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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Just as you've finally settled into a rhythm in your class, it is now time for parent-teacher conferences. This event can cause dread for some teachers. There's always this fear that the parents are going to ask something about their child that the teacher will not know the answer to. Teachers are scared that they might have to face the angry parent who wants to question all of the practices that take place in the classroom. It's true that you never know what's going to happen when the parents show up, but over the years, I've come up with some really effective tips to help any teacher survive those parent/teacher conferences.

1. Be Prepared

If your school stores student grades digitally, bring a laptop or tablet that can allow parents to see grades. Some parents don't check their child's grades on a regular basis and might want to see the most recent update of the gradebook. These moments can always be good jumping-off points to a conversation. Explaining an assignment or two and how their child performed could be a good way to show the parents what their son or daughter is doing each day. It can be helpful for the parents to see the assignments and get a better understanding of what the expectations are for your class.

For younger students, bring in some examples of student work so that parents can see what their child has created. It's a great idea to have these examples posted somewhere in the classroom or waiting for them on the students' desks. This allows the parents some time to see the room and the learning spaces that you have created for the students. Consider letting the parents take the student creations home. It always reflects well on you when you can show them the work their child does in classroom and send them home with a nice souvenir.

2. The 2-for-1 Approach

There will be times when you'll need to have to have conversations with parents about certain behaviors or attitudes that are cause for concern. Instead of talking solely about the issues that student is having in class, come up with a couple of positive things to say for every issue that needs to be addressed. Often, the parents already know that things haven't been going smoothly, so hearing about some of the nice things can put them at ease and make them a bit more understanding when it comes to addressing those behaviors or attitudes. Make sure these positive stories are personal -- and do not undersell them. Every student has good qualities that should be highlighted, and it's important to share those with parents who don't want to hear only about the problems.

3. Just Listen

One of the things I've learned over the years is that some parents want to be listened to. They want to share some of their own stories about the child they have in your class, and those stories can be very important in understanding the student more deeply. Taking the time to really hear parents can help create a better school-to-home connection that can help later in the year if further contact is needed to address other issues. Listening is such a valuable skill, and the parent/teacher conference can be stressful for the parents as well, so being receptive to their stories can help everyone feel better by the end of the night.

4. Put out the Welcome Mat

This one has been big for me. It's so important to create space for students to feel comfortable in your classroom, and the same is true for parents during these conferences. Bring in some chairs to replace the student desks. Make sure that the desk or table you're using for the conferences is clear of clutter. Leave out some candy for parents to munch on while you talk about their child. Make sure that the room is clean and that tables have been wiped down. All of these little details can make a big difference in how the conversation might go. Parents are coming onto your turf, and you want them to feel comfortable. By taking some time to create a welcoming environment for these meetings, you'll find that parents will feel a lot more comfortable.

Every parent-teacher conference is different, but these tips can help make the event better. If you're a teacher with some great tips on how to make this a wonderful time for everyone, please share. Are you a parent with some great tips for teachers? Leave them in the comments section so that teachers can use them for their next parent conference.

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RKramer's picture

Your article couldn't have came out at a better time for me. I am in my first year teaching, and my parent open house is next week. I have been trying to put together something brief, yet informative, for all my parents to receive. I think the best advice I got from you was to just put on a smile and listen. When it comes to these type of nights, you have to remember it is all about the child. Getting a step up on a child's progress will always be the number one goal.

Natalie's picture

I too am in my first year teaching, actually a special education co-teacher. I am looking forward to parent-teacher conferences, but somewhat nervous too. I enjoyed reading your tips. You reminded me that parents are also feeling a bit nervous entering the teacher's turf. It will be important to make them feel comfortable. I also need to be prepared to share positive comments about their children.

Briana Winters's picture

This article was very helpful for me. I did remember a lot of this from my education classes, but this was a great reminder. I've never experienced teacher conferences before so this article gave me a great place to start to prepare for conferences. I'm definitely nervous for that experience. What if a parent asks me something I don't know? I guess I'll just have to do my best and try to keep them happy.

Angela's picture

I am a second year educator involved in mid-level Math and Science curriculum. Currently I have 148 students whom I am responsible for educating and at times it can be quite difficult to keep track of personable details regarding each individual child. Although I agree that being able to discuss in detail each student's positive individual qualities as a bridge building method is an effective means to connect with parents, I have to state from my own professional experiences, that it is a difficult thing to do when there are so many diverse students to take into consideration. I have had several closed session conferences with parents of struggling students regarding classroom etiquette and behavioral issues and unfortunately more often than not the parents are either disinterested or outright combative. I, as an educator, strive every day to enable my students to succeed in the learning process and it is a frustrating occurrence to come to discover parents that are unwilling to aid my attempts in doing so. I would be most interested in an approach that really cements in parents' minds the importance of helping students achieve academic excellence in this important period of student development. As much as I would enjoy having a friendly relationship with parents, I would also enjoy a consideration of respect and assistance in doing what is academically best for the student. I currently utilize an online accessible grading system for parents to view which provides real-time information regarding their child's academic progress and work completion rate, yet they rarely access it. If anyone has suggestions of how I would be better capable of encouraging or explaining the importance of this available information in a parent teacher conference encounter it would also be greatly appreciated.

CG2013's picture

I am also a second year educator. How do you suggest capturing the parents attention over the phone? Often times, our parents don't have transportation and are unable to physically meet. We have to conduct plenty of phone conferences.

Carl Douglas's picture

I like how you mention to just listen, so often we as teachers feel the need to justify what we have been doing in our classrooms. Parent communication is a big aspect of a child's schooling, through the parents you learn more about the families' culture and beliefs, and you learn ways to communicate with that individual student. Thank you for the great ideas :)

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

Research has shown that parental involvement is the most important factor in a student's success in school. We send home personal letters to notify parents of conference dates. We outline an agenda that will interest them and emphasize the importance of the conference to their children's education. Base the length of the conferences on the needs of the students. We telephone parents who do not respond and encourage them to attend. Include a syllabus or an outline of general areas of study, a list of broad academic goals for the year, and a copy of your classroom rules and procedures. I invite them to ask questions about those materials at the conference. We know exactly what we have to say and what questions you will ask. We are prepared to cite specific examples when expressing concern about the student's work or behavior.

Alysha Hillard's picture

I agree with the young lady Angela who posted her comment stating that often times parents come in combative about their child's performance in school, ability levels, grades, etc. They often point the blame fully at the teacher without considering the role that their child plays into their own education. I think that the ideas proposed in the blog will hopefully eliminate that need for parents to overcompensate for what their child can actually do. My husband and I recently encountered such a situation with my step-sons mother who constantly develop excuses as to why her son is performing bad in school. The teacher, the grades aren't up to date, we're to hard on him, etc. When in fact we can look at the situation for what it is and understand that much of it is our son and he is not performing to his full potential. I love the portals that have student grades and teachers who praise students for what they actually do and not say or do things because they know that a parent would want to hear it. I particularly enjoyed this post and found it very informative.

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essentialspy.com's picture
essentialspy.com
Entrepreneur and technology fan

Well from my own high-school experience I remember my parents coming in, sitting there at the desks, mostly listening to what our teachers had to say and discuss what this or that kid had done. It was a large school so the next thing we all knew what was happening with everyone. I'd appreciate more privacy there, but it wasn't really possible back then. I do also remember some of the kids having troubles with teachers blaming them out of nothing, just because they did not like them. Being a kid you couldn't really oppose to that hardly ever would anyone believe you. Parents would then spend hours at home, talking to us about our 'behaviour', 'getting the truth' and stuff. I wish teachers nowadays would educate parents more on some of tools they could use while monitoring their childrens' perfromance, grades and behaviours. You don't have to hear that anymore from their teacher, you should know this yourself by monitoring their cell phones.

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