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Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent Teacher Conference Strategies

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Many schools do not require yearly parent teacher conferences after elementary school for all students. Therefore, when a secondary school educator meets with parents for a conference, it is typically because the student in question is struggling either academically, behaviorally, or both. In reality a parent teacher conference can have a huge impact on student work and behavior. This list is focused on helping teachers prepare themselves for these often difficult conferences.

Communicate with parents before a conference is necessary.

This first item can help prevent issues down the road. When you have a student who is struggling in either their academics or their behavior, you should communicate this with his or her parents with either notes or phone call. This way if and when you have to call a conference, you will not be faced with a situation where the parent becomes upset at you for not letting them know sooner. There is nothing worse than holding a conference in March and having the parents ask, "Why is this the first I've heard of this issue?" A proactive environment in which the teacher is keeping the parents informed is the best environment.

Come to the conference prepared with documentation.

If the student in question is having a hard time with their classwork, then show the parents their grades and samples of their work. It is easier for a parent to understand the problem if they can actually see examples of their child's work. If the student is misbehaving, then you should make anecdotal notes of this misbehavior in preparation for the conference. Bring these anecdotal notes so that parents can understand how their child is behaving.

Start the conference with a warm greeting and an agenda.

Be welcoming when the conference starts but at the same time have your thoughts and information down so that you appear prepared and organized. Your words and information will bear much less weight if you appear unprepared. Additionally, remember the parent and you have a common goal and that is to help the child.

Begin and end on a positive note.

Try to think of something nice to say about the student in question. For example, you might say something about their creativity, their handwriting, their sense of humor, or any other comment that you can think of that applies. Further, at the end of the conference, you should wrap things up on a positive note. Instead of reiterating the problems you already discussed, end with a comment that shows hope for the future. You could say something like, "Thanks for meeting with me today. I know that working together we can help Johnny succeed."

Dress and act professionally.

If you dress professionally, you will garner more respect. If you have a "dress down day" at your school, you should try and avoid meeting parents that day. I was in a conference once on a pep rally day with a teacher who had temporary tattoos of the school's mascot on her face. Needless to say, it was probably distracting for those parents if nothing else. You should also avoid talking about other teachers who are not present. If a parent brings up a problem with another teacher, direct them to call and/or meet with that teacher. If a concern is raised that you think requires administrative attention, then feel free to go to your administrator with it after the conference.

Include someone else in the conference.

If at all possible try to get a guidance counselor or administrator involved in the parent-teacher conference. This is especially true if you fear that the parent might become agitated or irate. Having another individual there can have a calming influence on the situation.

Be attentive.

Use your best listening skills throughout the conference. Allow parents to talk without interruption. Make eye contact and keep your body language open. Don't jump on the defensive. Active listening techniques can help with this. If a parent is bothered, you can validate this feeling by saying something like, "I understand that you are bothered by this situation. What can we do to help your child be more successful?" This ensures that the conference stays focused on the child. Remember that sometimes people just want to feel like they've been heard.

Avoid eduspeak and stay out of that ivory tower.

Avoid acronyms and terms that might confuse non-educators. If you are discussing specific situations such as standardized tests, make sure that you explain all terms to the parents. This will not only ensure that the parents understand but it will also help the two of you relate better.

Think about your room setup.

Try to avoid a situation where you are sitting behind your desk with the parents on the other side. This immediately sets up a barrier and can make parents feel unwelcome. Instead, move to a couple of desks that you've pulled into a circle or onto a table where you can lay out the papers and you can meet more openly with the parents.

Be prepared for upset parents.

While you hope that it won't happen, every teacher has to deal with an irate parent at some point. Remember that the best way to combat this is to keep parents informed every step of the way. Much anger can be avoided if the parents are informed. Sometimes parents are grasping at straws looking for some cause of their child's misbehavior. It is not uncommon for teachers to be blamed for misbehavior. One of my first negative experiences with a parent was when I called to say that their child had called me a "b***h" and the parent asked, "Well what did you do to cause her to say that." If a parent does get irate, don't get excited yourself. Avoid shouting.
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