George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Each fall, I attend a parent-teacher conference for my son. I also spend time coaching teachers on preparing for parent conferences. Given these two different perspectives on this tradition, I figured I could share some thoughts for making these conferences meaningful and rewarding for all.

1. Approach Parents with Positive Assumptions

Parents are your friends. They want to partner with you. They want to see their child succeed more than anything else. Parent conferences might be an opportunity for you to surface your beliefs about parents and reflect on them, but when you engage with parents, even if you hold some doubts about them, put those aside. Welcome every parent as your strongest ally in working with your student (their child).

2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

What is your goal or objective for the time you have with parents? What exactly do you want to communicate? What would you like the outcome of this meeting to be?

Here's an example: My goal in Maria's conference is for her mom to see the growth she's made in writing this fall and to determine some ways that she can be more organized. I also want to hear her mom's perspective on the social challenges she's dealing with.

Then prepare your materials. Have notes, tests, and work samples, but plan exactly what you want to share. Don't just sit down with parents and open a massive folder bursting with student work. Put sticky notes on the items you want to share, select the best examples of the growth, and jot down a few notes.

3. Be Solution Oriented

Be specific when asking for change. Telling a parent, "He's distracted a lot," is useless. What is the parent (who isn't sitting next to her child all day) supposed to do with that piece of information? How can she help her child or the teacher?

Whatever support you ask from a parent needs to be something that is within her sphere of influence. Asking a parent: "Can you talk to him about being more focused?" is possible, and parents can talk and talk, but the results might be limited.

A teacher could say: "I'm concerned because your son is often distracted during independent work in my class. Here's what I'm doing to try to help him . . .  . Do you see this behavior at home ever? Do you have any other ideas for things I could try? Can you think of anything you might be able to do?"

Always convey a growth mindset. All behaviors can change given the right conditions. If you want to see changes and have concerns about a student, be prepared to offer specific, actionable solutions.

4. Take the Opportunity to Learn

What could you ask parents that might help you better support your student? What would you like to know? If this is the first time you're sitting down with parents, it's a great opportunity to hear their perspective on their child's school experience so far, on what their child likes to do outside of school, on the questions, and concerns they have about their child. So what do you want to ask?

5. Show that You Care

For parents, conferences can be terrifying or wonderful. As a parent, I have sat across from teachers whose feelings I couldn't identify -- I actually questioned whether or not they cared about my son as a human being and as a student. I have also sat across from teachers who I wanted to jump up and hug; they so clearly cared about my boy.

Don't underestimate the power of the positive, and lead with it. Be specific in the positive data you share -- tell an anecdote or show a piece of work. Make sure you truly feel this positivity. We can all sniff out empty praise. There is always, always something positive and praise-worthy about every single child. It's your job to find it and share that data with parents.

Happy conferencing!

Was this useful? (3)
Engaging Parents
Build parent partnerships to support student learning.

Comments (15) Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Conversations on Edutopia (15) Sign in or register to comment

Michele's picture

I have six parent teacher conferences on Friday, thanks for the post!!

Cathy Craft's picture
Cathy Craft
Special Education teacher from Dublin, Ga.

This is my first year in the classroom as a teacher. I am grateful for the advice here as I have 2 IEP meetings scheduled over the next 2 weeks. Thanks for the great advice.

Mrs. McLady's picture

Thank you Elena for this incredibly useful post. I feel that many times educational bloggers post things that are enjoyable to read but may not necessarily apply to one's classroom. This post, on the other hand, seems to be beneficial to all teachers across all grade levels. I was a PreK teacher for two years, and I must say, when I first entered teaching, I had no clue how to do parent-teacher conferences! It would have been nice to have something like your blog to use as a reference! I love how you view the parent-teacher relationship as a partnership where one child is highly valued between the two parties. I was at first intimidated to work with the parents, but I gradually realized that if I used cute anecdotes, showed pre-chosen work samples, and expressed my deep concern and love for their child, everything would turn out just fine. I enjoyed reading that you also emphasized those important points. I always heard that for every negative you need to say about a child, to sandwich it between 3-4 positive comments. I am not a parent yet, but it seems that parents just want confirmation that the teacher cares for their child as much as they do. Thank you for giving me a good resource for future conferences.

Angela's picture

Thank you for this article! I have several conferences coming up on Veteran's Day. Then, Tuesday and Wednesday, I get to be the parent at the parent-teacher conferences. I just started teaching and am nervous. I am hoping that these tips will make me feel more prepared.

krisander17's picture

I just started a new job in a new district and this article was a great reminder for upcoming conferences! Especially the part on positive assumptions - I have felt like many families have been nervous about me being their child's teacher, as they liked the teacher I replaced and I am new to the school. But maybe just changing my perspective will help calm any nerves.

Timothy Kelly's picture

Thank you for this blog post. As my conferences approach it is a good reminder for me to keep positive and prepared. Often the conferences that I have dreaded the most have been the ones with the most positive impact because I came in with the attitude that I would work with the parent to do what was necessary for her child to be successful. I love the idea of sharing solutions and asking for specific advice on working with their child. Marie, thank you for your comment about making contact prior to conferences. While this can be a lot of work, it sure does pay dividends when you need the parent as an ally.

Scott Tabernacki's picture
Scott Tabernacki
Principal - St. John the Baptist Catholic School

Great article! Some very thought-provoking and goal-orientated suggestions here. Thank you!

MissT's picture

This article helps reduce my anxieties about parent-teacher conferencing as a novice teacher. It sort-of gives me a "to-do" list to ensure I am fully prepared to gain the most from these conferences! Also, great tips from the comments sections as well in regards to ensuring the students themselves are active in their education (when asking them what they would like the teacher to share with their parents) and attempting to build relationships with the parents before conferencing with them!

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

Great suggestions. Love the focus on positivity and finding solutions. I might add one more: 6. Use Your / Create a Teacher Webpage to Create Partnerships. Typical conferences are 10-15 minutes. From a teacher's perspective this is sufficient. From a parent's, sometimes it's the first glimpse into their child's day (even the best student are cryptic at home). Remember to leverage your teacher webpage as a go-to source for daily routines, student expectations, homework assignments and grading policies. Remind parents of this resource. Ten weeks in to the year may be the first time a parent knows test corrections can earn students additional points, for example. Have a few packets on hand for parents who might not have regular access to the Internet. Build relationships with your parents throughout the year by sending friendly, reminder emails about the treasure trove you've created for them.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.