As a new teacher, parent-teacher conferences can be a bit intimidating. The first year is full of challenging new experiences, but they only help you grow as a teacher. A parent-teacher conference is another one of those experiences. With care, compassion, and proper planning, you can make these conferences go as smoothly as possible.
It is essential to effectively plan parent teacher conferences, especially if you lack experience. Considerations such as: Including positives, how to involve parents, allowing questions, student backgrounds, solutions to problems and follow up after will help conduct a successful parent teacher conference.
There are many more considerations and we address these in more detail in the article below. We also have other tips for all teachers but especially if you are starting out in a career in education here.
Consider Your Audience
1) Always include positives
Many new teachers are not parents, so it is hard to empathize with them at times. However, you can empathize with the way that parents feel about their children. You have someone in your life that you love more than any other. Imagine being in a conference with a caregiver, physician, or concerned friend. If every word you hear is negative, how would you begin to feel? Would you begin to feel that they were useless, bothersome, and a burden? Parents feel like this with their children. You may not have a child, but you do have a favorite person.
2) Be Aware of Demands on Others Time.
Considering your audience also requires understanding that while education is your entire day, parents have other responsibilities during school hours. Being late for a conference may be unintentional. Parents often have jobs or other children to care for, and though the child in your class is important, sometimes they get delayed. While your schedule is equally important, you must know what it’s like to have one of those days when you have a critical appointment, and things go wrong on your way.
3) Remember They are Parents Not Teachers
You are well-trained in education. The majority of parents have little to no experience in education. This lack of educational training does not mean that they are uneducated. You do not need to speak down to them, but try to remember that educationese may not be one of their fluent languages. Banking, nursing, and manufacturing are equally as unlikely to be areas of your expertise. Speak to them as equals, and explain and even better avoid educational jargon.
4) Include The Student If They Are Present.
Students have a variety of educational experiences. Some of these experiences are positive, and others are negative. After a few years, students start to have more of one or the other, which can certainly change the way you handle conferences. Invite students to attend and give feedback when possible. Students who take ownership of their education tend to do better. If they feel empowered, they can often speak up in times of trouble.
Students need support and encouragement, but they also need to understand that their actions have consequences, good and bad, and responsible for them. Students should also be challenged to do and try new things. While you should always be in charge of the conference, students can certainly participate and advocate for what they need from parents and teachers.
Prepare for the Parent Teacher Conference
5) Know the Backgrounds and Environments of your Students.
Learn about the students, parents, family and living arrangements. This suggestion is about more than just learning about their socioeconomic standing. Do they live with extended family due to health, culture, or emergent situations? Who is in their household? Are their cousins being raised as children because aunts or uncles are deceased? There are many things to consider about the student’s living situation that may be positive.
6) Show that you know more than just your students grades
Learn about the child’s likes and dislikes as well. First conferences with parents are awkward if you do not seem to know their child beyond academic statistics. Parents need to know that you are taking an active role in their child’s education and growth.
Make notes of things the child is doing well and things you want to work on with them. You need to have positive things to present to parents at a conference. If a parent feels that everything is negative, they will be far less likely to work with you. They will be more likely to work against you.
7) Prepare Solutions to Potential Problems you Highlight
Provide some solutions to challenges. Students sometimes have challenges, but telling a parent what those challenges are will not help the student. If you want to express concern about reading levels, math skills, or science skills, offer links to websites, books, or other resources they can use at home. Explain how parents can take active roles in their children’s progress and you will instill the feeling of working as team.
8) You Don’t have to Wait till a Conference.
Do not wait until conference time to introduce yourself to the parents. Try to send an email, postcard, or make a phone call early in the year. Tell the parents one great thing that happened with their child in recent weeks. If the child is challenging, be sure that you say something good sometimes whenever you make contact. You do not want to call every time for something negative.
During the Parent Teacher Conference
9) Always allow time for questions
It is important to allow parents to ask questions during the conference. If you can create a welcoming atmosphere it will put them at ease. It may be your first time but you will not be the only one feeling nervous so let the conversation be open and free just like you would in a classroom. Put up examples of good students work, or have a portfolio if you are not in your classroom. This is particularly useful if you have to show parents if there student is underperforming as you can highlight the good work in the class as well
10) Involve the parents
We mentioned it above but is an important point. and highlighted in both the resilient educator and Education week. Studies have shown that students who have active parent involvement in their education are likely to show not only improved improved results.
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs;
- Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits;
- Attend school regularly;
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school; and
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education” (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Source
It is possible for teachers to involve parents in numerous ways. However, as we also mentioned above, it is important to remember parents are not teachers so there will have to be some support for them. Possible ways they could help and involve themselves in their students (and others) school life are as follows
- Check if your school has progress reports and encourage parents to check and monitor them
- Ask them if its possible to have set times for homework and you can assist them with a planner
- If there are facilities for students to have extra time at school ( to help with parents who work late or are the only adult) make sure you inform parents of these
- If there is a Teaching assistant or Parent program see if they want to get involved.
- Have a selection of resources ready for your subject to give to parents.
11) What to do if there is conflict
It is possible, probable even, that some parents may not exactly be aware of how their students are behaving or performing in school. When you explain these issues, no matter how much you explain it professionally and diplomatically, it may be that you face defensive or even worse aggressive.
If you are faced with this then is better to politely conclude the meeting and arrange for another try later. If you are worried, especially if it is the first time, always ask for a senior teacher or member of the administration to be in the meeting. It is not a sign of failure it is a sign of professionalism.
After the Parent Teacher Conference
12) Open your doors
Open your “doors” to parents. Ask your students’ parents to call or email anytime. You can also allow visitors with open arms as often as possible. Most parents won’t stop by, but if they feel that the lines of communication are open, they are more likely to call or email when they are concerned. It also develops a rapport so if issues or situations do occur you have already built the foundations of a relationship.
13) Do some follow up afterwards
After the conference, and a well deserved rest!, it is good practice to send a message to parents both those who attended and those that didn’t. You can over some of the broader points of the feedback and how you plan to take parents thoughts on board as well. It allows parents to ask any questions they thought of after the meeting to address them now. It also Shows you are open to keeping lines of communication open for them as well.
14) Keep them involved
If you have access to the technology you can use apps like Seesaw and Class Dojo to maintain contact and show what is happening in your classrooms. They are lovely ways for parents to see the topics and progress their students are making. If you do use this try to make sure you showcase as many students as possible so they all get their moment in the sun.
Parents want what is best for their children. They know that education is beneficial for them, but they do not always know what to do to help. If you want to establish a positive relationship with them you have to be both diplomatic and honest. Some of the news must be positive. If the student is creative, be sure to compliment them on this, but also make sure that any problems are highlighted and bring solutions to the table as well.
Parents want to know that their children have talents in and out of the classroom. Prepare by getting to know the students and their families and open lines of communication. Care and compassion are hard to come by when there are concerns, but be sure that your students and parents are able to feel a little of that from you.
And congratulations on your first successful parent teacher conference!
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, English, General Studies and Outdoor Education. Thought it was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children