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4 Ways to Make Parent-Teacher Conferences Easier

It’s an intense time, but you can make things go smoother with these simple preparation strategies.

November 12, 2021
Parent teacher meeting
Bob Daemmrich / Alamy

Parent-teacher conference week is challenging no matter how many years of teaching you have under your belt. Here are a few quick and easy-to-implement tips to help you survive.

How to Figure Out Scheduling

One of the biggest headaches when it comes to conference week is the scheduling. Precious time is spent creating copy after copy of initial contact pages explaining the purpose of conferences, sending home directions to circle open time slots, using those to create a schedule, and sending home confirmation times. But the papers tend not to come back, parents forget about them, and suddenly there are no more open times—leaving you scrambling to find a way to fit someone in at the last minute.

Survival Tip 1: Use Calendly. With this free online resource, you can quickly block off days and times that are available, and parents can sign up for a time slot all on their own. Even better, you can specify the type of meetings you offer, whether it’s via Zoom, with Microsoft Teams, over the phone, or in person. All you have to do is send home a link to your Calendly page or post it on your class site using whatever platform you already have in place, and the rest is done for you. It should take only a few minutes to set up, saving you hours of scheduling and confirming dates later on.

What to Say to Parents

Although there will definitely be conferences where there is plenty to say and some hard conversations with families may be required, many teachers struggle the most with discussing kids who are right on target. These students can be the hardest to talk to parents about because you genuinely feel like they’re just doing really well. However, parents want to hear something more specific than that their child is doing fine. So, what do you say?

Survival Tip 2: Give “Three Stars and a Wish.” A simple way to organize your thoughts and put them in a format for parents to easily understand is a technique called Three Stars and a Wish. The stars highlight three academic or behavior-related successes, and the wish frames an area of improvement for the child in a positive way while allowing parents to have an honest conversation about their progress at home. Even if the parents don’t want a conference or don’t show up, you can still send the completed sheets home as a midyear update.

Show Parents What’s Happening

A common concern from parents and guardians during conference week involves a genuine interest in their child’s day-to-day life. Parents may tell you, “We never see what our child is doing in class,” or that they’ve never seen graded work come home, or that their child just isn’t forthcoming with information about what they do in the classroom. How do you prepare yourself for this conversation?

Survival Tip 3: Have artifacts ready to share. If you’re an elementary teacher, have something to show for more than one subject so that parents get the full picture.

Providing authentic work at conferences shows the following:

  1. You do grade work.
  2. Whether a parent’s perception of their child’s level of effort matches what the student is really doing.

Many teachers find success having students choose a writing piece in their notebook to bookmark or another assignment or test that they are proud of. This always puts a smile on parents’ faces, the kids get to show off a bit, and you don’t have to go looking for something. It’s a win-win-win!

How to Prevent Exhaustion

During conference week, teachers tend to wake up and drive to work in the dark hours of the morning and pull out of the parking lot in the dark hours of the evening. Eight hours of teaching followed by a few more hours of meetings day after day can really start to have an impact on your well-being if you don’t take care of yourself.

Survival Tip 4: Take care of yourself. It’s easier said than done, but it’s important to take care of yourself before you can give your best to others. Here are a few basic self-care tips to keep in mind:

  • Bring snacks: Fast food may seem like a good idea because it’s easy, but it will leave you feeling tired quicker than a smaller snack that will actually fuel your body and mind. Choose protein-packed or fiber-rich foods to get you through and keep you full.
  • Don’t forget water: Not only could you be talking for up to 10 hours a day, but also your body requires as much nourishment as possible when you’re tired.
  • Bathroom breaks: Don’t skip bathroom breaks because you’re worried that you might run out of time in between conferences. Instead, you might come off as uncaring because you rushed them out the door talking so quickly. You’re only human, so take breaks when you need them.

Keeping these tips in mind not only will save you the time and energy you need to keep going but also will ultimately help to strengthen the connection between school and home for your students.

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