How to survive your first parent-teacher conference at a Swiss school

Are you facing your first parent-teacher conference at a Swiss local school and wonder what to expect?

First of all, set some time aside! Many parents coming from other countries are surprised by the amount of time dedicated to the meeting. For example, in the UK you typically put down your name for a 15 min. slot, whereas in Swiss schools, a meeting will last at least half an hour and might even go on for one hour.

In Switzerland, it is normal (and desirable) for both parents to attend the parent teacher meeting and in most cases, your child will be involved as well. When your child is attending, she will be an active participant in the meeting, with the teacher asking her on each topic how she feels she is doing in that area followed by the teachers’ feedback. Towards the end of the meeting, the parents are invited to ask questions.

The perception of what is considered constructive feedback here in Switzerland and back home might be different and parents should expect straightforward feedback from the teacher. As one mum puts it: ‘I already realized here that to be a good teacher means to push your kid hard. It might be considered negative, focused on criticism, etc.. On the other hand it means they trust you to be confident enough to deal with it.’

What about language???

Unless you are fluent in one of the national languages, you might wonder how to communicate with the teacher during a meeting. Whilst the official policy states that the meeting will be conducted in German (or French or Italian, depending on which part of Switzerland you live in), often teachers are willing to support you if you struggle with the language. Depending on the teacher’s English skills, the meeting might be in English or a mix of both.

However, you should not expect your teacher to conduct the meeting in English and some teachers might not feel comfortable in doing so. To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure to contact the teacher in advance of the meeting to find out if he or she is willing and able to speak English. Alternatively, you can to bring a friend or translator along to facilitate understanding. Many schools will even arrange a translator for 1-to-1 meetings. The teacher might not know of this process, so bring it up and ask them to find out if translation is available.

What is being discussed at the meeting?

The teacher will obviously talk about your child’s’ academic progress and she will highlight particular strengths and areas of concern. You should be aware that apart from academic performance ‘soft skills‘ play a vital role in local primary and are a central component of parent-teacher conferences.

What skills and competencies are being assessed?

At kindergarten level, or the first learning cycle, teachers will usually focus on your child’s emotional and cognitive development rather than subject skills. From primary onwards, the shift will focus to subject skills and your child’s attitude to learning and studying alongside social skills.

In some cantons (e.g. canton Zug) parents with children in kindergarten and primary are asked to fill out a so-called observation form rating their child’s various ‘competencies’ on a scale of ‘clearly evident’, ‘sufficiently evident’, ‘partially evident’ or ‘not yet evident’. These competencies range from ‘social competencies’, ‘learning and organizational skills’ to ‘self competencies’.

Some of the indicators that define those competencies include criteria such as: ‘approach to learning and studying’, ‘social behaviour’ and ‘level of independency and organisation’ and others.

In the case of Zug, parents will be asked to rate their children’s performance in up to forty indicators ! The teacher will fill in the same form and during the parent teacher conference, both teacher and parent will discuss their findings.

If you want to learn more about local school in Switzerland, book an online or face-to-face session with your local school expert.

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