those conferences without a thought about my role. I just hoped to hear good things about whichever of our children was being discussed during that 15-minute timeslot, and then I pried myself out of the little chair and went on my way.

These meetings, in the fall and spring, between the most important people in a child’s life, take place more than one hundred million times a year in our country—but lots of research tells us they are rarely productive conversations. In most cases, this is because they’re not actually closely linked to the child’s learning and skill growth. The conversation is often too broad and vague – and even when there is talk of performance against the standards, and (sometimes) in comparison to peers, parents are often left with a snapshot of how their children are doing and what happens during the day. The conversations are less clear and concrete with respect to where their children stand on critical skills, and what parents can do to help them move forward. Yet we know from decades of research that parents who are part of productive home-school partnerships have better outcomes—including higher grades and test scores, participation in advanced courses, and going on to college.

In retrospect, I was also part of conversations that could have been much more productive.  I walked out of conferences feeling pretty good most of the time, but I didn’t walk away with a strong sense of a partnership around my child’s learning, and I also didn’t know what I could or should be doing at home. Of course, teachers and parents are in very different places, with different backgrounds and priorities, and different expectations—and there is little training on both sides around how to have effective conversations.

What’s our solution to this problem? At Abound, to get to more productive conference conversations, we support parents to find out for themselves about their child’s reading-related skills, and then encourage them to share the results with the child’s teacher a week before the conference. Then, when the conference happens, Abound parents have an opportunity for an honest talk about their child’s reading strengths and weaknesses. And, of course, to find out how they can work together with the teacher to help their child build strong reading skills.

So how do we set parents up to be active and informed enough to really support their children’s reading development?

We help you walk into your child’s conference with

  • a pretty good idea of what it takes to be a successful reader. That means you know the kinds of skills that children need to read well (and it’s not just about knowing letters and sounds and reading words).
  • some understanding of the skills your child already has, and the skills he or she may still need to work on to become a strong reader.

With this kind of preparation, we are hoping that you will walk out of your child’s conference with:

  • specific things you can do to build up the skills your child needs to become a strong (or even stronger) reader.
  • a sense for how the classroom instruction is supporting those skills he/she needs, what sorts of indicators will help you and the teacher see that progress has been made, and a plan for when you can check back in with the teacher to talk about your child’s progress.

Within a month, at schools in all communities, suddenly the conferences will be over. That means that this important chance to foster strong and deep home-school partnerships will have come and gone. It is our hope that we can help parents – and teachers -capitalize on the time and commitment it takes to organize and attend a conference.  Otherwise, there are more missed opportunities for having the kinds of productive conversations that lead to improved student reading outcomes.