Parent-teacher conferences can be intimidating and stress-inducing for veterans and new teachers alike—but they don’t have to be! Read on to learn 9 parent-teacher conference tips to help keep the stress at bay.
Parent-teacher conferences can send a chill up your spine no matter how long you’ve been teaching. However, new teachers tend to carry the extra stress of not knowing what to expect. Follow the 9 tips below to ensure you are prepared and that the parent-teacher conferences are productive and stress-free.
Tip # 1: Shift Your Perspective
Parent-teacher conferences aren’t any teacher’s favorite part of the job, but they don’t have to be a negative or dreaded experience. Instead of approaching parent-teacher conferences with angst, remember they are an opportunity for teamwork. They are the perfect opportunity to:
- Learn more about your students and provide their parents with essential intel on student learning and behavior.
- Build a positive rapport with their parents or guardians and ensure you are all on the same page (and team).
- Brainstorm solutions for struggling students, especially if the methods you have in mind require additional support at home.
- Showcase student work and praise them for their progress. Including positive comments can make any tough conversations that follow a little easier.
Therefore, instead of dreading these conferences, remind yourself why they are crucial for students’ success.
Tip # 2: Be Prepared
One of the best ways to ease your worries going into parent-teacher conferences is to be prepared. Know which students’ parents are coming in (and when). Take time to gather any information, notes, or work samples ahead of the meeting. If you (or think the parents might) have areas of concern, it’s best to prepare for those conversations. Don’t forget to prepare something positive about each student too!
To help you prepare, look over student grades and attendance and check for any red flags. If the student has an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 education plan, review them, especially any accommodations applicable to your classroom. Jot down any notes you may have, including anticipated questions or concerns from the parents. If you’re able, create a folder for each student to keep printed grades, missing assignments, sample work, test results, and other anecdotal notes that might be useful during the conference.
Tip # 3: Create an Actionable Plan
Don’t just tell them where their child is lacking or struggling, but provide an actionable plan for how the student can succeed. For example, if the student is struggling to write essays, explain to the parents that you host writing hours after school every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and highly recommend their child attends.
Additionally, be clear about any roles and responsibilities required of you, the student, and the parent for the plan to succeed. For example, suppose a student is constantly missing homework assignments. In that case, you might agree to remind them to write their assignments down in an agenda book while the parent agrees to check the agenda book each day or week. Also, clearly express your expectations of the student for them to succeed. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink…
Tip # 4: Be Welcoming
It’s easy for teachers to go into these meetings feeling like there is a target on their back. However, you have the power to set the tone when the parents arrive. Beginning with a welcoming gesture, like a handshake and invitation to sit, helps establish that you understand that you’re all there to be on the same team. Put on a friendly face and thank them for taking the time to attend their child’s conference
Have an established meeting space (ideally not behind your desk with the parents awkwardly sitting on the other side) where you provide pens and paper for any parents who wish to jot down any notes during your meeting. Additionally, display student work on the walls and post an example of a daily agenda, essential question, or bell ringer on the board. Lastly, if parents have to bring other children, welcome them too! However, to avoid distractions, offer extra guests a dedicated space with quiet activities to keep them entertained.
Tip # 5: Open With Questions
Allow parents to express concerns or ask any questions first. You might say, “I know we have limited time together this evening. So, first, do you have any questions or concerns for me?” By using this question as a conversation starter, you show parents that you understand you’re in this together and that you’re willing to hear out their pain points if they have them. This one question paves the path for a dialogue to take place rather than a one-sided rant.
Remember, some parents will show up with no specific questions or concerns at all. If that’s the case, begin the conversation with your notes and observations. If the conversation hits a lull before time runs out, feel free to promt the parent again: “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss before our time together comes to an end?”
Tip # 6: Communicate Policies and Expectations
Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity for you to clue parents in on any essential policies and expectations you have for your students. Inform parents of policies and expectations around attendance, make-up work, late assignments, homework, and participation, just to name a few. It might be useful to provide parents with a copy of the course syllabus as well.
Clearly communicating your classroom policies and expectations with parents ensures you are both on the same page, regardless of what their child tells (or doesn’t tell) them.
Tip # 7: Use the Success Sandwich
You always want to strive to discuss both a student’s strengths and struggles with their parents. Sstarting with success helps the conversation start off on the right foot:
- Begin with a skill the student excels at, a positive character trait, or a way they contribute to the classroom.
- Follow up with an area the student struggles in. This can range from a particular skill to general behavior.
- Finally, express your confidence in how the student can succeed and overcome their struggles by leveraging their strengths, their support systems, and an appropriate action plan.
The success sandwich is a great way to address your concerns while showcasing your support. Parents are less likely to feel “attacked” when you make it clear that you are on their (and their student’s) side.
Tip # 8: Keep Lines of Communication Open
While the length of conference blocks may vary from grade to grade, district to district, they always feel rushed. However, it’s imperative to stick to the schedule and that might mean not covering all of the talking points of parents’ concerns. Be sure to let parents know how to contact you if they have any lingering questions or concerns–or if any come up in the future!
However, don’t leave continued communication solely up to the parents. If there are any students you are particularly concerned about, be sure to have the parents confirm their contact information before they leave their conference. That way you can reach out if any problems or concerns arise.
Tip # 9: Stay Strong
Remember, no parent has the right to bully, berate, or intimidate you. No matter how prepared or supportive you are, some parents will come in with an axe to grind or with the need to defend their child. Sometimes taking out their frustrations on you is easier for them than taking them out on the person they raised. It’s also worth noting that students aren’t always one hundred percent honest with their parents. Maybe the parent didn’t know the late work policy or that you offered to meet their student for extra support after school and they never showed up (twice). Remain professional, stay strong, and hold your ground.
You’ve got this! And after reading these tips, you’ve definitely got this!
Just remember that you are a professional, and this is your area of expertise. Show up prepared. Stay calm, cool, and collected. And no matter what, treat yourself with dignity and respect because you sure deserve it.