9 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences
The school year is under way and you're getting to know your students. For many schools, after a few weeks of settling in, it’s time for parent-teacher conferences.
Conferences are a little nerve wracking, especially if this is your first time leading them. You feel nervous sharing information that may be difficult for parents to hear. Or you’re just not sure what to talk about, period.
Calm these emotions by making a strong plan. Conferences are a great opportunity to build rapport with your students’ families and find ways to work together.
Here are nine tips to ensure you feel collected and confident going into parent-teacher conferences.
1. Keep in mind, you might not be meeting with a parent.
As a teacher, you work with a diverse group of students. Although they’re called “parent-teacher” conferences, not every student lives with a parent.
Some students may have a grandparent, older sibling, or foster parent coming to meet with you. Introduce yourself without making assumptions about who each child’s adult is.
Keep in mind, the parents may be more nervous than you are. Some may not have childcare for siblings or may have had unpleasant teacher interactions in the past. This leads us to our next tip: be welcoming.
2. Create a welcoming environment.
For some adults, parent-teacher conferences may be one of the only times during the year that they’ll be able to come up to the school. As a teacher, you should make them feel welcome and important. After all, you’re working together to make this an excellent school year for their child.
Here are a few ways to ensure your classroom feels welcoming:
- Make sure all students have work displayed in the classroom
- Show parents where their child sits and some of the things they’ve been working on
- Steer clear of teacher jargon and use terms that will resonate with parents
- Share some of your favorite projects or ideas for the school year with them
- Have blocks or coloring pages out for parents who may have brought siblings along to conferences
Having a welcoming environment contributes to the teacher/parent relationship that is critical in student success.
3. Remember, you’re the expert.
Meeting with parents, especially if you’re a newer teacher, can be intimidating. Some parents may tell youthey just don’t understand this “new” math teachers teach these days, or that their student gets too much or too little homework.
While parents may have their opinions, remember YOU are the expert! You trained to be a teacher for years, and each year you’ll continue to gain confidence.
You understand differentiation; you know your state’s standards, and most importantly, you know your students and how they learn.
Take ownership in the fact that you’re an expert in your craft.
4. Your first interaction with a parent should be a positive one.
During the first week of school, you usually get an idea of which students you’ll need to make parent contact with. Reach out to those parents before conferences and make an effort to connect on a positive note.
You want to start building a positive rapport with them, knowing that you may have some tough conversations down the road.
When you reach out, share a creative idea they had in class or something kind you observed them doing. You don’t want your first interaction with a parent to be a negative one.
5. You and the parents are on the same team.
At the beginning of the meeting, it’s important to establish that you and the parents are on the same team. As a teacher, you want what’s best for your students. And this is exactly what parents want, too.
This can be difficult when you have to discuss behavioral issues or academic concerns. Before starting these conversations, you want to make sure parents know that you have their child’s best interest at heart.
A great phrase to use after establishing you’re on the same team as the parent is this:
“As your child’s teacher, I need to let you know….”
This helps parents remember that it’s your job to share important information about their child, even if it’s hard to hear.
6. Be specific.
This tip is especially important for those kids that are doing awesome in your classroom. Their parents are used to hearing their child is doing well, so give specific examples. Some things that you can share with parents are:
- How their student was a good friend
- A sample of writing that shows their personality
- Something positive you saw the child do while they thought nobody was watching
- How this child helped another student understand a concept in class
The possibilities are endless! It’s also helpful to start thinking about this in the weeks leading up to conferences so you have time to observe and take note of your students’ actions.
7. Prepare like the teacher you are.
When parents are meeting with you, they’re getting a glimpse of the world their child lives in every day. Just like you prepare for class, you want to prepare for parent-teacher conferences.
Here are a few things you can prepare to share with parents:
- Your daily schedule
- Discuss what you’re teaching in specific subject areas
- Have a folder prepared for each student to share a work sample, test scores, or any other information
- Touch on any projects coming up that parents can be involved in
- Leave time for parents to ask questions
Being organized and ready will help parents feel like their kids are in good hands each day.
8. Set expectations.
Inevitably you’ll encounter parents who want to talk until the cows come home. One way to avoid this is by letting parents know a time frame and general plan at the beginning of the conference.
Provide them with time to ask questions, share about their child, and get a feel for the classroom. When the end of the conference time is nearing, kindly, but firmly, let the parent know the conference is over and you have another parent waiting to see you.
You can also provide your email address as an option if the parent would like to reach out.
9. Ask questions.
Asking parents questions can be a great way to learn more about your students. Here are a few ideas for what to ask at parent-teacher conferences:
- What goals do you have for your child this year?
- What are your child's strengths and growth areas?
- Is there anything you want me to know about your child?
- What does your child like to do at home?
- What are your child’s hobbies/interests?
Make sure to take notes as the parents answer your questions. Not only does it show that you take what they say seriously, but it’s helpful to look back on when needed.
Asking questions and taking notes builds rapport with your student’s parents and gives you valuable information about your students.
While parent-teacher conferences can feel like a major event, there’s no need to stress. Ultimately, you have all the skills you need to build strong relationships and relay important information to your student’s parents.