Parent-teacher conference season can be a stressful time for both educators and parents alike. Parents may be worried they’ll receive too much negative feedback about their children; teachers may be wary of defensive or argumentative parents. If scheduled and programmed thoughtfully, though, these conferences can be a key way for teachers and parents to connect and develop a partnership that will benefit each student.
Here are nine tips for structuring parent-teacher conferences so both sides get the most out of every meeting.
- Schedule Creatively. One of the most challenging aspects of scheduling 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. If conferences do not need to be held on a particular evening, some teachers find it helpful to meet with one set of parents before class begins each morning. This enables the teacher to focus on just one student per day, and the meeting will come to a natural close as students begin arriving for class.
- Location, Location, Location. For in-person meetings, it’s important for parents to feel as though they are on equal footing with their child’s teacher. One way to accomplish this is to choose a relaxed, neutral atmosphere for conferences. A meeting at a coffee shop, for example, may help put everyone at ease. For conferences that must occur at the child’s school, choose a table everyone can comfortably sit around. The traditional set-up of the teacher at a large desk with parents crammed into child-sized chairs may make parents feel like they’re the students. A conference table, on the other hand, encourages an atmosphere of partnership.
- Try Video Conferencing. Video conferencing can be helpful in connecting with parents who travel for work or who otherwise are unable to attend a traditional in-person conference. A couple of check-ups, perhaps through Skype, throughout the school year are a personal way to keep in touch with busy parents without requiring a significant time commitment.
- Include Students. Consider inviting the student for at least a portion of the conference. This gives students an opportunity to share what they enjoy about school and empowers them to become part of the problem-solving process. Students who participate in conferences also get a chance to practice important self-evaluation and oral communication skills.
- Talk Positively. 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.
- Show Off Students. For an extra personal touch, start the conference by showing a brief individualized slideshow with a handful of photos of each student working in class or collaborating on projects with peers. This illustrates to parents that you care about their child as an individual.
- Back it Up. Don’t simply offer opinions; back your observations up with data, work samples, or behavioral assessments. Parents are more likely to listen to your concerns if you have specific examples that illustrate your points.
- Provide Student Self-Evaluations. Consider having each student fill out a self-evaluation questionnaire to share and discuss with parents. This can be a helpful way for parents and teachers to develop goals for the rest of the school year.
- Follow Up. At the end of each conference, set up a means by which you will stay in touch with parents throughout the school year. A phone conversation, email, or quick chat as the student is dropped off in the morning can be an opportunity to discuss progress or make necessary adjustments as the year goes by.