How to have successful parent-teacher conferences

Tips for how to have successful parent-teacher conferences

Conference time is almost here! While meeting with parents is an effective way to work together in the best interest of the student, let's face it : Conferences are stressful! You are working more, you have a lot of grades to get done first, some parents might not agree with everything you're doing, and you will be having a lot of face-to-face conversations with parents that you might only see once or twice a year.

You'll have some easy conferences, but it's quite possible that you'll have some tough ones, too. In order to be successful, you want to convey to parents that you are a team. Here are some ways to make a great impression on parents and build a relationship that will help you work as a team.

If you can schedule conferences, do it! It simplifies life so much. If your school does walk-in conferences, place a few chairs outside your room with a sign-in form. Ask parents to leave a phone number or email if they don't get in to meet with you, and then make sure to follow up. 

Whether you have walk-in conferences or you have scheduled them in advance, don't get caught too long with one parent. If you anticipate the conference taking longer than you feel you can offer on that day, ask to schedule a longer conference so that you have adequate time for that family while still respecting your other parents who are waiting. 

Have examples of student work that highlight what you are working on and that demonstrate the student's progress in class. Ask students to fill out a self-evaluation before conferences that can be shared with parents. A self-evaluation will give you discussion points with the parents, will share the responsibility of learning with the student, and will help ensure that students connect their grades with the work they've put in.

It's a lot easier for parents to believe their child who says you lost that homework assignment when your classroom has papers everywhere and there is no clear organizational system.  This might be the parents' only opportunity to be in your classroom, so take some time to clean and organize before they come in. Appearances do matter in this case!

Seriously! If you have THAT PARENT coming to see you, don't feel backed into a corner. If you are not comfortable speaking to this person alone, don't!  If you know this person will be in at a specific time, ask in advance for an administrator to be present. If the conferences are walk-in style and you are unexpectedly facing a hostile parent, it is okay to schedule a conference at a later date. If a parent is already angry and you are facing him/her alone, it can turn into a situation where it's your word against the parent's. It's best to have someone at your side.

Print out grades ahead of time so that the parent can discuss the grade with the student after the conference. If your students do any sort of achievement testing, try to have printouts of the areas they can improve upon. In addition, it is helpful to have a checklist of student strengths and areas to improve. You can do these ahead of time or during the conference.

If you have a student that is struggling, be ready with some ideas BEFORE the conference. Do you have a tutoring day? Are you willing to offer retakes or extra credit? Can you set up a communication  system with the parent such as a weekly e-mail or a daily note in the student's agenda?  Do you post assignments on a classroom website? 

In addition, if you have already taken extra steps for the student, be prepared to show the parent what you have done. Document everything and make copies! 

If you are easily flustered and forget what you want to say when the moment presents itself, practice ahead of time. Make a list of questions you anticipate and think about how you will answer them. Don't feel bad if you want to keep notes on specific students so you can refer to them when parents come in.

I have to admit that the invention of the Bluetooth has saved me from looking a little unstable, because I practice what I want to say to people while I'm driving in the car. Before the Bluetooth, it looked like I was talking to myself (which I was). Now, it just looks like I'm having a phone conversation. :)

Yes, just listen. Parent-teacher conferences are not just a time for you to talk about the student's progress in class. You can learn a great deal from the parents as well. The parents will often have good ideas about how the child learns, what struggles he/she is facing, and possibly information about the homelife that the child might not have shared with you.

Let the parent speak before jumping in to explain yourself. This can be hard when you feel attacked, but sometimes the parent is just as frustrated as you are. I've found that a lot of parents want to help and just don't know how. If you can listen patiently and calmly, you're more likely to come to a resolution that works for both of you. Being defensive and not listening to the parent is only going to worsen the situation, so take a deep breath and LISTEN. Oh, and then make sure to take notes so you remember the important points!

Remember that parents might have multiple conferences. Some parents might not hear a lot of good comments during these conferences, and the constant negative comments will start to wear on the parent. Whether justified or not, no one wants to hear only the bad side.

Parents love their children and need to hear about their strengths and challenges. If all we ever share are the negative aspects of what we see, we are missing the opportunity to connect with a family. In addition, if there is a negative tone to the entire conference, the parent is more likely to be very defensive if he/she is contacted in the future. You want to form a partnership, so treat the parent respectfully and try to focus as much on the positive as you do on the areas where you want to see improvement.

If you have discussed specific behavior issues, learning goals, or parent questions, be sure to follow up with the parent. If you have extra learning materials the student can work with, be sure to send those home. If time allows, send a thank you note or email to parents who attended. One e-mail sent to yourself with a blind copy sent to any parents who attended is a quick way to do this!

A little extra work before and after conferences can really help you connect with your families, and making that connection helps everything you'll do for the rest of the year. Best of luck!

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