Saturday, November 12, 2016

Five Tips for Successful Parent Conferences

Our district requires us to have a Parent-Teacher Conference at the end of the first quarter of school. I'm almost done with this year's conferences, so I thought I'd share some tips for making sure they are successful.

Be prepared.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've been rushing around trying to find a work sample or print out a report at the last minute. I end up feeling frazzled. That's no way to begin a conference! Prepare for your conferences a day ahead of time. Make sure you have your work samples and test results organized in a folder. Put them in the order you like to share them. Make sure you have a parent conference form partially completed. You can always add notes while the conference is in session, but having an agenda or outline will keep you on track and make sure you won't forget anything.

If parents email or (worse) show up asking for an on-the-spot conference or one with very little preparation time, do your best to schedule it for the next day. I've been known to pretend to have a prior commitment, but you don't have to lie. Just say you are not able to have a conference today and then provide one or more dates and times as alternatives. People don't just drop in to see their doctor, lawyer, or dentist and expect immediate service. Why should we allow them to do so in the school setting? Professionals set appointments for a reason - so they can be informed and prepared for the meeting.

Invite and involve your students. I believe students should have a role in the conference because they are responsible for setting goals, completing work, and being a productive member of the classroom community. Having them there also sends a message that their parents and I are on the same page with regards to the importance of education. We're all on the same team.

I have my kids start the conference by sharing 1 or 2 entries from their math, science, and reading response journals. They also share a writing piece. It's always fun and informative to hear the students explain what we are learning in class. You can also learn a lot about how the parents interact with their children. Some beam with pride and give praise, others are overly critical. It gives you a quick idea about how to approach the information you will need to share. I make sure I provide additional information when needed. I often slip in some praise or comments on areas needing improvement.

Having the student present also provides an opportunity for problem-solving. If the student is having social issues, we can come up with some ideas for making and keeping friends. If the student has behavior problems, we can begin a behavior contract. If the student has academic difficulties, I can suggest ways the parents can help at home. The parents will experience less resistance to this extra work because the student was in on the decision.

Not all of my parents accept the invitation to involve the student in the conference. That's their choice and I absolutely respect that. However, I've always received very positive feedback and results from student-involved conferences. Give them a try.

Talking to parents can be difficult. They are sometimes defensive. Sometimes, they are not receptive to your concerns. Sometimes, it's difficult to get them to attend the conference. We sometimes make assumptions about parents like this:
  • They don't care about their child's behavior.
  • They don't have any respect for you or what you are dealing with.
  • They don't believe anything that puts their child in a bad light.
And sometimes - rarely - that's true. But most of the time, it's not. In my experience, parents from every walk of life have one thing in common: they care about their children and they want them to be successful.

Remember that the parents are not your enemy.  They are there to advocate for their child. That's their job. Don't take things personally (I know that's tough). Make sure you see and acknowledge the whole child. Mix your concerns with plenty of praise and acknowledgment of the good in the child. Never dismiss parent concerns or questions. Listen and problem-solve together. Be clear and professional. You are on the same side - you both want what's best for the child.

Anticipate parent concerns. 

If you have a student in your classroom who is very bright, finishes work quickly and correctly, and works at a high level, chances are the parents are concerned that he/she will be challenged. Instead of waiting for parents to bring that up, weave it into your conversation as you share test results or classwork. Share some of the activities, projects, or materials that you are using to help their child make progress. Parents will appreciate knowing that you have their child's needs in mind and are providing those opportunities for challenge and extension of the learning.

If you have a child who is almost always alone on the playground during recess, be prepared to discuss social issues. Make sure you let parents know that you've noticed and are concerned, as well. We do teach many children who are introverts. They simply are more comfortable being alone. And maybe that's okay. But, as teachers, we need to be aware that being alone is not always a choice. Sometimes it's a result of shyness or not knowing how to join other's play. Sometimes, more seriously, it's the result of bullying. You might bring up the concern first and ask the parent for his/her take on it. They may share information on the child's social history or specific problems with other children that you did not know about. 

Bottom line: Make your parents aware that you know and care about their child as a person. 

Start and end with positives. You never want to start or end on a negative note. You also don't want your conference to be a listing of complaints or things to work on. Find a strength to praise at the beginning of the conference, whether it be academic or social. Let the parents know you are seeing the good in their child. When you mention the behavior or academic difficulty, share how you are addressing the difficulty. Try to focus on just one area that needs improvement. If needed, make a plan for improvement with the parent's help. Then, as you are getting ready to close, make sure you praise another strength. By sandwiching a negative between two positives, you are more likely to make your parents an ally in their child's education.

I always end my conferences by emphasizing the good qualities of the child and why I am happy to have him/her in my class this year. It's not always easy to do, but remember: we praise the qualities we want to encourage in our students.  You may find that your students do better after they've heard that you like them.

So, those are my tips for successful Parent-Teacher Conferences. What are yours? Please share in the comments or on my Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Such an important topic! Thanks for the great ideas!