Five Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences
The most stressful week for me as a teacher is parent-teacher conference week. I love teaching and have no problem getting up in front of a group of kids to teach a lesson. Parents on the other hand make me a little nervous. It is difficult to sit across from someone your age or older and tell them about their child, especially if some of the information you are telling them is negative. Over the years I have learned some things about having successful and productive parent-teacher conferences. Every year I learn something new and the next year gets a little easier.
Tip #1 – Communicate With Parents Early and Often
The importance of communication with parents on an ongoing basis can’t be understated. The last thing you want to do at a conference is to surprise the parent with something negative about their child. Do not wait until parent-teacher conference time to let a parent know how their child is doing. If a student is not completing homework or has difficulty behaving in class you need to inform the parents right away. Parent conferences should be a time to update parents on their child’s progress, not to tell them about something that happened a month ago.
Tip #2 – Find Out What the Parents Want to Know About Their Child
Before I have conferences with the parents I send home a page with their appointment time and information, and I have an area that says, “Is there anything you would like to discuss at conferences?” The parents send the page back to me prior to conferences so I have a chance to look through their questions and concerns. Many parents do not list anything specific they want to discuss but some have very specific concerns. Having specific questions from parents allows me to be prepared for the conference and it makes the discussion much more meaningful. It also gives you time to think of a tactful answer rather than having to come up with something on the spot.
Tip #3 – Have Examples of Student Progress
I recommend making a file folder at the beginning of each school year for every student in your class. Throughout the year, put any tests, writing samples, behavior reports, and any other relevant information into that folder. As conference time approaches pull the folders out and sort through what you want to share with parents. I have found that telling a parent that their child is having trouble reading is not as effective as showing them examples of their child’s struggles. You don’t need to have every scrap of paper the student has worked on in their folder. A few relevant, quality examples of student work is plenty.
Tip #4 – Have an Area They Could Improve On
For some students there may be lots of areas they need to work on, and for others it may be hard to think of one. Before conferences I make sure that I have one area of improvement in mind for each student. I also make sure that I have a suggestion for how the parent can help their child improve. For the students in my class that have lots of areas they struggle in I try to focus on the one or two most important to discuss with their parents. Two very common questions parents have at conferences are, “What does my child need to work on?” and, “What can we be working on at home?” Being prepared for these questions is very important and it shows parents that you want their child to continue to grow and improve.
Tip #5 – Have Something Positive to Say About Every Student
This is the most important tip I can give you. Hopefully, this will be an easy task for most of the students in your class. Unfortunately, I know that there are students in your class that really wear you out everyday and you are fed up with them. I’ve been there. Even those students have strengths though and you need to share them with their parents. I have had many parents come into my room for conferences prepared to hear all the bad things about their kid. Be honest with the parents about the difficulties the student is having, but make sure you include something positive about their child. You don’t want the parent to walk out of the conference thinking that their child is horrible and they did a bad job of raising them, so at least give them some good news. You will make a huge impact on that parent and their child if you can give them at least one positive thing to focus on.