By Teachers, For Teachers
Parent-teacher conferences provide a unique opportunity for parents to get a glimpse of how their children function within the classroom. Golden as this opportunity may be, the occurrence can cause anxiety on both sides. As teachers, we strive to provide an accurate picture of a child’s performance, while also presenting signs of a healthy, productive classroom environment. Conferences have potential to be either effective or counterproductive. Proper planning can ensure that your parent teacher conferences run as smoothly as possible. Below are some tips to facilitate this planning.
When it comes to parent conferences, it is better to be overprepared than underprepared. Once a conference is set, it is in your best interest to reach out to the parent or guardian and inquire about any concerns or necessary accommodations. If a parent needs a translator, for example, you want to make arrangements to accommodate them prior to the meeting. Because I work in a large school that can be difficult to navigate, I always reach out to parents with helpful directions and parking tips. This saves time, and parents are always grateful.
Because you are indubitably lacking extra time, you can have these proactive questions ready at the beginning of the year. If your school has conference week, you can send home a premade sheet for parents to list concerns and request accommodations ahead of the conference. This will show parents that you are willing to ensure their conference experience is as pleasant and useful as possible.
Parents like to feel welcome when visiting the classroom under any circumstance. Before a parent comes in for a conference, you can take steps to cultivate a parent-friendly atmosphere. Arrange furniture in a fashion that promotes collaborative discussion. It is best to sit around a table or form desks into a group just as your students would during collaboration. Keep in mind that a parent conference should feel like a team meeting, not a confrontation or parental or teacher evaluation. As such, you should avoid sitting behind your desk.
Cultivating a welcoming atmosphere does not end when the conference begins. Once your parents arrive, be sure to greet them with a positive demeanor. It is a best practice to start your discussion with positive information. Don’t wait to come up with this information on the spot, take time to reflect upon the positive attributes of the student before the conference. It can be challenging to identify a positive when meeting about a difficult student, but remember that weaknesses in the classroom can be highlighted as positives elsewhere. For instance: your student who talks excessively may have excellent communication skills, or your headstrong student may possess a skillset that is useful during debate or argumentation.
No matter the nature of the conference, you should never arrive empty-handed. Data and work samples are two valuable tools that should be present at every meeting. Parents want to have a window into their child’s daily life in your classroom. Prepare to present work examples within context – How did students prepare for the assignment? What does mastery look like in comparison? When providing data, make sure that your parents understand what that data means. If a student has an 874 Lexile, for example, what does this say about the student’s reading comprehension ability? Having charts and diagrams available that correlate scores to grade and performance levels is helpful. Try to steer clear of educational jargon by practicing your explanation of data in parent-friendly terms.
Whether a student is excelling or struggling academically, two words should dominate the academic conversation: Progress and growth. Prepare for a discussion about the student’s progress. You should have data points that show how the student has improved, regressed, or remained stagnant thus far. Don’t feel pressure to demonstrate growth where there is none – always paint an honest picture for parents. Take time to reflect prior to the conference so that you are prepared to offer the parent a thorough assessment of factors contributing to their child’s progress or lack thereof.
Go into every conference with a plan for student growth. Every student, whether developing or advanced, has room for growth. Outline your plan for supporting the student’s growth and invite the parent to provide input. Prepare suggestions and tips for how parents can support their students’ learning at home. Be intentional about reiterating that you, the parent, and the student are a team who share a common goal.
While you should approach every parent conference with a positive outlook, it is important to be prepared when a conference goes awry. Every teacher experiences conferences that become contentious, and these conferences can easily become counterproductive. When you know that a parent is upset about an issue, prepare to maintain an understanding yet confident presence. In some cases, you can reach out to the parent via phone to clarify their concerns and expectations for the meeting and assure that you plan to make an effective use of their time. Reach out to your administrator or another appropriate authority to sit in the conference and mediate if necessary. Make sure you meet with the mediator ahead of time to lay out the parents’ concerns and discuss your actions and ideas for moving forward.
It’s worth noting that you don’t always know if a parent will become combative during a conference. Have a plan in place for conferences that become tense unexpectedly. Be prepared to maintain a calm tone and truly listen to the parents’ concerns. It may be a good idea to suggest a follow-up conference and involve an administrator in that meeting.
Parent conferences are necessary and beneficial when they operate effectively. There are many factors beyond our authority as educators, but planning is within our control. While parent conferences can be unpredictable, you can take steps to steer them in a positive direction.
Whitney is an English Teacher/Case Manager who holds a B.S.Ed. in English Education from the University of Georgia; an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Grand Canyon University; and an Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership from Thomas University.