As Thanksgiving approaches, so does the Fall round of Parent-Teacher Conferences. Over the past thirteen years as a teacher in both a middle and high school, I have had a wide range of experiences with parent meetings and parent conferences. As it is, I am sure, for most teachers, some of these interactions have been good, and some challenging. Over the past six years, a colleague and I have been running new teacher induction workshops that focus on Successful Parent Teacher Conferences. In planning and continuously reworking the content for this workshop, I have come across some insightful, helpful, and practical information. To help facilitate a successful parent-teacher conference, here are two VIP’s (Very Important Points) that need to be considered:
- In his 2004 article in titled “Walk a Mile in Parents’ Shoes”, John H. Wherry discusses how important it is for all educators, principals and teachers alike, to keep in mind what past experiences, positive and negative, parents may bring to school. It is sometimes easy for us to label a parent as ‘difficult’ or disengaged. What may be helpful for us to consider are issues like, ‘maybe the parent didn’t have a great high school experience, so every time he/she walks back into the building those experiences come rushing back,’ or ‘we spend roughly 1-2 periods with a child that could be a handful, that parent has to live with that child 24/7’. The more we, as educators, can try to open our viewpoint to that of the parent, the better we can open the lines of communication about their child.
- Be prepared and have a plan for the time. Both of these seem logical and a given, but many times they are not carried out effectively. In terms of preparation, the most basic piece of advice is ‘know the child’–from who he/she is as a reader/writer (possibly bring the student’s writing portfolio) to, overall, who he/she is as a person (interests and hobbies). The more the parent feels as though you care about his/her child, a better relationship and clearer communication will be established for future instances. Have a plan in place. Whether it is a 45-minute or 15 minute conference, have an opening, body, and conclusion for the meeting. At a very basic level, start with introductions and some general background on the student’s presence in your class. Move on to specifics as to areas he/she excels and needs help in to be successful. During this, invite parent (and student if present) input as part of the process. Wrap up with a clear ‘thank you for your time’ and possible plan (if applicable) moving forward. During this, be sure to clearly identify goals, as well as the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in working towards these goals.
In the end, what most parents want is to know that they, as parents, are respected and valued as part of their child’s growth and learning process, is a clear idea of their child’s progress in your class-including strengths and areas to work on, and that you care about their child and have built a safe, comfortable, and challenging learning environment that will help their child grow in all areas of his/her life.
***PS- most parents will tell you snacks outside the room for when they are waiting isn’t a bad thing. ☺ ***