Parent-teacher conferences can be a source of stress—even dread—for teachers.
The best way to approach parent-teacher meetings is with a spirit of collaboration, keeping in mind that everyone’s interests are aligned. In fact, research shows that productive home/school partnerships contribute to enhanced learning outcomes for students—you’re in this together.
The following are some strategies you can use to prepare for and conduct a productive conference with parents and guardians.
Before the parent-teacher conference
– Keep in regular contact with parents as a matter of course and provide updates on their child’s missing assignments, learning goals, positive developments, etc. This way, there shouldn’t be any major surprises at the conference. You can also invite parents to prepare a list of questions and/or issues they’d like to discuss with you.
– Enlist students as partners in your preparation: have them gather examples of their favorite work and write down (or dictate to you) what they feel are their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. Make sure to model this process for students and provide plenty of guidance.
– Prepare for each conference individually: gather test results and work samples, and jot down some anecdotal notes about each student. Keep in mind that concrete examples are far more descriptive and illuminating than vague references that parents may dispute.
– Put together preliminary notes for an action plan of cooperative strategies parents can use to support their child’s learning at home, and how you can provide reinforcement in the classroom and maintain open lines of communication.
– Arrange a comfortable setting for both you and the parents: have good seating available, plenty of light, and avoid having parents sit across from you at your desk—a less “adversarial” setting will encourage a pleasant atmosphere and positive collaboration.
During the parent-teacher conference
– Start off by sharing something positive about the student right off the bat. Beginning on a positive note will set the right tone for the meeting—and perhaps set parents at ease if they’re nervous about meeting with you!
– Remember that you’re a team: invite parents to share their thoughts and concerns throughout the meeting, and take care not to dominate the conversation. Allow plenty of time for quiet reflection as parents take in what you’re saying, look over their child’s work, and consider their responses.
– Frame your observations clearly and constructively to parents, with reference to work samples and specific incidents in the classroom.
For instance, if a student tends to act up in class:
– describe the context of the behavior (where and when it happens);
– share specific and objective observations (what exactly occurs);
– address the emotional aspect (what is the impact and what feelings are provoked in the child and others);
– make value statements (why this issue matters); and
– solicit input—what outcome is desired, and how can you approach the problem collaboratively to reach a positive solution?
– Combine your observations and parents’ perceptions into a workable action plan, adding onto the preliminary plan you prepared before the meeting. The final plan of action should be generated on the spot as a team, with parents’ ideas and suggestions incorporated alongside yours. Try to limit it to just two or three actionable items on the parents’ part, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
– Agree on a way that you can provide updates and progress reports on the specific issues raised during the meeting. Don’t overburden yourself with frequent briefings, but do make a plan to follow up with parents in a way that works for everyone.
– Make sure to end on a positive note!
The following are some things you should avoid at all costs during a conference:
- Assigning blame (on the child, parents, family life, etc.);
- Comparing one child with another;
- Talking about other teachers and how they would handle an issue;
- Psychoanalyzing a child (or a parent);
- Having the discussion turn into an argument;
- Telling parents what they “must” or “should” do;
- Focusing on family problems.
After the meeting
– Write down some notes about the conference and anything you want to remember for the future—make sure you record the action plan for yourself, as well! And if the parents had positive things to say about their child and his or her work, you can even share this with the student later (“Your parents loved your nature painting!”).
– Take some time to decompress between conferences. Gather your thoughts, regroup for a few minutes, and then consult your notes to prepare for the next meeting.
– Follow up with parents as needed, and touch base with anyone who didn’t or couldn’t attend the conferences.
Parent-teacher conferences are a time to share positive stories, identify the student’s strengths as well as challenges and areas that need attention, and collaborate as a partnership working toward the same goals.
Everyone should walk away from the meeting feeling informed, with a positive mindset and an action plan for the upcoming weeks and months. If that’s the case, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
To read more about strategies for building positive relationships with parents and caregivers, see our previous post here.