Preparing for your Parent-Teacher Conference
Here in the US, we're a little over halfway through the school year, a perfect time for Parent-Teacher conferences. Your child's teacher has likely been busy preparing for conference, completing reports or narratives and consulting with other teachers who work with your child to offer a detailed snapshot of your child's development. It's time-intensive work and it reflects the deep knowledge of children's development in general and your child's development in particular that most Montessori teachers bring to their work.
You may not need to prepare quite as intensively as your child's teacher has, but you should nonetheless take some time to get ready for the annual or semiannual check-ins, to make the most of the rare opportunity to talk with your child's teacher uninterrupted by other classroom demands.
First, remember that this is an opportunity to talk about your child's development. Take some time to think about what you know about your child: socially, physically, academically, intellectually, artistically, emotionally. Take note of the things you think your child does well and the things with which they're struggling. What questions do you have about how your child is growing? Write them down to bring them with you.
Then, talk to your child's other parent or other common caregivers to see if what you've observed lines up with their observations. During conference is not the time for two parents to realize that they disagree about their child's progress. If you do disagree, discuss before the conference how you'll raise your concerns with your child's teacher.
Ask your child if there are any special topics they'd like you to address. If your child is in a Montessori school in which they lead or contribute to their conference, ask them if there are any topics they'd like your help to raise.
Be mindful of time. If you think your concerns are going to take longer than has been allotted for your parent-teacher conference, focus on the issues that are most important for you to learn about during the time you've been allotted, then follow up afterward to request an additional time to collaborate further. It's easy to get so deeply engaged in conversations between parents and teachers that you lose track of time (or overlook the other family waiting in the hallway!)
If you're not sure where to begin, ask if you can observe in your child's classroom before conference time. Notice what kinds of materials your child chooses, how they interact with peers, whether they seem comfortable and at ease, what kinds of language they initiate or respond to, among other qualities. Remember that there's no "finish line" in Montessori, only a spectrum of growth and development that is unique to each child. Instead of fretting over whether your child has mastered enough material or is engaging in the most rigorous tasks all day, look for evidence that their spirits are being nurtured, that they seem supported and at ease across different areas of the curriculum and that they seem to be a part of a community of learners.
Finally, remember that the most effective parent-school relationships are collaborative and respectful. You bring expertise about your child from the experience of being their parent, from knowing them intimately and since before their birth. Your child's teacher brings expertise from the experience of being their teacher, from their teacher education in Montessori and their professional preparation in child development. These experiences may be very different, and together can offer each of you a richer, more nuanced understanding of the complicated person you hope to support. Try not to see yourself as a "client" of the school and try not to see your child's teacher as an inflexible expert. Instead, look for the ways in which you can build a relationship with each other that respects each of your distinct lenses on your child's growth and progress.
Parent-Teacher conferences are an opportunity to understand, with your child's teacher's informed input, a moment in your child's development. Know that your conference is likely to give you information about where your child has been and where they are going, but that this is only a snapshot. Your child is more complicated than can be encapsulated in a single meeting or on the pages of a school report. Don't panic. Use this as an opportunity to enrich your understanding of who your child is and a time to plan, with other people who care deeply about your child, for how to support them in the future.