New teachers are understandably nervous about their first parent-teacher conferences. Don’t stress out — even veteran teachers still have qualms about them! To help you prepare, we interviewed instructors with NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust, who teach regional seminars on strategies for parent-teacher conference success. Here are some of their suggestions:
Don’t ever sit behind your desk and direct parents to sit across from you. Set up a comfortable conference area where everyone’s at the same level and you can share students’ work. Have paper and pen available for notetaking.
Start with something positive. Even if you have to dig deep, think of something positive to start the meeting off on a good note. Say, “I love having John in class,” or “I appreciate that she’s very vocal.” Maintain good eye contact and pay attention to your body language. Smile!
Make it visual, perhaps using a timer on your smartboard or other electronic device. Have a five-minute warning, so you and the parents know it’s time to wrap up. You can tell them it helps you stay on track.
Be prepared with copies of grades and student work samples ready to go. Maintain a clear website so that assignments and calendar dates are posted. With many schools using online grade books, take the time to see whether parents are actually checking online for updates. Some veterans suggest having students fill out a progress report with “strengths” and “things to work on” that you can share with parents. Show, don’t tell!
You can head off many complaints at your conference by carefully planning a mix of easier and more difficult student assignments. “If you’re doing a challenging topic, give the kids some confidence with some 10-point easy quizzes or fun assignments. “You’re still covering the curriculum, but having a variety of grade opportunities helps to keep everybody happier.”
If a student is having serious trouble or their grades suddenly take a nosedive, give the parent a heads-up with an advance phone call. Don’t unveil major problems at the conference.
Beware of email. In this digital age, it’s easy to fall into the trap of frequent email communication with parents. Veteran teachers suggest sending emails only for grades, missing assignments, announcements and clear-cut issues. “Emails can be misconstrued because of tone,” said one instructor. “They can also be shared with other parents and administrators. Bottom line: Never use email for discipline issues.”
There’s so much you want to tell them, but listen to what they have to say, too. Don’t interrupt. Allow for occasional silences, which give the parent a chance to ask a question or voice a concern. Try to avoid educational jargon and acronyms.
If you’re dealing with an angry parent, try a monotone voice. “Be firm, but monotone,” said one instructor. “They’ll hear that and bring it down. If you yell back, it will escalate.”
Set goals together. Mention plans for follow-through and share contact information. You want the parent to leave the meeting feeling like you’re on the same page, working as a team for what’s best for the student.