As I can scan my social media, I am seeing numerous teacher friends gearing up for parent teacher conferences. Some have just completed them. Now that I’ve had twelve years of conferences under my belt, I have created parent teacher conference survival tips to make these meetings beneficial, smooth, and non-terrifying.
Parent/guardian conferences occurred every November during my teaching career. In addition, many schools hold them in the fall and the spring as well. Most students have shown progress since the beginning of school. In addition, teachers know their class a lot more since the beginning of school. Therefore, fall is a great time to connect with parents/guardians.
As a first-year teacher, parent teacher conferences terrified me. It’s not something I took a class on in college. I’m guessing neither did you. I also didn’t partake in conferences as a student teacher, although that would have been extremely helpful. I hope these tips truly help you in this important endeavor.
Before you meet with a parent/guardian, send home a pre-conference form. This is a great opportunity to see if there is anything specific that needs to be discussed. It may be something that might not be on your radar. A pre-conference form allows a teacher to avoid being thrown off if there was something going on that he or she was unaware of.
Sometimes I’ve received a pre-conference form back to find out there was a social issue that I didn’t know about. Sometimes there may have been a home issue that parents wanted to discuss to see if it affected their child. A pre-conference form helps a teacher feel prepared to address any specific issues that were referenced in the form.
Before the conference and after receiving the pre-conference form back, I like to fill out an informative sheet for the parent. The sheet details grades, missing work (if applicable), social/behavioral progress, any goals that need to be addressed, and any upcoming important topics or units we will learn soon. I always make a couple of copies of this sheet for parents to take with them and for me to place in their personal files. The sheet provided follows the sandwich method of “sandwiching” positive news with any negative news.
If there is anything that needs to be discussed that is more negative in nature, “sandwiching” with positive information helps make the parent feel less defensive. It is also so easy to focus on the negative when communicating that intentionally filling out positive information about the child ahead of time, allows you to refocus on what’s going right with the student. We do not want the parent to leave the conference feeling defeated about their child. We want them to leave feeling hopeful, and looking forward to the progress their child will make.
Other ways to prepare are to make sure your classroom is neat, organized, and tidy and displays student work in some way. Students can even write a letter to their parents that they leave on their desk for them to read after the conference. Ensuring a neat and organized space allows the parent to feel at ease.
Some teachers place out a bowl of mints, candy, or small bottles of water. Enter your classroom with a second set of eyes. How would you want to feel entering your child’s teacher’s classroom? Making them feel comfortable and invited helps ease any tension.
Make sure your space is ready too. Have your water, coffee, pens/pencils, notebook, each child’s conference form, and each parent’s pre-conference form organized by name. Place a box of tissues out, not because you’re anticipating crying, but because it’s just kind to do so.
#3 Connect at the Conference
At the beginning of the conference, if in person, I like to stand and shake the parent’s hand while welcoming them into the classroom. As conferences are normally held back to back, make sure there is a clock on the wall you can look at that is situated behind a parent. Referencing your watch or phone can seem dismissive, but a quick glance behind them is a little kinder and less distracting.
I like to begin with a connection if possible. Commenting on the weather, on the child’s classwork hanging up, or where their child sits in the room can create a moment of connection. If you know the parent a little more personally, take a couple of minutes for small talk to allow the parent to feel a bit more relaxed.
I use the conference sheet I’ve filled out ahead of time to lead the conference. I go over each section and pause to ask if there are any questions. Being mindful of the pace of the conference is important. Parents don’t want to feel like they have been rushed through, but taking too long will push other conferences back.
After going over the form and answering any questions the parents have had, I pull out the pre-conference sheet and go over anything the parent had specifically requested to talk about.
Take notes throughout the conference in a journal or a sheet that goes into the child’s file. Taking notes is extremely important for the post-conference time. You can have so many conferences back to back that you won’t remember everything. Writing some things down during each conference will help you remember the important points, goals, or issues that you will be watching out for during the school day.
Be mindful of the time. If you need to tell the parent there is another conference behind them, it is okay to do so. If either you or the parent feels like there needs to be more time, ask if they would be interested in another conference. Perhaps even a Zoom meeting.
At the end of the conference, leave on a happy note. I like to thank them for taking time out of their day to meet. I like to shake hands again. Then I invite them to take a moment to look around the classroom as you lead them toward the door. Connect once more before they leave. Sometimes that means saying, “Have a wonderful evening.” Or, “Stay safe in that rainy weather!” Be personable with the parents and not distant. As a parent, it is refreshing and comforting that my child’s teacher engages with me. It makes me feel like they take care of my child well throughout the day.
#5 Post Conference
After the conference, send a follow-up email detailing any goals you discussed. Follow up with any answers to questions that you couldn’t get to during the conference because you had investigate further. You may email the parent new goals the child has reached, or things that have occurred that relate to what was discussed. Even a simple email thanking them again for their time and sharing a positive bit of news about their child goes a long way.
There has been the occasional conference that has been my nightmare awakened. A parent gets defensive. He or she may yell. A parent is very unhappy. Staying calm and not defensive as the teacher is the best course of action. Staying professional is the best piece of advice I can give you. Speak in calm, quieter tones. Remember that you are a professional educator, even if every piece of you wants to turn into The Hulk.
If the conference reaches a point in which a parent’s behavior cannot be assuaged, I calmly state, “I don’t believe we can arrive at a resolution at this moment. Let’s reschedule for a time in which we can gather new information and come back together.”
Perhaps, you need support from your administration. I would state, “I believe my principal might have more information about this situation. I am going to call to see if he or she can join us.” If your principal is unavailable and the parent is becoming irate, it is best to stay safe and exit the room. Sometimes, no amount of soft-spoken words can calm them. Just say you’re going to talk with your principal since they have information about that particular situation. Refer to your administration’s policy on conferences turned wrong. Sometimes no matter how open parent communication has been, a parent can become angry. Sometimes, there’s just no avoiding it.
Nevertheless, it is important that parent communication is open starting at the beginning of the year. Refer to our parent communication blog post below.
Two out of the three schools I’ve worked at would have parent teacher conferences the week of Thanksgiving. Sometimes it was the day before. Although this wasn’t convenient as a mom hosting the holiday at my house, I would always feel immense joy when conferences were over. Then I was able to take a couple of days off. You definitely need the recuperation time! Following these above steps, or better yet, survival tips, will allow you to have successful, smooth, and productive parent teacher conferences.