Top 8 Hints for Parent Teacher Conferences

A sure-fire inevitability each year is the need for parent-teacher conferences when concerns arise. There are so many reasons you may need to call a conference! Learning issues, behavioral concerns, poor work completion, or even a change in student dress or demeanor can prompt us to reach out to parents to touch base.

Unfortunately, we can't control the outcome of these conferences. In a perfect world, everyone would be receptive, communicative, and professional. In the actual world, parents can be in denial, defensive, or even overly hostile. I am going to recommend a pint of prevention and share my tips for preparation and organization.

These ideas and tips for parent teacher conferences are perfect for preschool and kindergarten, through middle school and high school. Teachers, if you have questions about what to say at conferences, these tips will help you stay focused and professional.

1.  Document, document, document!

Does this sound familiar? It should! Any time you are going to make a statement about a student to their parent, be prepared to back it up with evidence. Vague concerns without documentation prevent you from offering suggestions, which can ease parent anxiety. Documentation offers the parent a glimpse of how long the problem has been going on, how frequently it occurs, and the severity of it.

If you are meeting about learning concerns or work completion, include dates and times in your documentation. Save work samples and be prepared to show work samples and performance of other, typically performing students (anonymously, of course).

Document and share your meetings with the student, your intervention attempts, and the results. Usually, conferences are happening because we have tried to fix the situation ourselves, and it hasn't worked. Share with the parent the student's response to intervention attempts as well. In middle and high school, students are old enough to be taking most of the responsibility of their education.


2.  Consider including the students in the meeting.

There is this thing that can happen in triangular relationships - where three people have separate relationships with each other. It's actually called triangulation! You are talking to the student and the parent. Buuutttt, the student and parent are also talking separately from you. This can lead to the student being dishonest, the parent believing them, and things spinning out of control.

If it's appropriate, include the student in the meeting to get their perspective and feedback. This can prevent misunderstandings of the unintentional OR intentional variety. Allow the student to share their feelings and experience, and the parent to respond. With everyone on the same page, a plan can be made to move forward.


3.  ALWAYS present a complementary picture of the student.

When parents feel too much negative feedback about their child, they tend to shut down or become hostile. We want to convey that their child is wonderful, and we care for them very much. Comments like, "They are good at items one through three on the list, but this tricky item number four is causing some problems." gives parents a more complete picture. Everyone has strengths and challenges! We want the parent to hear both, so they can have the motivation they need to help their child be successful.

These ideas and tips for parent teacher conferences are perfect for preschool and kindergarten, through middle school and high school. Teachers, if you have questions about what to say at conferences, these tips will help you stay focused and professional.

4.  At the same time... tell the truth.

I can't tell you how many meetings I've sat through about school-related concerns where the parent has walked away not understanding there was a problem! If we are overly diplomatic or speak in vague, generalized terms, parents don't process the magnitude of your concerns. Speak in a calm, firm manner about what is going on and make sure you illustrate the severity of your concerns.


5.  Be solution oriented.

In addition to the interventions you have tried, come to the meeting with some action items you feel will help the situation. Parents may formulate some solution ideas. If students are involved, they can participate as well. Just make sure the meeting moves in a productive fashion towards solutions that can be tried. Then, everyone can leave the meeting feeling positive, hopeful, and willing to do their part.


6.  Set a time to follow up.

Whatever action plan is agreed upon in the meeting needs a specific due date. You can specify whether you will follow up with a phone call, an email, a written note, or another meeting. Give interventions time to work, but not so much time that everyone forgets about the team goals. Agree with other meeting participants who will do what, how long to watch for improvement, and when the team will follow up.


7.  Manage your feelings and expectations.

Hopefully, you have already established professional relationships with the parents in your classes. Go into the meeting with an understanding of what can go wrong, and how you will handle it. Even if parents can get ugly, do not respond emotionally. You are meeting in the best interests of their child. You all have a job to do. If the parent cannot conduct themselves professionally, end the meeting and plan to involve administration moving forward. If you have a history of difficulty with a parent, you may want to have admin involved from the beginning.


8.  Document, document, document!

Take time after the meeting to document the basics of what happened. While it is fresh in your mind, put it down on paper (on online) so there is a record of what was discussed and what was decided. This is both an insurance policy and a way to hold yourself accountable for your part of the action plan.

These ideas and tips for parent teacher conferences are perfect for preschool and kindergarten, through middle school and high school. Teachers, if you have questions about what to say at conferences, these tips will help you stay focused and professional.

Parent-teacher conferences because of student concerns are one of the less pleasant realities of teaching. They are also a critical part of our job as educators. You cannot control the outcome, but you can control your part of the process. Stay professional, stay involved, and you will have the best chance of a positive outcome for your students!

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