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Making Difficult Parent-Teacher Conferences Easier

Making Difficult Parent-Teacher Conferences Easier

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"As an 8th grade special ed math teacher, sitting in on parent-teacher meetings can be painful."

To hear the statement above from a teacher struck me. Actually it was painful to hear. Her issue was that even though some positives are shared, much of the meetings are focused on the “problems”, and as the meeting progresses, she can see the parents getting increasingly more overwhelmed. In her case as a special ed teacher, she recognizes that the student isn’t at the level of his/her peers, but knows how far the child has come personally. So although there is more work to do, there is also much to be proud of.

Unlike at the elementary level where meetings are often encouraged for every student...in a middle school (at least our’s), they are only suggested if there’s an issue (or a parent requests). This particular teacher is not at our school, but they follow the same policy of suggesting meetings only for those who have issues needing to be discussed. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to be informed of problems and/or struggles, because we cannot work to resolve them if we don’t know they exist...and I get the time constraints for teachers at the secondary level given the number of students they have. But...as a parent, I don’t want a teacher to dread speaking with my child or me. I don’t want my child to feel like their hard work isn’t paying off. And I don’t want to feel like I am incapable of providing the help/support that my child needs from me at home. Yet I think these feelings are inevitable if every interaction comes with bad news.

So what can we do leading up to and during these conferences to make them “less painful” for all?

  • Build a line of communication that allows for sharing of information on a regular basis.  Feedback that addresses issues is easier to receive from someone you have a working relationship with - someone you know and trust.  
  • Be helpful - address issues - but also put together an action plan to resolve. Having a plate full of issues to resolve can simply be overwhelming and at times leave one unsure of where to even begin.  
  • Consider letting the student lead the conference. Give them the opportunity to take ownership of their education/learning.

Although this initial comment came from a special ed teacher, I don’t think the issue is limited to special ed. Nor do I think it has to be the teacher to initiate these. All kids have reasons to be proud, obstacles to overcome and new goals to strive for. The question is, how do we maintain positivity in these brief conferences to minimize frustrations (for everyone), reaffirm that with continued efforts, success can be achieved, while still effectively addressing issues at hand? What have you done?


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

iirpo's picture

We have to keep the balance between negative and positive news. We always to let an open door for improvement (for the pupil's school success). Parents become slowly less aggressive and planning further meets for an upgrading shows the teacher hasn't prejudices against the pupil. Quotation of theories and edu-specialists also reinforce the image of the competent teacher. I teach in amiddle school and I must say this all works!

axamcarnes's picture

I think focusing in positivity might be a misguided approach. We all like positive meetings because we don't like the discomfort of a negative or confrontational meeting. However,
there are times when the meeting can only be positive if the parent "gets his/her way" on an issue. That is not always realistic or in the benefit of the students. I am on both sides of the fence as a teacher and as a parent of a child with an IEP and another one with a 504. When I go to a SPED or 504 meeting, I want a solution focused approach from the get go. As a teacher, I abide by these rules, which have served me well over the years:

1. Go well prepared with all the documentation and evidence that I have on that student, including parent communication, dates, scores, etc. I don't show it all at once but have it in case it is needed.

2). Do not take ANYTHING the parents say personally. It is not about me, it is about their child.

3) Do not engage the parent if he/she is attacking me. I don't respond to accusations but refocus the meeting on the facts at hand and their child. If there is a genuine question, I'll respond to it concisely and briefly and move on.

4) Find some positives things to say about their child, even if it is not related to academics.

5) Offer solutions. For example: this is what I am doing, this is what Child needs to do, this is what you can do help him/her out.

I think the goal is to find resolution not positivity. By the end of the meeting, the parents (though they may be unhappy with me) should feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed. They also need to have a clear understanding of the next steps and how communication will take place moving forward.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

axamcarnes, you share some great practical tips, and I'm interested how you prepare for and approach SPED meetings. Would you be interested in expanding on your comment as a community post here on Edutopia? I think it would really benefit teachers looking for help on this topic.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

I think this is an area where positive phone calls (or notes) home really shine. In brief, the idea is to start the parent-teacher relationship on good footing by communicating with the parents early about something positive. It's a huge boost for both students and parents. Here's a blog post by Elena Aguilar that talks about her experiences with it: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/power-positive-phone-call-home-elena-aguilar

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