18 ways to ace your parent-teacher conferences
Parent-teacher conference season is usually nervewracking for everyone. After all, in these short time slots you’re representing both your school and yourself as an educator, all while answering a peppering of impromptu questions and working to put others at ease. It’s like speed dating – except conducted in child-sized chairs and with a marked lack of wine. To help you feel more confident, we’ve put together a pick-and-choose list of tips to prepare and conduct parent-teacher conferences. The idea? Take what helps you improve your teaching and leave the rest for later…
Feel comfortable. Dress appropriately – depending on your school, smart casual is probably your go-to style.
Arrange desks and chairs intentionally. Some teachers advise setting up four chairs: the parents on one side, the teacher and the student on the other. That way, they say, the teacher is (figuratively and literally) on the student’s side, while talking directly to the parents. This said, other teachers advise sitting with parents around a table or in a semi-circle. Whatever you prefer, a common tip is not to put the teacher’s desk between you and the parents, as this can be seen to communicate a power play.
Create a relaxing atmosphere. This could mean playing calming background music, reducing harsh lighting, and having tea and coffee-making facilities available. Another way to create a positive setting is to have a box of puzzles, coloring in sheets, or other quiet activity for younger brothers and sisters that may come along.
Be ready to greet the parents. Turn off your laptop or desktop computer ahead of time, have your papers organized, and know parents’ first and last names – remembering that they may be different from the student’s.
Consider including the student in the conference. That way, the child has the opportunity to show off a piece of work they are proud of, see their parents and teachers working together, and be present at the onset of new ideas and strategies for at-home study.
Start and end well. Some teachers call this “the sandwich technique”. Positive general statements go a long way, such as: “We’re all here to help Pau achieve the best results he can in English,” followed by something specific “He’s been incredibly engaged during group work activities recently, which is really great to see.”
Send home a questionnaire for parents in which they can answer your questions and identify any concerns or queries they may have. Consider including a list of areas studied that semester so that parents know what their child has been exposed to. You may also like them to fill in a list of their child’s strengths and weaknesses as they understand them.
Pre-plan your own questions and suggestions and write these down for each child. Make sure you allow enough time for parents’ questions and discussion.
Speak clearly and avoid jargon. Be as tactful as you can be – though not so much so that you skirt around problems entirely.
Have plenty of work samples saved to illustrate achievements or to talk about areas of concern. Strengthen these by having specific ideas on hand for parents when they ask what they can do to help.
Ask parents what they want to discuss early on. This will make them feel heard and recognized.
Identify goals and responsibilities together and assign these to each party: to yourself, the student, and the parents. Limit these to a few actionable points so as not to overwhelm parents.
Provide pens and paper for parents to take notes if they wish.
Don’t believe the hype. If your colleagues speak badly of certain parents or about the process in general, hold judgement and make up your own mind.
Use “we” over “I” or “you”. This reaffirms that the focus of the conference is the child’s development, and that the parents and teacher must work as a team.
Remain calm if dealing with a frustrated or aggressive parent. Don’t respond in the same way. Choose not to be inflamed if a parent questions your teaching methods; remaining calm positions you as a leader.
Say “I’ll get back to you”. If a parent needs an answer to a question that you genuinely don’t know how to respond right then, tell them you will get back to them by a certain day. Then do it. This is especially helpful for new teachers or teachers talking with parents who are much older than they are.
Plan a treat for the end of your conferences. Maybe tickets to a show, lunch with your best friend, an evening barbecue at the lake, morning to yourself without kids, a massage – something delicious and fun to look forward to!