There's no doubt about it: parent teacher conferences can be a nerve-racking experience during your first few years of teaching (or any year, for that matter). Sitting in front of parents, discussing a student, can cause actual anxiety and stress. But, conferences don’t have to be traumatic for you, the parent, or the student.
Check out these tips that will not only help your parent teacher conferences run smoothly - They'll make you look like an old pro!
TIP #1 - STUDENT PARTICIPATION (Yes, include students!)
The best advice I received as a new teacher was to include my students in the parent teacher conference process. Now, as a veteran teacher, I'm passing along that tip along to you because it really is great advice!
Some school districts, mine included, are upping the ante and actually bringing the student into the conference to LEAD it. (Which is awesome!) Whatever your school's approach is, including your students in conferences can be very simple and doesn't need to take much time out of your already packed day! A few easy ideas for student participation...
Have the student write/share a success and an improvement they could make. This will allow them to reflect on their performance and behavior before you even have to.
Let the student pick a piece of work they are incredibly proud of! Maybe it’s a video you made of them reading all of their sight words or one of their fast finisher projects. It can even be as simple as a drawing they created during recess. An added bonus - students will take a little more ownership of their work if you plan on sharing it with their parents.
Student inclusion can produce amazing things to talk about with parents. It also allows the students to know some of what is going to be discussed during the conference and gives you some jumping-off points if you just don't know where to start.
TIP #2 - KEEP IT POSITIVE!
When conferencing with parents, it is always important to keep the tone of the meeting positive. Yes, there will be times when you need to share unpleasant information; but it doesn't need to change the tone of the meeting. A smile goes a long way and a positive approach goes even further.
Start and end the conference with something positive.
“Jayvion is always excited when he walks into the classroom.”
“Thank you for coming. I'm excited to watch Emma's growth this year.”
Starting the conference with a positive story or comment gets it moving in the right direction. Ending with something else positive ensures that parents leave on a good note.
Don’t focus on the negative. The book Teach Like a Champion 2.0 has a large section about positive framing. Instead of saying “ Don’t run!”, teachers should try saying, “Please, walk.” Focus on the action we want the student to achieve, not the action we don’t. This is the same with conferences. No one wants to hear bad things about their child. So, whatever negative issues you need to discuss should be sandwiched between good comments and presented in a way that focuses on what you DO want from the student.
“Ben is often very talkative during class which can cause distractions. He's outgoing and has many friends which is great! But I’d love for him to save his conversations for the appropriate time because he is missing important instruction when chatting.“
Always be upfront with the parents if the student is struggling academically or if behavior is affecting their learning. These types of conversations can be positive as well! If it is an academic issue include what you are doing to help or what the parents can do to help.
“Johanna is struggling with multiplication and division. I've been meeting with her and a couple of others in the morning to help her gain more confidence and understanding of math concepts. We also use several math websites in our classroom for extra practice and she can sign on at home as well!”
In this way, you can give parents the appropriate information (which may be negative) without making them feel as if their child is in trouble. Using a Parent-Teacher Conference form to gather your thoughts and data before the meeting makes these types of conversations easier.
TIP #3 - TREAT PARENTS AS PARTNERS
You are with your students for a large portion of the day before they return to their parents. (You’re kind of co-parenting, aren’t you?) This means just like with co-parenting, you need to treat each other with R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (Sing it!)
Making sure parents feel like partners in their child's education is essential. You need them! You need them to reinforce skills the student learned during the school day. You need them to help the student with skills he/she may be struggling with. You need them to have your back when/if a difficult situation arises. The parent-teacher conference is the perfect place to grow your relationship.
Ask the parents if they have any concerns or hopes for their child. Parents often see a different side of the student when he/she arrives home from school. They have known their child way longer than you and probably have some things to share that you aren't aware of.
All teachers need advice sometimes and it’s ok to ask the parent for help. Like I said, they know their child best. Any advice they can share will be helpful for you in the long run, and could lead to other important talking points.
Always thank the parents for being supportive - even if you don't see eye to eye. Parents are trying to support their child the best they can. You may not agree with their decisions or the comments they make. They may not agree with the decisions you've made or the information you give. But you need to remember, they are advocating for their student. Thank them for that!
As a new teacher, parent-teacher conferences can seem scary. But if you are prepared and use these tips, they don't have to be! Good luck. YOU'VE GOT THIS!