Helpful Tips on Navigating Parent-Teacher Conferences

What is it about parent-teacher conferences that makes parent nervous? Is it our past coming back to haunt us? Maybe it’s the idea of having to sit at a desk again? Or Maybe it’s that we know that our child is frighteningly similar to ourselves and hasn’t quite finished every homework assignment and “maybe” doesn’t always follow instructions. But regardless of the reason, most parents put their guards up before they even set foot in the classroom for a parent-teacher conference.  

Of course, this doesn’t have to be the case. There are a few simple steps you can take to help parents feel more at ease when they meet you for a parent-teacher conference.

First, you can initiate parent contact before conference night. Even if it’s a quick phone call or a few emails to touch base, it’s great for your students’ parents to be somewhat familiar with you.  Along the same lines, make sure you send a reminder email or note home of the day and time of the conference.

Also, don’t just have conferences with the “bad kids.” Invite all parents to take part in the conference. Parent-teacher conferences aren’t just for talking about what needs to improve. They’re a great chance to talk about successes and even just the curriculum in general. If there is a huge unit project coming up, tell the parents about it. If you have tests or quizzes every Wednesday, tell the parents so they can follow up.  Have a copy of the textbook available for them to see. The more they know about what is going on in your classroom, the more they can be involved at home.

And while we’re on the subject of celebrating successes…even the bad kids are doing something right. Make sure you let parents know how their child is succeeding in your class. Maybe their son isn’t the greatest at staying on task for individual classwork, but when it comes to discussions, he is a natural leader and always adds insightful ideas to the conversation.

Make sure you have a game plan. If a child is struggling in class, don’t just tell the parent about it.  Have examples of class work to show the parents. Concrete examples such as “I think your son is having a hard time using the quadratic equation because he doesn’t finish problems that involve it” is always better than “Your son is struggling in my math class.”

Get parents involved in helping their child succeed. Don’t tell them they aren’t doing enough. Ask them what they ARE doing and don’t tell them what they MUST do. Work with parents to figure out a way that works for everyone. If Tommy isn’t turning in homework, maybe parents need to initial homework every night. Maybe it means helping parents figure out a quiet, distraction-free place at home for their child to study. Maybe it means figuring out the best time of the night to tackle homework. But if you work with the parent, then they are going to leave motivated. And as an added bonus… it means you can follow up in a week or two to see how everything is going. Parents and teachers should feel like they are on the same team.

Feel free to invite the students. If a student is struggling and can see that everyone wants to help, and is part of writing the plan of action, then you may get a better response from the student. This way, students don’t spend the night worrying about what the teacher is saying, building a defense to any problems, and figuring out how to convince mom and dad that the teacher is lying. That’s just exhausting for everyone.

Also, be aware if parents share personal information about their child that you may not have known about. If mom and dad have decided to divorce or a new baby is on the way or there was recently a death in the family, this will have a direct effect on how a child performs in school. It doesn’t mean you should let students do whatever they want and not be accountable for completing assignments, but it does mean you need to approach the situation a little differently.  And if they share any information with you, make sure you know whether you can tell the student that you know this information.

Finally, end the conferences on a positive note.  Summarize what you talked about and what the plan of action is. Make sure you know the best way to contact them in the future and vice versa.  Oh and don’t just make a parent awkwardly wiggle out of a desk and walk away from you while you’re writing down notes. Walk them out. Shake their hand. Tell them it was great to meet them.

Parent-teacher conferences aren’t meant to pit the parent against the teacher, but many parents have that vision. If you work together to help students succeed and keep lines of communication open, then you are helping all of your students have a great year.