Parent-Teacher Conferences: Before, During, and After

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During the Conference

Greet parents in a positive manner with a smile and a handshake. Keep in mind that a well-run parent-teacher conference focuses in on the following “must do's” every time:

  • Provide parents with specific academic information.

  • Invite and obtain additional information from parents.

  • Listen carefully to parents. If you're nervous, you will tend to “take over” the conversation—by as much as 90 percent. Try for a 50-50 balance.

  • Combine your perceptions and their observations into a workable plan of action. Ask for parent ideas, and use those ideas in addressing challenging situations.

  • Let parents know that you are always available for follow-up (phone calls, personal meetings, etc.).

When talking to parents, always remember: show, don't tell. Provide specific examples of a student's work or behavior rather than labels or adjectives. Instead of saying, “Frankie is poor in math,” paint a clear picture for Frankie's parents: “Last week Frankie struggled when we were learning to add two-digit numbers, and he didn't finish his assignment.” Always provide parents with concrete examples rather than very broad generalities.

If you are sharing some negative information with parents, be sure you “sandwich” it. Begin with some positive information, then share the negative information, and conclude with another piece of positive information.

Always look for common solutions (“I understand your concern with Carmelita. Let's see if we can work on this together”). Have some duplicated resource sheets available for parents. These may include (but aren't limited to) the following: a list of community social service agencies, a homework help line, a list of private tutors in the community, websites for homework help, etc.

Always use “active listening” skills. If a parent says something about the child, try to use some of the parent's words in your response. For example, if Mr. Brown says, “Yeah, Tommie always seems to be shy whenever he's around other people.” You say, “I understand that Tommie is hesitant to talk with other people—that sometimes happens in class. Perhaps I could put him in a smaller group so he will be less inhibited.” By using active listening, you help build positive bridges of communication essential in any good conference.

Fire Alarm

Be careful of conversational traps. Experienced teachers will tell you that some topics should never be part of parent-teacher conferences, including the following:

  • Comparing one child with another
  • Focusing on family problems
  • Psychoanalyzing a child
  • Blaming the parent for the child's problems
  • Psychoanalyzing a parent
  • Talking about other teachers
  • Arguing with a parent

Don't be afraid to ask for parent input or feedback (“By the way, Mr. Wilson, how have you handled Bobbie's silliness at home?”). By the same token, never give parents commands (“You should …” “You must …”) Rather, offer concrete and specific suggestions in the form of an invitation (“Mrs. Harper, based on our conversation this evening, I'm wondering if you and Michelle could spend an additional 10 minutes a night on her spelling words?”). It is far better to “invite” parents to become part of the solution than “tell” them what they should or should not do.

Summarize some of the major points, and clarify any action that will be taken. Most important, always end a conference on a positive note! Don't just dismiss parents from the table. Stand up with them and personally escort them to the door with a smile, a handshake, and a “Thank you for coming.”

After the Conference

Save a few minutes after each conference to jot down a couple notes. Don't take notes during the conference—it tends to inhibit many parents and makes eye-to-eye conversation difficult. Record your observations, perceptions, and suggestions on a 3×5 index card with the student's name at the top. File these in a recipe box for later reference.

Plan for some “decompression time” between conferences. You need time to gather your thoughts, regroup, and get ready for the next conference. A long string of back-to-back conferences will only add to your stress and increase your anxiety.

Be sure to follow up (as necessary) with phone calls, notes, messages, or letters to every parent, including those who didn't attend (“I'm sorry I missed you at the parent-teacher conferences last week. May I call you for a personal meeting?”). Immediate feedback is necessary to ensure parent cooperation and participation in any shared solutions.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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