Tips for Effective Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent and teacher at a parent-teacher conference

The parent-teacher conference is one aspect of education where most of us might say, “You never know what you are going to get.” But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Parent-teacher conferences are great chances to connect with your parents and bring them into the learning process.

Here are some proactive steps all educators can put in place to start hosting more positive and effective parent-teacher conferences.

Before a parent-teacher conference

The time before a parent-teacher conference is critical. You’ll want to make sure you have as much information gathered beforehand, as it’ll make your process smoother.

Be as proactive as possible

Don’t wait for a problem to escalate, whether it’s academic or behavioral. It’s always better to address issues when a simpler solution might lead to positive changes, and that means starting earlier rather than later.

Know the purpose

Just like when designing great lessons, you need to know the purpose of your parent-teacher conference. Be as specific as you can. If you’re setting up the conference, let the parent or guardian know the focus beforehand. If a parent or guardian is asking for a conference, make sure to gather specifics information they want to meet about.

Gather clear, unambiguous data

Having evidence that is specific and addresses the concerns of the parent/guardian you’re meeting with helps keep things on track. It also helps you be objective throughout the conference. Parent-teacher conferences can be stressful for parents especially, so help ease their tension by using clear-cut evidence that supports your concerns.

Know everyone’s needs

In a similar way of meeting the unique needs of all of our students, we have to also think about the needs of the parents or guardians we’re meeting with. For example, some parents might be deaf or hard of hearing, others may not be English proficient. In cases like this, having an interpreter available helps assure them that you’re on their side and here to help. Another consideration to take into account is the education level and experience of those you are meeting with. School may not feel as inviting to some as much as to others.

During parent-teacher conferences

Now that you’ve gathered all the necessary data and info, set expectations, and schedule the meeting, it is time to host the conference. Follow these few tips and you’ll be right on track for a successful conference:

Stay on point

It’s easy to move around to different topics that were not the original focus of the parent-teacher conference. However, if other concerns arise, consider addressing them at the end of the meeting, if time allows and your team feels prepared for the conversation. Otherwise, set up a different time to talk.

A great way of establishing this early on is to be direct with parents or guardians. Let them know that before you can comment on certain topics you might need more information. Also, let them know they’ll have additional time after to talk about other concerns, helps ensure they feel supported and understood throughout the parent-teacher conference.

Be positive

Always assume the parents or guardians you’re meeting with are trying to do the best they can based on what they understand about the situation. After all, most parents you speak with likely won’t be teachers or educators, and can feel a little intimidated being in school. Try to ease any apprehensions as quickly as possible.

Don’t dominate the conversation

As educators, we want to be sure to not dominate the conversation. Pause and check for understanding throughout, giving parents or guardians time to ask questions and participate. Ask for their insights. Be cautious about the use of acronyms–even educators can get lost in the sea of abbreviations.

Be solution oriented

What is the plan of action for moving forward? Everyone needs to have a voice in deciding how to move forward. Set expectations for all parties involved in the conference. Be sure the student knows what he/she is expected to do to improve or to continue moving forward in his/her learning. Ask parents/guardians to take actionable steps to help their child. The team of educators also needs to know their next steps.

Note the major points of the conversation including the next steps agreed upon. Allow all parties to have a copy of the notes. It’s great to have some form or template already created in advance for your parent-teacher conferences.

Other considerations for parent-teacher conferences

Whenever possible, have the student in attendance. Go one step further by allowing the student to lead the conference when appropriate. This will take some planning time to allow the student a chance to prepare.

Following the parent-teacher conference

After a parent-teacher conference, it is time to start implementing your plan of action and charting your student’s progress. It’s important during this process to also keep the parents and guardians in the loop when possible.

Just do it

If you agreed to a plan during the conference, follow through. It’s important that whenever you set expectations for parents or guardians, you make sure those get accomplished. This helps ensure that parents or guardians know you’re there for them, and helps your student accomplish their goals.

Continue to document progress

Let the student and parents/guardians know how things are going. Keep open lines of communication. If something is not working, communicate it with all parties involved. You might even consider scheduling a follow-up meeting during your initial meeting so everyone is clear about timelines, goals, solutions, and progress.

Additional resources for a successful parent-teacher conference:

ESC Region 16

Kim Watts spent 21 years teaching middle school in both inner-city and affluent schools. During her time in the classroom, Kim taught English/Language Arts, brought AVID to her campus as a certified AVID teacher, and taught Capturing Kids’ Hearts Teen Leadership. Kim was the SIM Coordinator for her campus’ Literacy Leadership Team, helping them to implement a school-wide approach to improving literacy using the Strategic Instruction Model.

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