Getting More Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Getting More Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Three times a year as I have sat on each side of the Parent-Teacher Conference table and as each Conference date comes closer on the calendar, I have pondered what is their purpose?

If you do not know why your school has such times throughout the school calendar, ask them? Ask the principal. Depending on the grade of your child ask their Homeroom teacher what is their purpose. Their answers will help you in how to engage the teacher and your child as the high’s and low’s of the school year occur.

The short essay below gives some fruitful advice as you prepare to enter each conference. As you leave one classroom for another, remember what your mom taught you…tell your child’s teacher “thank you.” They will appreciate the comment.

Written by Lisa Heffernan

I have been to 36 parent-teacher conferences over three different decades and two countries. I have had walked out of my children’s classrooms with high hopes and dashed hopes for the school year. Before one set of conferences my children’s principal warned me of my impending trial by saying, “…your boys define the behavioral spectrum at this school.” In her oh-so-polite English way she was letting me know that I was the mother of both the best and worst behaved child in her school.

Through all of this, which I can only laugh about now, I have learned something about the fine art of the parent-teacher conference and, looking back with more than a touch of regret, here is what I should have known:

I should have shut up. Teachers know things I didn’t. My children’s teachers saw a child that I didn’t and they had a way of putting him into context that I didn’t. The single best thing I could do at a parent-teacher conference was to listen. I was being given a gift, a window through which to view my child, an opening that my open-mouth just slammed shut.

I should not have been blindsided. I hate surprises, but if I am going to get them, I would rather have them while in the privacy of my home than in my child’s classroom, sitting vulnerably in one of those tiny chairs. Talk to your kid before you go to school, ask if there is anything you should know before the meeting. The meeting will go far better if you know of any impending big issues.

A lot of what gets said, goes unsaid. Few teachers have the guts to tell parents that they have raised a monster, a mean girl or the class clown. Teachers have seen it all, few will want to be alarmists, and many will speak through a veil of politeness. Listen to what is being said and what is not being said. Reading between the lines, hearing the implications, can be vital.

Drag your child’s other parent along. My husband came to these conferences and always learned something other than what I did. Because he is male or foreign or just a different person, he heard a slightly different message or thought of different questions and we got twice as much out of our meetings.

This is speed dating, so be prepared. Let’s be honest, most of us can discuss our kids for hours, but teachers have only a few minutes to spare. Come armed with one must-ask question and one must-reinforce point and the meeting will be a success.

Do not get defensive, no matter what. Defensiveness never yields open communication. I have had teachers suggest ADD drugs for a son who did not need them, misjudge another’s abilities entirely, and inform me that one of sons was the source of the bad language used in her classroom (ouch). Get up in arms and it can be a very, very long school year. Most of the time, most teachers showed true insight and care for my children and it behooved me to listen to their insights, without argument. I was there to learn about their behavior, good and bad not to defend their actions.

If any of your questions require info, email the teacher ahead of time. I have kicked myself when we spent our precious few minutes watching my child’s teacher search the classroom for a single piece of paper that contained the answer to one of my questions. See above, this is speed dating, so make it quick and come prepared.

Don’t shortchange your child because another parent lost track of time. If the time-challenged parent who went before you took some of your time, it is truly not your problem. This one was hard for me to learn. When I found myself allotted 10 minutes and ushered in seven minutes late, my impulse was to speak at twice my normal speed. I took me many fast-talking sessions to realize that I did not need to make-up for another parent’s bad manners by cutting my session short.

No need for panic. It doesn’t all have to happen in this one, very abbreviated meeting. It took me years to learn not to try and squeeze a year’s worth of thoughts into 10 minutes. The school year is long, the means of communication are many, so whatever does not get said in this one hurried encounter can be revisited.

Lisa Heffernan is the author of three business books, including a New York Times business bestseller, and writes about parenting during the high school and college years at Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Twitter.


Modeling the Use of Technology

As our daily lives are taken up more and more by personal devices, we, parents, are no longer dealing with how to balance our lives and the lives of our children and families with Atari, Intellivision, or a Nintendo. Our lives and the lives of our children are truly global, all in a hand held device. There are very few 13 year olds that I know who are not connected.

St. John Paul the Great, truly brought personalism into common language of late 20th century Catholics. Today, Millennials struggle to teach society that connecting with nature, and the people around us reminds us that we are human; we do need physical contact with each other and the world in which we’re were born. I see my Generation X, and Millennials handing over small personal devices to toddlers and those a wee bit older. We struggle to live personally. Below this N.Y. Times article assists in reminding us. Children act as their parents act in front of them.

(As found on January 29, 2018 at

Keep Your Head Up: How Smartphone Addiction Kills Manners and Moods

Jan. 25, 2018

Let’s play a game: The next time you’re sitting among a group of friends or out on a date, measure how much time passes before someone grabs their phone to look at it.

How long can you last?

“If that happens, that’s when dinner ends,” said Judith Martin, the Washington Post writer whose Miss Manners column is syndicated to 200 newspapers a week.

“I don’t think anyone would dare do that to me,” she said.

Most of us don’t have the authority that comes with 40 years of being Miss Manners, but no matter who you are it can be near impossible to pry anyone away from their mobile playthings. (Harder still: Are your friends or partner more into their smartphone than they are into you?)

The problem of looking at our devices nonstop is both social and physiological.

The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and when we bend our neck to text or check Facebook, the gravitational pull on our head and the stress on our neck increases to as much as 60 pounds of pressure. That common position, pervasive among everyone from paupers to presidents, leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. “Text neck” is becoming a medical issue that countless people suffer from, and the way we hang our heads has other health risks, too, according to a report published last year in The Spine Journal.

Posture has been proven to affect mood, behavior and memory, and frequent slouching can make us depressed, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The way we stand affects everything from the amount of energy we have to bone and muscle development, and even the amount of oxygen our lungs can take in. Body language, perceptions of weakness versus power — it’s all real.

And the remedy can be ridiculously simple: Just sit up.

Social psychologists like Amy Cuddy claim even standing in a confident posture, with your head up and shoulders back, can heighten testosterone and cortisol flow in the brain, preventing much of the above. So, why aren’t we heeding these signs? It might be simple denial.

Inattentional blindness is a problem

Some 75 percent of Americans believe their smartphone usage doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting, according to the Pew Research Center, and about a third of Americans believe that using phones in social settings actually contributes to the conversation.

But does it?

Etiquette experts and social scientists are adamantly united: Nope.

That “always-on” behavior that smartphones contribute to causes us to remove ourselves from our reality, experts said. And aside from the health consequences, if we’re head down, our communication skills and manners are slumped, too. But, ironically, that might not be how most of us see ourselves.

“We think somehow that this antisocial behavior is not going to affect me,” said Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University.

Ms. Way studies technology’s role in shaping adolescent development. These head-down interactions take us away from the present, no matter what group we’re in, she said. And it’s not just a youth problem. It’s ingrained, learned, copied and repeated, much of it from mimicking adults. When kids see their parents head down, they emulate that action. The result is a loss of nonverbal cues, which can stunt development.

“What’s happening more and more is we’re not talking to our children,” Ms. Way said. “We put them in front of the tech when they’re young, and when we’re older, we’re absorbed in our own tech.”

You’ve seen it: Think of how some parents deal with screaming toddlers. “Here kid, take this iPhone and go to town,” according to Ms. Way — not, “Let’s talk this out, what seems to be the problem, son?’”

She added: “We think, ‘Somehow my kids will know what’s a good and bad interaction, they’ll have empathy.’ But when I go upstairs into my son’s room and seven teens are all looking at their phones, none of them saying a word, there’s all sorts of disengagement happening. It’s not Facebook that’s the problem, it’s how we’re using Facebook.”

All ages are affected

A study in 2010 found that adolescents ages 8 to 18 spent more than 7.5 hours a day consuming media. Since then, our digital addictions have continued to, in some ways, define our lives: In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 24 percent of teenagers are “almost constantly” online.

Adults aren’t any better: Most adults spend 10 hours a day or more consuming electronic media, according to a Nielsen’s Total Audience Report from last year.

The National Safety Council reports cellphone use makes drivers more accident prone than drunk driving, causing 1.6 million crashes annually, mostly from young people ages 18 to 20. One out of four accidents in the United States are caused by texting.

“Mobile devices are the mother of inattentional blindness,” said Henry Alford, the author of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners.” “That’s the state of monomaniacal obliviousness that overcomes you when you’re absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of everything else.”

The social scientist Sherry Turkle analyzed 30 years of family interactions in her book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” She found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional, Dr. Turkle suggests, and sensory overload can often mean our feelings are constantly anesthetized.

Researchers at the University of Michigan claim empathy levels have plummeted while narcissism is skyrocketing, with emotional development, confidence and health all affected when we tuck our chins in and let our heads hang like human ostriches.

Facebook’s former president, Sean Parker, recently said the platform was designed to be addictive and to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible,” which he characterized as boosting our self-esteem, ever-present in the dopamine hit of likes.

“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” he said. “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

That said: You’re probably reading this story on a mobile device right now. And that’s O.K.! (As long as you’re not behind the wheel.) We’re not here to tell you to throw away your iPhone and abandon digital media. But like many addictions, admitting a problem is the first step to treatment. And, mercifully, the fix isn’t anti-tech — it’s pro-conversation, according to Dr. Turkle.

Make an effort to interact with people

Digital detoxes have never been so popular, but they’re no cure-all, and realistically, there simply isn’t a black-and-white fix.

The simplest answer for all of us is biblical: Do unto others — and maybe do it without clutching your smartphone. Next time you’re in the checkout lane or stopped at a red light, look around. How many people are really there with you?

“Actual human beings, in the flesh, take precedence,” Ms. Martin chided. “To ignore people you’re with is rude, whether you ignore them for virtual friends or distant friends by snubbing them.”

It sounds so obvious it almost borders on stupid. But like Dr. Turkle’s hope of building dialogue, not denigrating the digerati, it’s an obvious dialogue we’re not having enough of.

Mr. Alford, who used to write a monthly manners column for The New York Times, described the issue as a “monomaniacal obliviousness” of being absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of the rest of the world.

“To treat the person standing in front of you as secondary to your phone, is usually, as the kids say, a micro-aggression,” he said.

Many Silicon Valley pundits go to war when anyone so much as suggests that tech’s merits aren’t uniformly positive. But in light of the brutal schoolyard that social media has become, that approach now appears moot.

Young or old, we’re all a generation of literal test cases. Etiquette, manners, body language, the way we respond, interact and even look is changing. We’re missing a whole life happening a mere 90 degrees above our smartphones. Start looking up.

“Never be the first person in the group to whip out his phone,” Mr. Alford said. “Don’t be Patient Zero.”

Adam Popescu is a writer living in Los Angeles who contributes frequently to the Times. He can be reached on Twitter at @adampopescu

Marriage Upgrade through Family Enrichment

Wedding Feast at Cana

One of the most common subjects when preparing for marriage, whether you have a religious background or not is communication.  Communication is brought up and cannot be brought up enough.  One of the cornerstones for a successful marriage, and there are a few…is communication.  One proactive way to build and keep open lines of communication with your spouse is partaking in Family Enrichment.  John Keefe offers a personal testimony about the his marriage, family and the program at  If you are in Texas, a you can locate an active Family Enrichment program.


It’s been a while since my wife Patti and I had children below the age of nine. But then came the grandchildren.

So I guess we are still in the education game, except that a) we are not raising them, and b) we are not their primary educators. But we can help.

Patti and I took a family enrichment course back in the late 70’s when we had just one child. Jim Morgan of Boston had invited Raphael Pich, one of the founders of Family Development, to come to the U.S. from Spain and offer the course here. Inspired by the teachings of Saint Josemaria, Pich saw clearly the great need to defend and strengthen the family in today’s society.

We had the benefit of taking the course with a mix of younger and older couples, a dynamic in which especially the younger couples enjoyed the comments and perspective of those who were older since they were speaking from experience.

We learned from Raphael Pich how to apply the case-study method to our family situations. With the case-study method, you read over a hypothetical case four times: first, by yourself; then with your spouse; next with a small group of couples; and then finally, with the moderator and all the groups together. During each review, you look at three things:

1. FACTS: People should be able to agree on the facts of a given case, with evidence in the text to support each of them. For our conversations, it is important that everyone be in agreement on the facts. Within a couple, there may sometimes be a person who “jumps to conclusions” by thinking that something is a fact, when in reality they are inferring or making an educated guess. Pich often used to say, “Where is that in the text? Do we know that’s true? Is that a fact or a supposition?” One of the skills developed from breaking-down the cases is learning to proceed with some caution. The facts are your foundation for assessing the problem. But if the facts are wrongly ascertained, your solution will solve a problem that isn’t there. Often you know you have a problem, but you are not sure what it is. Study the facts. Talk to your spouse.

2. PROBLEMS: Identifying the problem presented by a case involves some interpretation and analysis, and on this people do not have to agree. In fact, two different people will see two different problems in the same case. Hearing someone out who is seeing something you didn’t see or seeing it from a different angle can cause you to narrow your focus or broaden your scope or even change your view entirely. This happens hopefully within the couple, and in both small-group and large-group discussions. It is important to respect each other’s opinions, but also to make sure that a given opinion is grounded in the facts of the case. Are there cleardifficulties with specific problems?

3. SOLUTIONS: Here we are striving for tangible, practical solutions that address root causes. If you’ve done the first two steps well, an effective solution is easier to find.

With the help of this method, Patti and I were able to develop skills for problem-solving in our own family setting. And we used these skills while doing our most important work: raising our children to be mature adults, passing on the faith and love for the Church. Among the skills learned, I would highlight the following as keys to good parenting:

1. How to speak to each other and to the children
2. To watch, wait and listen before charging ahead with a solution
3. To appreciate the positive value of freedom
4. To value the importance of the unity of husband and wife

All this, along with a fundamental idea: not lectures but role models; not words but actions. We applied all these things for the next 30 plus years across all 11 of our children.

In the center, Raphael Pich, founder of Family Development, with John to the right and Patti to the left, pictured with other couples in the mid-90’s in Boston.

Sometimes your wife will make an implicit “call for help” when interacting with the children. When your spouse makes a call for help, the answer should always be YES. Unity in a marriage is a great gift to the children. It is the great secret. Even if your wife is wrong, if you support her then you are right. Let me say that again, this time very slowly. Even if your wife is wrong, if you support her, then you are right.

Why? Because you need to be where she is on any question, so that as husband and wife, mother and father, you are unified. Children thrive under this regime. So give in to your spouse, and stay united!

Here are the priorities for a happy marriage:

#1 priority: Spouse
#2 priority: Spouse
#3 priority (or lower): Children

It’s not a question of being humble or meek or submissive; it’s about being wise. The unity of husband and wife creates an umbrella in the home under which everything goes forward: discipline, meal times, bed time, get-togethers, etc.

A call for help is always an invitation for unity: “Be with me.” “Come with me over here.” All the problems can be solved if you are always with your spouse in unity.

The Family Enrichment course invites us to see that our interactions with our children need to be centered and focused on them as unique individuals at a certain moment in their physical, intellectual and emotional development. Therefore, we need to tailor our interactions to:

• Who they are
• What they are like now
• Where we want them to go

We are educating them as their primary educators–their parents–for freedom. Freedom from us, freedom to choose for themselves. We want them to choose the good, which will make them happy.

With this in mind, we want to work in close unity with our spouse to make a cheerful and happy home, with some order (not excessive), some discipline (mild), and lots of fun!

By learning from other parents in the course, older and younger, we can come up with some suggestion for our own family situation, and then work on those one or two items. These are small steps in the right direction: a family plan with a clear resolution.

I highly recommend finding a family enrichment course near you if you have the opportunity.

For information about possible courses in your area and contact information, click here.

Found at on March 20, 2016.