There are multiple reasons for making sure you are adequately prepared for parent-teacher conferences. Most importantly, the meeting can be a valuable opportunity for you to both learn about the child, and communicate key information to the parents – so as to improve the learning for the student. We need to remember that the parents are our partners in the work we do. We both invest a great deal in day school education. Like all partnering situations, sometimes we are on the same page, and sometimes we need to work through difficulties.
You need to prepare for these conferences as you would prepare for an important lesson. Your meeting time is probably short, so you should make the most of each moment. This (as opposed to open house night) should be about the individual child. Be clear on your goals and communicate those to the parents in advance. Consider the following as steps toward reaching your overall goal:
- Learn from the parents (what they are hearing from the child about the class, issues at home that might be impacting the child’s learning, and how they see their child’s strengths and weaknesses ). This can be a window into the part of the child’s world that you don’t often see.
- Communicate to the parents what you know about the child: specific strengths and weaknesses in the academic sphere, social interactions, behavioral issues, place in the community, etc. Be ready with specifics and let the parents see that you like, respect and know their child.
- Articulate a plan – or initial thoughts – for next steps.
In preparation for the conference:
Be ready with written materials (samples of the student’s work and notes – perhaps a 3 x 5 card – as to what you want to discuss with the parents). There are websites for parents and teachers for preparing for these conferences. In particular elementary school parents will read them. See what they are told to ask at conferences, so you’re not thrown for a loop. You can search on google for information about parent teacher conferences, to see what kind of sites parents might look at. If there is a child you have serious concerns about, discuss this with your administrator, mentor, or the school counselor, before bringing it to the parent.
During the conference:
To begin, go to the door, open it, and greet the parent. Sit down in a way that you are on an equal footing with the parent. Try not to sit behind a desk (which creates a barrier), but rather face the parent (who should be on the same height chair) with a table to your side if you need it for your folder. Say something positive (about the child, or how glad you are that they came.)
Explain what you have on your agenda and ask if there are issues the parents wants to raise as well. Your agenda can include:
- Sharing work or grades with the parent (from the folder you have). Be sure the grades of other students are not visible to the parent.
- Sharing strengths and weaknesses with the parents. (e.g. Tracy seems particularly strong in class discussions around concepts. She was amazing in terms of her contribution to our discussion on X. She seems to struggle more with recalling factual information. I spoke with her language arts teacher who seems to confirm that. Is that something you have seen in the past? If the student was at the school previously, be sure to either check the records or check with the previous teacher.
- Getting information from the parent. (Does X eat breakfast, get enough sleep, been tested for hearing, how did he relate to this subject in the past, what does he like to do during unstructured time, etc.)
- Take notes when the parents speak so they will see you take what they have to say seriously.
- Save 2-3 minutes at the end to review what was discussed and to agree on a plan for moving forward.
- Close the conference by thanking them for coming. Remind them to be in touch if they have any concerns and walk them to the door.
- When one parent leaves have them close the door .You can then tell the next parents waiting that you’ll be just a minute. Take 30 seconds to write down whatever you need to as a result of the previous meeting, and another 30 seconds to pull out the card and review what you’re doing for the next meeting. Take a deep breath and start again!
- Discuss other students.
- Tell a parent “I’m not sure why you came, your child is fabulous.” While that is very complimentary, the parent did come. Tell them specifics of how the child is doing and discuss how you plan to further challenge their child. You might ask their input as to what areas they can think of where you could challenge her further.
- Lose your composure: If parents are personally criticizing you, try to deflect the criticism. For example, if they say that their child finds the class boring, rather than defend your teaching, you can mention that you actually chose the material because you felt it would engage this age, but you’d like to know more about what their child is saying about the class, and what in fact does interest their child (in school or during free time at home). Try to remain open to their input. Parents may raise something that you don’t feel equipped to handle on the spot. If appropriate, let them know that you will get back to them after consulting with the proper person. Then, make sure you do.