Parent Teacher Conferences

Do you find parent-teacher conferences to be difficult? Often times I hear teachers complain that talking to parents is draining and that they struggle to help parents understand their concerns without offending them. Parent conferences are a necessary part of our job that can be a great chance to get parents on board with us and make the year their child's best yet!  But how?! Read on to find out...

The truth is, we live in a society that does get offended easily, so it is easy to jump to that conclusion.  It is equally important as we meet with parents to remember that they send us their brightest and best. The child that sits in your class is their best and is their everything.  When I stop to think of it this way, I get how they can feel defensive when you have to discuss the difficult topics that come up in the classroom.  Let's discuss some strategies to help them work past the defensiveness so that you can get on the same page and help the child...which is why anyone goes to the conference anyway.

Here are three simple ways to get get parents on your side and ready to help their child for everyone's success!

#1 Invest in the Relationship

New teachers

It is important to invest in all relationships. Student, parent, and peer relationships all benefit from investing time to build a positive relationship.  In particular to parents, to do this you have to spend the majority of the beginning interactions with your parents on completely positive notes. Call, text, email, write notes to parents sharing positive things you see in their students. Also share the positive things with the student as well.

I view this as a filling of the jar. Picture a Mason jar for each of your children with their names on it. Each time you say a positive comment or affirmation to a parent you are putting a quarter in their jar.  After a few weeks and deposits you have a chunk of change in the jar.  Now, when you have to redirect or address an issue, its like removing a quarter from the jar.  If you have to remove a quarter from a full jar it is a whole lot less noticable than if you have to remove a quarter from an almost empty jar.  So in essence when you have built the positives up, when you have to deliver a negative to parents, the positives will outweigh those negatives and help them to see that you are doing this for the child's best interest.

Now, how you deliver the unwanted or negative news is equally important.  Which brings us to #2...

#2 Sandwich the Bad News

parent teacher conference tips

When you have to give bad news, sandwich it between two positives.  For instance, "Dear Mrs. Parent, Your child has such a fun loving personality.  We are having a very difficult time with talking in class. I know that he is capable of following directions though because he does a great job listening in small group time."  So you say a positive about the child, put in the negative, and follow it with a positive or an affirmation that you know they can do better or can fix it.  This helps parents to see you want to find a solution, not just chastise their child.

I have also said things to parents like this, "I really love having ___ in my class, they have such a caring heart.  I noticed that they often get distracted in the afternoon time and don't finish their work. I think if we did ____ though that it would help them to make a better choice." I like to use terms such as "we" and "us" because it is important for our parents to know we view them as part of this team.  They have a vested interest in their child being successful, just as we do.  Using these words helps them to hear that and fostering that partnership mentality.

#3 Be Prepared

new teachers

Finally, as I know many of you prepared as possible for a parent conference, especially if you called for it.  When I am going to have a conference I pull all of the data I possibly can. I also like to have a list of positives and concerns about the child we will discuss.  When you have a conference, you have a captive audience and a chance to really share what you think the child needs.  Here are a list of things I like to have when meeting with a parent, many of these are just jotted down quick notes I take 5 minutes to do on a post-it (other than student work) when meeting.  Let's be real, none of us have a lot of time, so don't stress about it but do the best you can.

Try to have at least a few of the following:
  • 3 positive things I like/enjoy about the child
  • 2 areas of concern (if there are that many)
  • latest scores on assessments in class
  • 1 area in mind that the parents could help with at home (could be academic or behavioral)
  • 1 resource the parents can use to improve desired results for their child (ie a game or activity)
  • anecdotal notes
  • student's data folder

 When you look prepared, it shows you care.  You have valued your time and the parents' time in having information ready.  This also helps you to get the most out of the meeting as you can so that you don't forget anything either.

Upon completing the meeting remember to document the topics discussed and any decisions made so that you have the notes for later.

These three strategies have helped me to foster great relationships with parents of my students.  When there is a mutual respect and understanding between parents and teachers the student gets the most benefit.  You can easily foster this sense of teamwork and you will have the parents cheering their child on and supporting your goals for the child as you do it.

Thanks for reading! Wishing you the best of luck in parent conferences this year!

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