Parent-teacher conferences can be stressful for both teachers and parents, especially if a child is struggling.
But they don’t have to be. In fact, you should look forward to these conversations.
For many teachers, the parent-teacher conference is the only significant contact with a student’s parents, other than brief interactions when they drop off and pick up their kiddos.
These meetings give you an opportunity to discuss a child’s academic and developmental growth, strengths and areas for improvement, and more, while you have their parents’ undivided attention. Through this process, you’ll be able to better involve parents. After all, research shows time and time again that better communication with parents in the classroom leads to improved family involvement, one of the most important factors in a child′s success.
Additionally, it gives you a chance to better understand why a student might be behaving the way they are by gaining insight into their lives outside classroom walls.
Successful parent-teacher conferences will help you build partners in the educational process, which benefits you, the parents and most importantly, the children.
Below are three key things to remember when conducting parent-teacher conferences.
Preparation wins the day
First and foremost, you want to have a plan in place. Know exactly what you want to discuss and make sure you have supporting documentation such as observation reports, classroom work and more.
It’s also helpful to create a simple agenda to follow, and share with the parents at the outset of the meeting and ask if that sounds good to them. While you want to make sure you have structure so you stay on track, you don’t want to come across as too rigid because that might make parents feel like it’s a one-way street.
When thinking about how you’re going to present the information, remember to lead with the positive and what their child is doing well. In the same way you give positive encouragement to little ones, you want to do the same with parents. If you launch right into a child’s problems or struggles, you’ll likely put parents on the defensive and make it much more difficult to keep a conversation focused and productive.
Also, if this is the first time a parent is visiting the classroom, take a moment to show them around and point out things like where their kiddo sits and their child’s artwork. This will make them feel more comfortable before immediately sitting down and getting to brass tacks.
Practice active listening
While parents may expect you to do most of the talking, it’s crucial that both teachers and parents talk during this time. In order to create fruitful communication with parents in the classroom, invite them to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas with you.
During this time, you want to make sure you practice active listening, which is a process where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words they’re using but the entire message being communicated. This includes paying attention to their body language, making sure you understand what they are saying by asking follow-up questions and acknowledging the points they’re making. There are a number of great resources online about active listening, including this one from MIT.
By comparing and discussing each other’s viewpoints, your conference will be much more successful.
Communicating with non-English speaking parents
Something else to think about is if you’ll be communicating with non-English speaking parents or families who speak minimal English. If you know you’ll be conducting a conference with someone whose primary language is something other than English, you want to take this into consideration beforehand.
For starters, ask the parent in advance what their language preference is. Just because English is their second language doesn’t mean they aren’t comfortable speaking it. If they prefer to use their primary language, you’ll need to find an adult translator who can be present. Depending on your school’s resources, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to identify this person. If all else fails, you can ask the parent if they have a family member or friend who is available to join the conference and translate.
Second, regardless of if there’s an interpreter present or not, you should anticipate these meetings taking longer, so you’ll want to schedule extra time just in case. By giving yourself some cushion, you can go at a comfortable pace making sure parents understand what’s being communicated and both sides have ample time to cover everything that needs to be discussed.
Third, make sure you use simple documents and incorporate plenty of visuals. Using easy-to-understand reports and visuals helps all parents, but it’s especially beneficial for non-English speaking parents.
Finally, at the conclusion of the conference, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their child being part of the classroom and value the cultural diversity they bring.
Getting to know your students’ parents is important for any child’s success. If you’re interested in learning more about preparing for the family conference, CCEI has you covered!
PROF110: Family-Teacher Conferences is a two-hour, beginner-level course and participants will learn the primary goals of family-teacher conferences along with strategies associated with planning for, conducting, and following up after conferences. In addition, the course will cover recommended practices for sharing assessment results with families, including when and how to make referrals to early intervention agencies. Additionally, CCEI offers this course in Spanish.
Click here to learn more about this offering, as well as CCEI’s entire catalog of courses designed to help you be the best educator possible!