Holding parent teacher conferences can be stressful for both the parent and a teacher. There are likely some time constraints, and there’s no way you can cover all that you need to with each family. It’s important that you take advantage of the time you do have with each parent. If you’re feeling nervous about upcoming parent teacher conferences, here are 5 tips that will help you:
Prepare like a champion and do your homework.
Hopefully you’ve documented the struggles and achievements of each child in your room. It’s a big task, but from the parent’s perspective, this is the most important part of a conference. They’ll want to know where their child is struggling and where they can improve.
I would suggest having an organized system for conferences. If you devote time to creating an outline and jotting down the most important things you’d like to discuss, time won’t get away from you, and you’ll have a productive meeting.
If you haven’t adequately prepared for the conference, and you haven’t done your homework, the parents will likely be unimpressed, and you’ll have a tough time recovering from a tarnished relationship with them. It’s much harder to be a teacher in a classroom where parents aren’t on your team.
Invite the parent(s) to express thoughts/concerns.
Parents want to be heard, above all. They want to feel invited to share any thoughts and concerns they may have about their child, your instruction, the classroom, or even other students. Give them time to vent, ask questions, and give you feedback. In the meantime, keep your cool. Reacting emotionally instead of logically can damage your reputation and your relationship. Write down the concerns that parents bring to you. This will help you in step 5: make a plan for following through.
Be ready for surprises.
Parents enjoy taking an opportunity with a new teacher to talk about the difficulties they may have had in the past. They also may want to use this time to vent about their frustrations or struggles at home. Oftentimes, parent teacher conferences involve much more than just discussion of the child. Remember that the way you handle yourself during a conference says a lot about who you are, personally and professionally. Keep your cool and do not engage in bad-mouthing another teacher. Instead, move the conversation back to the experience they are currently having, and offer to do what you can to make their child’s experience a better one.
Keep your tone (and your focus) positive.
No parent wants to sit through 20-30 minutes of “your child should be doing better.” Instead, focus on keeping your comments positive. Encourage parents to provide ideas on how you can all succeed. Is there anything you can do to make their student’s experience in your classroom more enjoyable or easier? Parents will respect that you’re putting yourself out there. Make them feel as though the burden for their child to succeed isn’t only on their shoulders – you are part of their team. Parents will leave your parent teacher conference feeling much more confident in their child’s ability and much more comfortable with who you are personally and professionally.
Make a follow-through plan with the parents.
When parents express concerns, they’re hoping for something to change. Sending their child to school in a classroom where they’re unhappy is no parent’s dream. During parent-teacher conferences, write down any concerns that parents may bring up, and before the conference is over, make sure you have a plan. If you really want to go a step further, encourage them to reach out to you at different checkpoints; maybe later in the fall or just before winter break. This will help you hold yourself accountable and will give parents “permission” to check-in on how things are going with their student.
Parent-teacher conferences can be intimidating – especially for new teachers. Instead of dreading them, see them as an opportunity to grow closer to your student’s families. Building relationships is half of the battle when you’re a teacher and having parents on “your side” will aid you tremendously throughout your career. Parents need to feel that they can trust you; that they can come to you when there’s an issue. Describe your open-door policy, and remind them that email is always a great way to communicate. If you work in a school where parent involvement is lacking, make sure you emphasize how willing you are to work around their schedule – whether that’s a phone conversation or an early morning meeting. Families are truly a part of who your students are. A parent-teacher conference is your opportunity to become just a small part of their family.