As parent-teacher conference season approaches, an educator’s positive outlook can make all the difference in turning a stereotypically stressful session into one brimming with connections, teamwork, and solutions.
Prior to the conferences, identify your own goals, objectives, or desired outcomes for each meeting. Perhaps you’d like to illustrate and celebrate a child’s progress in one area and then brainstorm ways to support that child’s improvement in another area. Jot down notes to remind yourself of all the topics you want to address with each parent and have any supporting materials ready ahead of time, including any pertinent artwork, classwork, or test samples. Consider starting each conference with a brief individualized slideshow with a few photos of the student working in class or collaborating on projects with peers. This illustrates to parents that you care about their child as an individual.
Schedule these back-to-back meetings in a way that makes sense for each student. One of the most challenging aspects of parent-teacher conferences is providing ample time to meet with the parents of each student without allowing the conversation to go on too long or eat into another parent’s time. Consider leaving an empty block of time after families you know you’ll need to spend extra time with to avoid impeding on another parent’s conference. A timer can also be used as a polite way to segue into summarizing the discussion and answering final questions.
Finally, plan and prepare a meeting spot that is comfortable and accessible for all parties. Ditch the traditional classroom set-up in which the teacher sits behind the desk and parents cram into child-sized chairs, which can make the parents feel like students themselves. Instead, opt for a conference table or round table everyone can sit around as equals. Another option is to choose an entirely neutral location such as a local park or coffee shop. For parents who travel for work or who otherwise can’t attend an in-person meeting, consider video conferencing, perhaps via Skype, as another alternative to an in-person meeting. The most important thing is to connect and build a foundation of partnership, whether through an in-person visit or other regular non-traditional communication.
Always attempt to start and end each conference with a positive comment, story, or individual strength you’ve observed about each student. Be specific and give examples rather than generalizations. Choose your words carefully throughout the meeting, avoiding negative terms like “problematic” or “failing.” Instead, you might say you want to help the student “reach his/her full potential” in a particular area.
Focus yourself and your students’ parents on being “solution-oriented.” Telling a parent they should emphasize the need for the child to “listen” could be an exercise in frustration for all involved. Chances are, they’re already battling this issue at home. Instead, brainstorm new ideas together. Ask parents what has worked at home to help improve the child’s listening skills and consider how those methods might translate into a classroom setting. Likewise, offer up new methods you’ve successfully implemented that the parent might consider trying at home. Everyone benefits from sharing information and ideas to improve the child’s ability to succeed.
Positive follow up
The partnership doesn’t end at the conclusion of the conference. Now that you’ve set a solid foundation, follow up with regular communication about the child’s progress or general classroom announcements. A weekly email that highlights upcoming class lessons and projects can go a long way in helping parents feel informed and connected with their child’s education, as well as encourage an on-going dialogue between parents and children about what the students are learning each week.
If a weekly email isn’t feasible, set up a means by which you will stay in touch with parents throughout the school year. An occasional phone conversation or text message can be an opportunity to discuss progress or make necessary adjustments as the year goes by.