Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences
Parent-Teacher Conferences are a time-honored tradition, and for good reason. Conferences are a chance for parent and teacher to reconnect and for teacher to focus on one student at a time.
I actually enjoy Parent-Teacher Conferences and actually look forward to them every year. My favorite is when conferences end in a successful partnership between parent and teacher working together to best serve the student. I also really like being able to offer praise for each student and watch the parent’s face light up. (Parents never get tired of hearing great things about their kid!)
What I wish for each year is for even more parents to come meet with me, especially the parents of students who I really need help with. Working late nights with little-to-no breaks is also not a favorite of mine. No matter the complaints most teachers have with conferences, the benefits usually make the sacrifice worth it.
In my many years of teaching, I have picked up a few lessons and tips in making the most out of Parent-Teacher Conferences, and what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t share with you?!
Prepare with students. Because I don’t know which parents will attend at what time, I prepare all of my students just in case. To prepare, I give each student a manilla folder and ask them to dig through their work and put in a few pieces that they are proud of (1 piece of writing is required, plus homework, tests, projects, and other work that they like).
I also have students fill out a brief form that asks: 1. What have you done well this semester? 2. What are you still working on? 3. What was the most interesting topic for you?
I then organize the folders in crates so I can easily pull out the student work when a parent comes. With folders in hand, the focus of the conferences is kept with the student work and student voice. I get a lot of parents who are impressed with the level of work produced.
You may also want to include a current printout of the student’s grade in your class with details about scores on individual tasks. For some students who have particularly struggled or even improved in some area (quizzes, for instance), I like to highlight the pattern or trend, to make it more visual for parents to see.
Stay positive and solution-oriented. We all know that we should give positive feedback along with constructive criticism, but sometimes in the rush of conferences, we forget to take a step back and remember that parents have entrusted us with the education of their children. Instead of focusing on the lack of homework or low quiz scores, focus on the opportunities to bring up the homework or assessment grade through future diligence. I also post or photocopy my office hours, the school tutoring options, and other helpful resources that parents may not know about. When the conference is solution-focused, it conveys to the parent that you genuinely care about their child and want to see them succeed. In the end, that’s the bottom line for every parent. They just want to know if you care about their kid.
Actively listen. It seems that every year my heart is broken by the stories of the “simple hell people give other people” (Yes, that was To Kill a Mockingbird). Sometimes students have home issues, learning difficulties, school situations, health concerns, crazy schedules, and a whole host of other obstacles. More often than not, the only way that we learn about these struggles is by listening, not just waiting to talk.
Watch the time. Don’t spend so long with one parent that another is neglected. If the conference seems to need more time or is particularly contentious, invite them to schedule something for a later date and potentially with an admin or department chair.
Invite future communication. Tell parents the best way to communicate with you for future concerns. I prefer email, so I print small strips of paper with my email address to hand out when needed.
What are your tips for successful parent-teacher conferences? Leave them in the comment section below!