George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

Making Difficult Parent-Teacher Conferences Easier

October 13, 2014

"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 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. 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 piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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