Parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner. It is easy to think about conferences as stressful, exhausting, marathon days and nights, but it is important to remember that they are a crucial part of helping our students reach their potential. This may be the only face-to-face conversation with a student’s family that you will have, and it is important to make the most of the fifteen to twenty minutes. Read on to find tips for holding a successful parent-teacher conference keeping them low-stress for you, and meaningful for parents.
Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference:
Make sure to ask for parent feedback ahead of time.
This way you aren’t blindsided by an issue you didn’t know about and you’ll have time to prepare a response. Gather information from parents using a parent input form. In addition, have students reflect on their academic behavior prior to the parent-teacher conference and share that with parents. I use a student reflection sheet at the end of each marking period.
Set up your waiting area.
Place a desk and a few adult size chairs outside of your room. Cover the table with fabric to give the effect of a tablecloth. Set out reading material, such as a newspaper and some parenting magazines. Place a small box of toys and children’s books for younger siblings and students to access. Leave a bowl of Lifesaver Mints with a sign that reads, “Your encouraging words are a lifesaver for your child,” and notepaper for parents to write a note to their child. Some teachers leave student portfolios outside of the classroom for parents to peruse while waiting, but I hesitate to do this due to student privacy. Instead, I make sure to display projects on the wall with QR codes to students reading or explaining their work. Finally, place your conference schedule on the back of your door with a sign on the door that says, “Please knock at the time of your conference.”
Respect your time and parents’ time in a polite way.
Stick to your schedule by utilizing the sign from #2, and position yourself so that your clock is in your line of vision. Don’t set a timer counting down the minutes that parents can see. It sets the tone that you are timing them and from a parent’s perspective, I know firsthand that it is disconcerting. If you feel that you need more time, or parents feel this, explain that you realize this is an important conversation, but you’ll need to follow up on the phone or through email. Before concluding the conference, make sure to state the goals you have made or the specific items you need to discuss next time. Leave parents with a “next step” instead of with a feeling of unfinished business.
Don’t surprise parents with anything at parent-teacher conference time.
Send graded work home throughout the marking period, and if you feel that a student will not perform well in any area, have a conversation ahead of time about this, and follow up on any progress (or lack of progress) at the parent-teacher conference. Keep open lines of communication about behavior as well, both positive and negative. Every now and then, little things average out to be a surprise for me as I develop my report cards. When this happens, I make sure to reach out to parents prior to the report card going home so that they aren’t surprised when they see a less desirable grade.
Have evidence of the grades you are sharing.
If parents question a grade on the report card, it is important to have student work to demonstrate how the child earned that score. Make sure to have student work samples organized in a file folder or in an online journal such as SeeSaw. I sort these in the order of my conference schedule so that it is out and ready to share.
Don’t sugar coat academic problems.
Parents need to understand the severity of a child performing below grade level. However, simply explaining this problem without setting goals for helping the child, (and without giving parents hope for helping that child) will backfire.
If there are problem behaviors, explain what you are observing.
Ask parents if they are also noticing these. If they are, ask if there are any strategies they use at home that would help you in the classroom. This is a great way to show that you value their input. If the parents are also at a loss for how to handle it, set a “next step” for whom you can consult for ideas. Student-led conferences are very effective due to the ownership that students take on, however, I do like to talk to parents alone as well. I find it is especially effective to meet with parents and students if we are not all on the same page. After explaining this to the parents, I invite students for part of the conference in order to set goals.
Don’t conference alone.
Always schedule conferences when others are in the building. If you anticipate a heated conference, ask your guidance counselor, administrator, or even another teacher to sit in with you. If a parent becomes angry enough to make you feel intimidated or fearful, end the conference and explain that you will reschedule for another time. Talk to your administrator immediately about how to proceed, and make sure to reschedule the conference for a time that your administrator can attend.
Don’t allow yourself to vent.
This is a time to objectively state what you observe. Parents don’t want to hear complaints about their child. If you are frustrated with the child, 9 times out of 10, the parents are frustrated with the same thing and they don’t know how to fix it either. Sometimes parents use this time to vent. Make sure to listen, but guide the conversation to help them identify challenges and set goals.
Let parents know that you are both working toward the same goal: To help the child reach his or her potential.
Make sure to actively listen, and resist the temptation to be defensive. You want to create buy-in for parents. Let them know how invested you are in their child. Even if you don’t see eye to eye they will know that you also want what is best for their child. Be confident, and advocate for the methods you are using to help the student reach success. Be honest if you’re not sure how to get there, but assure them that you have plans for communicating with other teachers, administrators, and coaches who do.
Best of luck to you as you work to communicate with parents. Parent-teacher Conference is a great opportunity to model and share parenting skills. In addition, consider it an opportunity to better understand your students’ lives, which can lead to more informed instruction. Bridging this divide will help your students reach their true potential, possibly for many years to come!