A teacher shares: Everything you should be asking at parent-teacher interviews.

I don’t know about you, but ever since finishing school I get a little bit jittery walking back in there on the day of parent-teacher interviews. Nervously maintaining my balance in those rickety plastic chairs, while running through the array of unexpected words and statements that might be said, is always a troubling time.

And then I remember… I’m the teacher!

Yes, the name may have changed, from ‘Parent-Teacher Interview’ to ‘Learning Discussions’, ‘Teacher-Student-Parent Chats’, ‘Celebration Conversations’ or even ‘Triangulated Congregations’ (possibly made up) but the purpose is still the same – to discuss the progress and development of students in a constructive way that assumes best intentions from all sides.

Like any normal conversation, it’s about genuinely listening and asking the right kind of questions. But what should you listen for or ask?

I’m glad you asked.

Listen for…

During these conversations, it can feel like a lot of information and words are being thrown around. The important parts to tune into are the anecdotes the teacher shares, along with the purpose the story demonstrates. This not only gives greater insight into your child at school, but also shines a light on the connection and relationship that has been established.

An example of this might be: “Just last week, Roger was jumping into our class discussion about adopting older pets. This really showed the passion he has for helping and thinking of others. He showed fantastic empathy and language too!”

These anecdotes don’t have to be epics. Short, simple and specific stories can say a lot about children in a classroom setting. (If you think you might not get any anecdotes, don’t fret, use the questions below to help your conversation).

LISTEN: A teacher shares everything they want to tell parents, but can’t, during parent-teacher interviews. Post continues after audio. 

The descriptions being used about your child are also really important to listen out for. Are they similar to what you would use? (Be honest!). Do the words used speak to your child and sum them up from your experience? If not, it’s okay to clarify what the teacher means. Either way, you’re getting more insights and are all getting on the same page.

Jargon can have a way of getting into any professional conversation, including “differentiated heterogeneous fluid groupings” and “authentic student voice experiences”. During these triangulated congregations interviews, some of these phrases or words might be thrown your way:

It's important to be a good listener. Image: Getty Images.

Targeted focus groups

Small, specific groups where all learners are focusing on achieving the same skill, i.e. "Jimmy has shown incredible persistence in using the reading back strategy during our targeted focus groups in Reading sessions".

Open-ended tasks

Simply put, these are activities that every kid can start, but that have multiple ways of being solved (based on a student's level of competency), i.e. "Jemima has seriously loved engaging in our open-ended tasks, especially in maths when she was asked 'If the answer is 423, what might the question be'?"


Worthwhile feedback is about telling someone specifically what they have done, or what they could do next time to learn from an experience. This is one of the most impactful strategies in a teacher's arsenal. When listening out for this, teachers should share specifics with you, not just "Lolanthe did a great job on her persuasive writing piece". (If this happens, refer to the questions section below).

Daniel Steele. Image supplied.

Authentic tasks

These are tasks where we can see an actual connection to real life, as opposed to those random maths questions I used to get that all seemed the same. I'm still waiting for a time when three friends turn up with 43 books each and ask me how many they have in total. i.e. "Landro has really become engaged in our authentic task designing an awareness program about Refugee Week. He's loved surveying our school community to discover ways we might take action or find out more information within our community".

(What a legend Landro is!)

Questions You Definitely Are Allowed To Ask (in a completely normal, polite way, of course).

Now, you've been fantastic with your listening skills. The time for questioning is here. Remember, the whole purpose is to help everyone get a clearer understanding of your child's development and progress while also celebrating their progress in different areas.

As in any other industry providing a service, you as a customer have a right to find out what you are getting. Your child, as the unwitting guinea pig, should also have a voice, so it makes sense for them to be there too. (Any other issues you may have that you don't want your child present for should be booked in a separate meeting).

Here are some simple and effective questions to help you get a deeper understanding during parent-teacher interviews:

Could you tell me more about that?

How have you seen that in the classroom?

What makes you say that?

How are they doing with their relationships and connections in class?

Could I ask why you believe that?

Remember, the reason we have these meetings is to share the progress and growth of your child. They're a perfect time to outline upcoming or current challenges and discuss how all three groups can work together. It's okay to ask some questions, we're in this for the same reason - acknowledging and assisting the legendary children in front of us.

It's time: bring on some triangulated congregations!

Daniel Steele is a primary school educator, advocate and new dad navigating dadhood. He is the founder of Upgrade Think Learn. If you're interested in more posts by Daniel, head to Upgrade Think Learn. You can also find Daniel on Twitter @LifeButUpgraded, on Facebook @Upgrade Think Learn or on Instagram @upgradethinklearn.